Our Experience as a One Car Household

This has been a very interesting year for our household, although when is life ever dull? It was shortly after I lost my job that my boyfriend’s car blew a head gasket and was no longer worth fixing. This left us as a one car household with a decision to make. Do we go and finance buying a new car, losing money the second we drive it off the lot, but knowing it would be reliable, or did we save up to buy a quality used car which can save a lot of money in the long run as long as it’s not a lemon? A couple members of our family had recently had bad experiences buying used cars which made us especially wary.

We live in an area where there might as well be no public transportation so owning a car isn’t optional. We decided that since I wasn’t working we didn’t immediately need a 2nd car and would save up money for as long as we could until we absolutely had to have a car with the idea that hopefully we would save enough and buy a car before we had to finance one at a dealership.

Six months later we had saved up enough to buy a new-to-us car. We bought a 2006 Nissan Sentra that we found on Craig’s List. It was sold by the original owner, who was looking to sell this car because he wanted to buy a new larger vehicle for work. He had all of the records showing that he had done excellent preventative work on the car.  We were excited but were determined to have a vehicle inspection done before we proceeded any further. I will never buy a used car without one, especially off of Craig’s list where scams are common. I learned from reading a book by financial expert Clark Howard that a car seller can legally lie to you about the condition of a car so it’s important to protect yourself.

We are lucky to have a fantastic mechanic who was able to go that day to look at the car. He noticed several things that we, not being people who know a lot about cars, had missed. This helped us when it came to negotiating the price of the car and also let us know that the breaks needed new pads and other inexpensive but important work right away. The money we paid for the vehicle inspection was worth every penny. It gave us a clear picture of the car we were buying and also set our minds at ease that we weren’t buying a complete lemon. Had a relative of mine done this he could have saved himself thousands of dollars he spent on a car that was a complete lemon and also on the repairs he then had to pay for.

What Helped Us to Only Need One Car-

1. There are only two of us in our household which means less people to shuffle around

2. One of us wasn’t working so there were no conflicting work schedules

3. We live close to family who was more than willing to help us with rides and let us tag along on errand runs. Thank you so much!

4. We worked around each other’s schedules to make it work!


How we saved money-

If you follow this blog then you already know about the thousands of ways we save every day but here are a few that really stood out to me during this period

1. Needing less gas from only having one car

2. Not needing to pay for insurance on two cars anymore

3. Bringing a lunch to work every day instead of buying

4. Cooking at home instead of going out to eat

5. Spending more time at home instead of going out

6. Postponing any other large purchases that were less necessary until after we had bought a car

7. Going over our bills and calling the companies that provide our services (Phone and Cable +Internet) and were able to reduce our bills just by calling

8. Did I mention couponing?

9. Also using up things we already had in the house A.K.A. our coupon and pantry stash

10. Less access to a vehicle meant less trips to the store overall. We often followed policy of “Use it up, wear it out, make it work or do without!” If we couldn’t make it to the store I decided we really didn’t need whatever it was that badly no matter how good a deal.


Things We Learned About Buying A Used Car-

I will say it again, we aren’t people who know a lot about cars, so that definitely made it much harder to know what to buy and when but we did learn a lot during this process.

1. ALWAYS get a vehicle inspection

2. Buying a car with a salvage title is a good indication it has been in a wreck and may cost more to insure or be hard to find an insurance company

3. A car that has just had a paint job may look nice but be hiding something

4. If you are looking for a used car beware of scams, never send anyone money

5. If the title isn’t in the owner’s name they are probably buying the car and flipping it which isn’t a good sign (I believe this is illegal)

6. Used car lots will often charge a lot of additional fees ex. Dealer Fees, so make sure you know the real price before you commit

7. It never hurts to see a Car Fax or equivalent vehicle history report

8. Always try to negotiate a lower price

9. It’s a good sign if the owner has extensive vehicle records on repairs, oil changes, etc.

10. Always test drive on the highway because higher speeds can reveal a lot of problems that slower speeds hide

11. If your gut is telling you it’s too good to be true, it probably is

12. If you have someone who knows about cars ask for their help

13. Google, google, google things to look for/at when buying a used car

14. Look, look, look and then call, call, call- being familiar with prices can help you determine a fair car price in this economy and the area you live in and then make calls to car owners to help rule some out

15. Ask a million questions- if they aren’t willing to answer or you catch them in a false statement then it is probably a bad sign


In the end, we actually were faced with a decision- We knew we had to go on a 8 hour road trip to a sister’s college graduation. We didn’t feel comfortable driving our only car (reliable but older) that far, so we knew we either had to buy a new car within a week or pay around $300 to rent a car to drive up there which would dig into our car savings. We were very fortunate to find a car that week that was everything we were looking for and to pay a fair price for it. I guess you could say that we knew that if we didn’t feel that the car was good enough for a long road trip immediately then that ruled it out for us.

Our road trip went off without a hitch and our car got us there and back with no problems. We are very happy with our new car and enjoy having greater freedom from owning two vehicles; however, our one car experience does make us think twice about hopping in the car to go anywhere which is still saving us money on gas and vehicle wear and tear. We no longer take the freedom of mobility for granted and are very excited to be driving our new-to-us car!

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