Hammer Time: Second Cars

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

Who needs ’em? Of course the soccer mom and sales folk amongst us really “need” the perpetual motion of a second car. But what about the married schlep who walks to work? Or the enterprising couples that work together? For them a second car may be nothing more than an inconvenience and an expense. Some folks in high places (and low places) say you should go for an alternative that conserves resources and costs less. Fair enough. But is that always a rational choice?

I disagree with the PC folk and their anti-car orientation on this one. Like most of you, cars are a fun filled adventure for me. But for the automotively apathetic out there I will concede that a car is essentially a tool. A very unique and important tool. It’s a point-to-point transportation appliance that is mostly safe, very comfortable, and simple to operate. Let’s assume that a Toyota would be the best type of car for those who simply don’t give a damn because in many cases, it really is. What really competes with the Toyota that doesn’t have four wheels?

Motorcycles? Definitely more fun . . . but usually not as safe, comfortable or simple to operate. One bad accident and you’re toast. The same is true with bikes. I will say from my experiences that they can work well in places with little rain and small commuting distances. Weather’s a bitch. Families require toting and the only way you’re going to get four people on a Trek is if the handlebars are tied to a trapeze.

Public transportation? Again, sure if it’s near work and play. But otherwise it’s neither convenient nor comfortable in most places. If you take the waiting and the sheer number of crazies into consideration, public transportation is usually a non-starter for most folks. Especially for the suburban folk.

So, let’s see. Overall America is unique in that much of our country isn’t really suitable to any of these alternatives. But I’ll tell you what is. A second car. A third car. A fourth car. Lots and lots of cars. But for those who don’t need one every day, why not share? Financially, it can pay off for about ten folks in the same neighborhood to own three or four types of second vehicles for occasional use. In fact I’ve crunched the numbers and so long as the maintenance and driving styles are on the normal side, it works great.

If you need hauling or towing a few times a year one of the vehicles can be a pickup. For part-time folk, and those on a budget, a beater for an occasional A to B jaunt is all you really need. Parents and friends come to town? Get access to a large car or a minivan. The real trick (and this is the big “but” in the equation) is to share the costs with others who live in walking distance and have similar driving habits and maintenance standards.

That’s tough. Even when $4 gas encouraged this type of conservation, most folks ruled out car sharing. There’s a lot of planning involved and the “unknown” is always a fear factor.

Like most things in life though, you do get an a lot of benefits if you really do think it through. Fixed costs decline substantially (insurance, depreciation, purchase price, opportunity costs) while your variable costs for the most part remain the same. Newton’s first law of motion also helps. A car that is constantly running, and stays running, will have fewer mechanical issues per mile you drive it than one that just sits around and collects dust.

Then there’s the reduction in maintenance that can come from using the same type of engine and powertrain in multiple types of vehicles. Familiarity not only breeds acceptance. It also lowers repair bills and let’s you find small problems before they get big. Especially if someone else can find them first. From my vantage point, running cost for a shared second vehicle that isn’t “always” needed will usually cost far less than owning it alone.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

More by Steven Lang

Join the conversation
2 of 39 comments
  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Apr 22, 2009
    Ah, yes, we need more central control. Without it, people will live anywhere they please! Actually, there’s been a large-scale experiment in comprehensive planning Yes, yes, raise the spectre of communism whenever someone dares suggest Americans adopt a sense of social responsibility. I suppose that roads, potable water and sewers are all tools of communist oppression and that real Americans dig holes to crap in because that's the individualist way. You'll note that I explicitly advised against "stuff people into apartment blocks" kind of housing because it doesn't work. What we need is something where people actually want and can live, with commerce and residential spaces integrated and easy to get to, instead of apartment blocks, "Agrestic"-style suburbs and big-box stores that you cannot walk between, let alone to. Sensible urban planning would obviate not only traffic and fuel problems, but would reduce the pressure on public transit as well. If you look at the downtowns of most smaller towns and cities, you'll see a more-or-less idea form of development: boulevards of stores, surrounded by medium-density housing and the occasional higher-density (4-6 story) rental block. Instead of walling people off in huge surburban lots that isolate people, you have a community that actually encourages interaction and commerce between citizens and business. But such a system requires planning and forethought. It's also not as cheap to build, so developers don't like it, and thusly they won't be making McMansions. Finally, it's not as tax-revenue-friendly (lots of services for that kind of density, and no big-block stores that net big bills) so city councils don't like them, either. I'm all for freedom to live where you choose, but the suburban lifestyle is heavily subsidized and it's about time we asked why we're building them when they're good for everyone except the people who live in them in the long term.
  • 50merc 50merc on Apr 22, 2009

    Oh, for goodness sake, the point isn't communism, it's that to keep people from living where they please (such as a one-family house with a patch of dirt around it) there have to be constraints on their choices. And the commies are masters at constraining individual choice. The affordable personal-use automobile demolished the old time/distance limits. Ever since, planners have been pining for the good old days when trolley lines defined the limits of urban expansion. Sneering at "McMansions" or their residential equivalent, the Cadillac Escalade, is no way to get their proud owners to surrender political power to planners so the latter can compel elitist aesthetic standards.

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Funny comparison: https://gab.com/Did_I_Piss_You_Off/posts/112661740945412303
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Some insight. https://gab.com/Did_I_Piss_You_Off/posts/112661740945412303
  • Amwhalbi I know this is apples and oranges, but I'd rather have an Elantra N, a Jetta GLI or a Civic Si than either the Mustang or the Z.
  • Scott Miata for the win.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X On a list of things to spend my time and money on, doing an EV conversion on a used car is about ten millionth.