By on June 21, 2012

Bloomberg and car analyst Itay Michaeli spotted a new trend: The second car could be going out of style, and this “may hurt U.S. auto sales,” Bloomberg says.

Indeed, “the average number of vehicles for every U.S. driver has declined since hitting a record in 2007.” Is it a new trend that “Americans are increasingly willing to settle for owning one car or truck?”

It looks to us like it is simply a phenomenon that occurs in most recessions (our grey overlay) when the number of vehicles per driver usually goes south.

However, excessive car ownership may indeed have plateaued. With more than 800 cars per thousand people, the U.S. is the country with the highest car ownership in the world. Other countries with wide open spaces, such as Canada, or Australia have much less.

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71 Comments on “Vote: Is The Second Car Going Out Of Style?...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Americans are slowly getting back to living lives of thrift. I think it’s a good thing

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      As much as I agree with you, this isn’t going to help the used car market long term, which doesn’t fill me with joy. I don’t like paying full price for a depreciating asset, it’s going to get to a point where it makes more sense than used.

    • 0 avatar

      This country has given all it’s job’s to Asia so they’d better hope the second car never goes out of style.

      a car is the second biggest investment the average American makes besides a house. For the majority of Americans who’ll never own houses, it is the first. From the very beginning it is a depreciating asset, but, because it provides the state revenue while simultaneously providing the driver a means to “work”, it is an extremely important asset and investment.

      Americans aren’t spending wildly on anything else so in order to prop up this economy, excessive car sales MUST continue

    • 0 avatar
      AJ

      I’m not for wasting money and cars can certainly be an expensive habit, but personally I’m not for Americans living lives of thrift. What kind of drive to do better for one’s self, family and country does that leave a person with? My dreams of continuing to improve my self and my situation is why I get up each day and work hard. I want that for all of us. Strive to improve and better your life. Life is great, and it’s a shame that too many people get hung up on feeling guilty for what they have or what their family worked for. IMHO, those do-gooders calling for the rest of us to live more simple lives are either hypocrites or bums.

  • avatar
    geeber

    I wonder how much of this is related to aging households. As many couples get older, it’s not uncommon for one person – generally the husband – to dramatically curtail driving, or give it up completely. There is no point in maintaining two cars under that scenario.

  • avatar

    I wonder what other factors are present? Census data show people are moving back into big cities, out of rural areas and suburbs. This generally means more public transportation or more opportunities to walk or use a bike.

    Married couples or domestic partners are also increasingly waiting longer to have kids. Speaking from experience, when kids come along, a second car becomes a true asset. But until then, and especially if both partners work “downtown” it’s easy to rideshare.

    I also think that our buying habits are a factor. Most people I know have permanent car payments. Either they finance to the hilt to get lower monthly payments, or they trade in for a new car the second they pay off the old one. Having two care payments sucks and is fairly untenable for an average income household, so they’re never in a position to actually own a car outright and finance a second one because they just never own a car outright.

    I think it goes deeper than, “Owning two cars is so bourgeoisie.”

  • avatar
    brettc

    Cars are typically money pits, but they are necessary to get to work and other places. So we’ll have to continue on with two. I do know a woman who plans to eventually get down to 0 cars from the current 2. I don’t know how she’ll do that in Maine, but you’ve gotta have goals!

  • avatar
    carguy

    Looks like a normal trend during hard times when households cut down on unnecessary expenses. However, I doubt this is a long term trend and higher fuel prices may even push this trend the other way:

    As fuel gets more expensive more people will buy economical commuter cars for daily driving to lower fuel costs. However, people still have boats to tow and still like muscle cars so increasingly trucks and sports cars will become second cars instead of being the primary vehicle – particularly once the economy picks up.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    “the average number of vehicles for every U.S. driver has declined since hitting a record in 2007.”
    Is it because people aren’t buying second cars or people aren’t buying first cars?

    When I was working in Peoria I bought a second (older) car to mess with after work and on weekends. In downtown Chicago I have a hard time justifying owning a car at all.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      People in cities have always owned less cars due to space restrictions and the availability of public transport. However, cities across the US have been cutting back to cope with falling revenues and that has meant less investment in public transport and not more. So, if anything, the legacy of this recession will be less public transportation and more cars.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        I used to live 5 subway stops from work. If I drove, I had to park one subway stop away. When I drove and walked in from the deep toolies I dealt with weather and had the joy of bumper to bumper traffic each way. Mass transit will keep rolling.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I don’t think the second car is going out of style if both spouses must work, but in our houshold, three cars IS going out of style – we are selling our 2007 MX5, not out of financial instability, but of a general simplification of our lives.

    We will then most likely replace my Impala, as I have the longest commute. An MX5 at my age, commuting 100 miles a day – I just can’t do it. I need something more comfortable, even though it is the newest car.

    • 0 avatar
      mitchw

      One step ahead of you, Zman. I just sold the Miata, and am down to one car. Reason? Sharing the roads with smartphone addled drivers and pedestrians simply turns the concept of fun into a joke. Perhaps I’ll get a Forza.

    • 0 avatar
      vchengap

      I recently purchased a 2008 Miata (refuse to call them MX5s) as a weekend/autox toy. I daily drive a 2005 Focus and the wife has a 2006 G35. Even though I love owning the toy, I totally get what you mean about simplifying. As passionate as I am about cars and driving, it still feels like a major splurge / unnecessary luxury – even though I’m able to maintain a decent savings rate every month.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that owning such an expensive toy in this economy is a bittersweet experience.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        See, this is where owning a classic car pays. You can buy a fully restored Spitfire for less than $10K, or a pretty nice MGB for the same money. Niether will do anything but appreciate assuming you take care of it – at worst you will break even in the long run, and you might well make money. Classic car insurance is a tiny fraction of the cost of regular insurance, and most states give a break on registration for classic cars.

        For what little toy cars get used, the popular old crocks are JUST as reliable as the modern stuff, and a whole lot easier and cheaper to fix and maintain. And you get the whole club/show scene if you are into that sort of thing.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        Wise krhodes1. The only caveat being you’ll need a place to store and protect this classic/antique, esp in northern winters such as here.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Well, you need a place to store a toy car whether it is new or old. Nothing but nothing ages a car faster than sitting unused out in the weather, whether that weather is Maine, FL, or California. A car will sit in a nice dry garage quite happily, mine do from Thanksgiving to Easter every year.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If there are 114 cars for every 100 drivers in the US, then that would suggest that most drivers own a car, which in turn means that most households with two licensed drivers will have two cars.

  • avatar
    George B

    I blame high insurance cost and better reliability. I used to keep an old car around just in case my primary car broke down. The problem is it costs hundreds of dollars a year in insurance, registration, inspection, and maintenance costs to keep an extra car ready to drive. Went years without needing a spare car and rental cars are inexpensive for when I need them. I suspect many people decided to sell their 3rd car while used car prices are high.

  • avatar
    M. Ellis

    Our second car is a Surly Ogre with a rack and panniers. And snow tires in the winter.

    I telecommute full time, though. If I had more than a 10-15 mile commute, we’d probably have a second car, given that the public transit where we live is pretty feeble.

    Mind, we managed the one car trick in Los Angeles for five years, too, since my wife was able to use public transit to get to work (and it was much cheaper for her than driving and paying for a parking spot).

    Rural and Suburban adults will usually have one car per driver, finances allowing, because the convenience is worth the cost. If you have kids, you’re unlikely to use something like a Workcycles Cargobike unless you live in the right kind of urban environment for it. (I got to test ride one of these in Amsterdam, and they are astonishingly cool. But: Amsterdam.) But people who live in the right kind of urban areas, and with an increasingly urban population? Why wouldn’t you have a tendency toward one car per family? Particularly since most families these days don’t have three or more kids, which is when the whole Minivan/SUV thing starts looking very attractive.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      If you work in an office, telecommuting is almost certainly in your future. I work for a large bank. They’ve figured out that they can skip the cost of my cube and computer by having me telecommute most days. My group is about to re-stack on another floor and we will have half the number of cubes, almost all of which will be assigned for hotelling.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I’m not sure if these poll question(s) captures the whole equation.

    I know multiple people that have bought & use bicycles & or motorcycles as daily commuters, myself included.

    My daily commuter April/May -> Nov is a motorcycle. We also have 2 cars. The better analysis might be to look “motor vehicle” ownership statistics instead of cars.

    Also: on the other hand my co-worker lives in a Condo in Chicago. Great guy, but his wife is about to have their second kid. Wife + work + 1 kid in day-school + him working & only 1 car = a major hassle. He just asked me to take an earlier shift because he simply can’t drop off his kid @ school & get to work in a (reasonable) amount of time.

  • avatar
    JimR

    No way I’ll ever go down to one car. It would leave me one mechanical malady away from not having transportation to work or any other necessities. I perform all of my own maintenance shy of tire mounting, so being able to do a multi-day job on my own time is a very nice luxury.

    Spare pleasure cars and utility pickups generally don’t use up consumables at a very high rate, especially when garaged and left on a battery tender. Most of the cost is insurance, and the bulk of that is liability. My state doesn’t perform inspections, and it allows online plate renewals, so life with multiple cars is very easy. A extra few hundred dollars every year buys so much peace of mind.

    Funny how people believe a spendy little boat, dirt bike, or ATV is a nice perk of disposable income, but maintaining a spare beater daily driver worth nothing is weird and counter-culture.

    • 0 avatar

      Unless your primary vehicle is regularly out of commission you could spend far less than a few hundred a year picking up a rental when you need it.

      That said I’d love to have a project car to tinker with, but I don’t own I rent. Having to have space for a project really limits you in where you can move, and with renting you never really know when you might have to move next.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Just added number 5. There are some good deals I can’t pass up. I got leads on No. 6 but the parking, rusted brake rotors, and solar powered battery tenders is getting time consuming and costly for this primary driver.

  • avatar
    david42

    We moved from the ‘burbs into the city so my wife could walk to work. So when the lease ran out on her car, we didn’t replace it. So now we’re down to one. No car payment and a faster commute… I highly recommend it to anyone who can manage with less living space.

  • avatar
    C P

    I guess it doesn’t count that I have one car at each house?

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    One car for the wife and I and will probably stay that way for a long time if our current living situation stays the way it is. I can count on one hand the times during a year it would have been nice to have 2 cars. Not worth the expense. I looked into getting a beater Ranger or Tacoma for home depot and dump runs and even those are at least $3-4k. Forget it, I’ll just get a utility trailer to pull behind the car. If I had the garage space (currently only have a small one car garage) I would consider a cheap beater project car.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I have one primary car. But I have two summer toys and a ‘wintah beatah’ SUV that also does airport parking, Home Depot and boat towing duty. Total fixed costs of the last three is less than $500/yr for all three for insurance, registration, and inspection. Maintenance is trivial on them as well – none of them do much in the way of mileage.

    Not planning on downsizing any time soon, but I will say that I have found four to be the limit of what I can deal with. I have had up to seven cars in the past.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      $500 a year for three cars? Wow.

      For my three cars (09 Kia, 05 Scion, 01 Hyundai) the insurance, registration, and inspection puts me at about $2600. But I have collision coverage on the two younger cars, and 5 drivers. And the cars total about 40k miles annually.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        You need to have old toys. My ’74 Spitfire and ’86 Alfa Spider cost ~$30/ea a year to register, and are exempt from safety inspection. Limited use collector car insurance is $150/yr for both cars. The Jeep is $200/yr for full coverage insurance (good to live in Maine), ~$80 to register, $17.50 to get inspected.

        Unfortunately my BMW makes up for them- $1200 to register it the first year, ~$800 the second, ~$500 next year, will get down to ~$250 eventually. Insurance is cheap still $600/yr, $19.50 for safety inspection.

        My absolute rule for toy cars these days is it has to be at least 25 years old, thus eligible for antique plates, collector insurance, and exempt from inspection. The inspection exemption goes with the antique plates, the car cannot be your daily driver and a few other rules apply, but nothing too restrictive. Same for collector insurance, plus the cars have to be kept in a garage.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Multi-car discounts, having almost a half dozen cars listed as leisure, and adjusted insurance coverage puts all my 2000-2007 cars under $400. Possesion of the title leaves me with annual oil changes as the biggest costs every 12 months.

    • 0 avatar
      C P

      1200 to register a car for the first year & heavy handed as well in the follow up years? State inspection on top of it. Must be Cali?

      & I thought Fl was bad w/ about 300 to register a new car on the road ist year. Ours is only about 50 or so subsequent years w/ no SI.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Maine. 2.5% local Excise tax on the FULL MSRP bottom-line sticker price of the car the first year, declines for seven years thereafter. Sucks if you own something like a $2500 ’80s Mercedes – still costs you $300 a year to register, where a $2500 Corolla costs $60-70. 5% sales tax on the difference between trade-in and actual price paid on all car sales too. And another $50 or so in sundry registration fees every year. Excise tax is paid to your local municipality, sales tax to the state.

        I am all for state safety inspection. As a very frequent traveler, the stuff I see on the roads in states that do not do safety inspection horrifies me. I also think it is fair that Maine exempts limited use antique cars from the inspection requirement.

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        “Maine. 2.5% local Excise tax on the FULL MSRP bottom-line sticker price of the car the first year, declines for seven years thereafter.”

        Wow, just wow. *Local* tax on cars and its not even the People’s Republic of Kalifornia.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        You gotta pay for the government somehow. If there was no excise tax on cars and boats and such, the real estate property taxes would be that much higher. If people really didn’t like it they could easily get rid of it. Maine has a very simple and effective People’s Referendum process. You can get ANYTHING on the ballet if you can get enough signatures. Which is why we don’t have emissions testing – it got voted out before it ever started 25 years ago, even though the Feds ordered it to be put in place. My only complaint is that it for non-new cars it should be based on book value, not original MSRP. So a $2500 car is a $2500 car, whether it cost $5K or $50K at some point in the distant past.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The recent downturn is a recession effect, as Bertel suggests, and appears to be reversing already.

    As people flee cities, you can bet that per capita car ownership will continue to rise as a general trend, although I can see it leveling off around 1000 per 1000 someday unless the nation enters an extreme level of prosperity which would drive it even higher.

    Our family of 7 people (5 drivers) has 3 cars, so we’re well below the national average. Maybe I should buy one or two more cars – heh.

    • 0 avatar
      M. Ellis

      As people flee cities what now? This isn’t the late 70s and you’re not Snake Pliskin.

      If anything there’s a supply shortage of urban housing (where urban == access to decent mass transit, walkable, or bikeable commutes), and there’s a surplus of suburban housing (and commensurate shortage of suburban jobs) where cars are essentially required for most people to live.

      Yes, there’s also Detroit and other rust-belt cities, but if you look at small town America and rural America, the population trends overall are for people to move from rural to (sub)urban areas, and more recent trends are for suburban areas to become less viable while urban areas are experiencing a rejuvenation.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I don’t know about suburban areas becoming less viable. Part of me would love to live in a big city. I’d love ready access to the cultural, culinary, and nightlife aspects of living in NYC, Philly, or Chicago, but for what I currently pay for my mortgage (with insurance and taxes) plus my car (and insurance) I could just about afford half of the rent for a downtown apartment with a third of the space I currently have. I’d also lose a lot of privacy and the freedom to do things that I enjoy like growing fruit trees, gardening, grilling in my backyard, and watching loud movies at 1am with my surround sound system and subwoofer on.

        Today’s early 20-somethings seem more willing to make the sacrifices that city life requires for the benefits it offers, and there are probably some that are fleeing small town and suburban life for better job opportunities in cities due to the economy, but today’s 20 somethings will become 30 somethings with spouses and kids, and the economy is already starting to bounce back so the suburban and small town economies will recover and jobs will be available.

        The US is land-rich, and only so many people can move into the cities before the economics of actually living there reach a tipping point where the suburban communities become more appealing again.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    When I lived in DC my SUV was in the body shop for a month. Zip Cars and cab fares were about as much as car payments and insurance. Also, you can’t get on a military base w/o base stickers. Yes, you can in Zip Car but it’s a hassle. GF had a commute that involved switching from a city bus to a DC bus. More than once we’d get home at the same time and she’d look like a drowned rat.

    My SUV is a paid for and a keeper,car number 1. She paid cash for her DD. It’s warm and dry and car #2

  • avatar

    Still woking on my personal Volvo museum. I’ve got a 240 and a 940, still need a 740 and possibly a 122. It’s good to have choices.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    The formula is simple: One car for each working adult in the household.

    If you have a DIY habit, then an old beater truck, van, or utility trailer might be useful. If this vehicle is worthy of this role, you probably want to hide it’s ugly rusted hull from any guests who come to your house.

    If you actually live on a real live working farm, then you can discount any vehicles that used mostly for actual farm work from this formula.

    Project cars that you spend more time working on than driving are also discounted from this formula — since that’s a hobby, rather than a car.

    But, yeah, a second car “because you should have two cars” was never in style. If you thought it was, you’ were misinformed.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      +1

      The only time I had one vehicle with two working adults in the household was when my exwife and I worked at the same school, so our jobs took us to exactally the same place. The appartment complex I lived in also had regulations on how many vehicles you could have around and provided very inconvient parking for anyone who had more than one vehicle.

      Project vehicles should be excluded. Often they are the only thing that allows people to put up with their Camry/Accord/Sonata or minivan they must drive for practical reasons. I know having a 1967 Mustang in the garage made it easier for my Dad to swallow the family cars.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    Wow, I have three and my wife and I are in our late 20s. I could live without the third, but it’s paid for and we use it as our tow vehicle.

    I may go down to two someday.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    I had two cars for about a year. A beater compact for commuting and a new toy that sucked at carrying passengers, got mediocre mileage and was worthless in the snow. Wasn’t worth the hassle and added registration/insurance/maintenance costs. Eventually, I got rid of both and got one car that blended the best attributes of both.

    I occasionally toy with the idea of buying a ’60s classic or a motorcycle, but otherwise I have no desire to own multiple newer cars. For the life of me, I don’t understand people who insist on maintaining a whole fleet of junkers; Rationalize all you want, but there’s no way that’s cheaper than owning one newer vehicle that serves most of your purposes most of the time.

    Now, if there are multiple drivers in the house hold, that’s a different story…

  • avatar
    meefer

    Not for me personally, I’ve been debating what to get for a second car for over a year now. Maybe I’ll be viewed by my contemporaries as wasteful, but they can suck it.

  • avatar
    magicbus1966

    Vote: Is The Second Car Going Out Of Style?

    Heck yes, in favor of the third car+. :D

    Also, where do motorcycles (beyond recreational) fall in this grand scheme of things? Just a blip on the radar?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Used motorcycles shouldn’t count… unless its a Harley the # of used motorcycles on craigslist for $5,000 or less is pretty amazing in my area. Bikes that are only a few years old too. Some people spend more on their lawn tractors than you will on a nice bike.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I have 5 cars, my wife’s Camry, my Audi A3, Silverado, a Lotus Elan and a non-running Elva Courier. I’d have more if I had some place to put them.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Don’t know why I’ve always preferred the multiple cars , even though I frequently ride a bicycle . Even in college I had 2 , both station wagons , a VW and a Ford Falcon ( at least til the Falcon caught fire and burned up ). It may depend how much parking space you have – I have a garage and 2 carports and a long driveway- enough space for any fleet I want .Haven’t had a brand new car in many years , though .

  • avatar
    seth1065

    two drivers here, three cars but the third is for the 16 year old who will have her license soon than we will add a forth car to the fleet another vert to replace the one sold last year.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Having a car for the kids is getting rare. For one thing only 30%of kids have jobs now and with graduated liven cussing fewer and fewer are getting their license.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Where do you get a 70% youth unemployment rate?? US youth unemployment rate is 16.4%.

        http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-05-02/markets/31532697_1_youth-percentage-points-chart

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I joined the ranks of three cars for two people household about three years ago. I have to say I love it. We use the weather beater (a crappy GM U-Body van) for all yeoman duty. Groceries, Home Depot, local grinding commute. For longer drivers, weekends, and sunny commute days we drive the toy. The Altima falls somewhere between depending on work schedules.

    Recently had a car battery die. Was great to be able to just yank the battery out, throw it in the weather beater and get a new battery.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    I have 2, but 2 drivers in thehousehold as well.

    We’ll conceivably have 3 cars/2 drivers in the next 5 years.

    As long as the impractical 2nd or 3rd car is something paid off (ie old miata or other inexpensive sports car), and you’re not pushing through more than one car note at a time, I don’t see the problem.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    I think the poll (and statistics) are worded weird. We have two cars… but my wife and I both need one to work. So a third car technically would be our “second” car that would be redundant and just a toy.

    what about cars per license holder? also a problem when you have children with license. Maybe some families have 4 cars because daddy has one work car and 3 hobby cars. Or 4 family members actually need a car to go to work/school. In your poll and statistics there wouldn’t be a distinction.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    The Federal Reserve announced recently that from 2007 to 2010 the wealth of the average American family declined by 39%. Folks are back to where they were financially 18 years ago.

    Europe is falling apart, and here at home the S has just begun to HTF. Not only will there be fewer cars, but the ones we do buy will be smaller and cheaper. Automakers already know this; that’s why we’re hearing about microcars.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-11/fed-says-family-wealth-plunged-38-8-in-2007-2010-on-home-values.html

  • avatar
    zamoti

    To the point of earlier replies, “Get a 25 year old car, antique plates, cheap insurance and inspection exempt”, a relevant poll might be “What’s the Best 25-year Old Car You Can Buy?” Of course, there would have to be categories for reliability, parts availability, and type of car (sports, beater truck, old Panther, etc.)

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    “Is the second car going out of style?”

    [Looks outside at the seven cars for his household of four]

    Um… no?

  • avatar
    cutchemist42

    Have 2 now, started working a new job downtown so that car count will definitely go down to 1. In all honesty, I’m only keeping 1 car because I need 1 in the winter for hockey.

  • avatar
    Redshift

    I never cared much about being in style.

    We have 2 people in the house, and 6 vehicles. I have a project, a toy, and a Daily, and she has a project, a toy and a daily.
    We’ve honestly tried to cut down, but never been able. Partially, it’s because our “toys” we’ve both owned for a very long time and are worth more to us then they are on the market.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    We just scrapped the second car and are using a combination of bicycle, train and motorcycle for for the commuting and errand running we used to use that car for. I still voted that I want to own 3 cars because I want a collector car and possibly some sort of truck to support various activities. I would still use the bicycle and train for commuting because it’s actually cheaper and only have one daily driver.

  • avatar
    AJ

    One car would be a pain. I have three cars and no guilt about it. Plus I stand to inherit several show cars. That’s going to force me to move for more garage space…

  • avatar
    Sam P

    My wife and I each have a car. We’re looking at picking up a used Toyota or Jeep 4×4 SUV as the 3rd vehicle in our fleet as our 3-series and Mini are pretty useless on Forest Service roads around where we live.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I run a pair 528es for daily drivers and a Ranger 4×4 for utility. I also have a home garaged work truck used strictly for work.


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