How Much 2 Cars Costs Us

Mr. T and I went nearly 9 years of marriage with one car. When we had our third child and then we had two kids in two different schools, things got trickier. Mr. T bike commutes fairly often and we talked about him doing it full time, but there was a time trade-off. He gets home about an hour later when he bike commutes and is only home for 1.5-2 hours with the kids before bedtime. We weren’t quite sure what to do. At the same time we were facing this predicament (November 2014), my cousin told us she was moving and they would sell us their 2010 Subaru Forester below trade-in value, so we bought it. 2015 was our first full year with 2 cars, so how much did it all cost us?

Two Cars Sentra

Here’s our beloved Sentra in Denali National Park stuck in the middle of a “Bear Jam” as the ranger called it.

Car #1 – 2004 Nissan Sentra – Given to Mr. T in college by his parents who bought the basic model with cash for $10,000 – 118,000 miles. 

  • Registration: $170 (good for 2 years)
  • Tire changeovers: $98
  • New Headlights: $37.68
  • New Windshield: $218 – a rock hit the windshield so hard on the highway, it shattered glass in the passenger seat. Luckily, no one was in it.
  • Oil Pan heater: $35.93 – apparently they don’t sell an engine block heater for this model, so this is the best we can do (since we live in Alaska and all).
  • Maintenance: $404.31 – The car just died after dropping our daughter off at school and was out of commission for a week until it was fixed.
  • Insurance:$590.92

Car #2 – 2010 Subaru Forester – Purchased for $17,000 cash from my cousin – 45,000 miles

  • Registration: $170 (good for 2 years)
  • Insurance: $743.78
  • New Battery: $72.99
  • Maintenance: $758.56 – This particular model of car is known for burning oil, apparently. It was an ongoing issue we knew about when we bought the car. I had the foresight to ask the Subaru dealership to change the name on the car ownership to my name (rather than telling them I bought it and having them subsequently open a new account under my name). This made the warranty still valid when the engine needed to be replaced. Even though the engine was covered, all of the maintenance surrounding it was not covered. Look closely at charges. They tried to charge me for a battery (which I had just replaced) as well as several other charges that were unnecessary and not asked for. I got this bill down from over $1200, so that was a win. Ironically, this happened the week the Sentra died – so we took our kids to school in the bike trailer for the week (luckily, this happened in the spring when it was warm outside).

Combined costs:

  • Total Gasoline: $1,056.47
  • Total Parking fees (for trips to the museum downtown): $13
  • Car Washes (we pay for these in the winter when the car gets so dirty, it makes all the kids dirty getting in): $54

TOTAL Cost: $4,423.64

This was an expensive year for car costs, so it’s a good year to analyze the value of the cars in our lives. I don’t expect the Sentra to die annually (this is only the second time, historically, it’s ever needed to be towed in over ten years of owning it) and I also don’t anticipate needing to replace the Forester’s engine again. But automobile costs always arise and it’s impossible to predict when or how much they will be.

This is a perfect example of a freedom now vs. freedom later discussion. We thought long and hard before leaping for the second vehicle. Every time we spend money, we ask ourselves: “Is this purchase worth the delay in freedom later?” For us, having two cars is worth it. It allows Mr. T to work a flexible schedule with the ability to make it to school events for the kids, run errands on the way home from work, and get home for quality time with the kiddos before bedtime. As a stay-at-home mom, having no car at home means I’m stuck when the weather is too cold or I have too many kids home to fit in the bike trailer. Having a car means I can take Penny to school across town, come home, take Florin to preschool, come home and work while Lui naps, and then pick Florin up and wait for Penny to come home on the bus (the morning bus leaves 2 hours before school starts, so we choose to drive her so she can sleep in an extra 1.5 hours!). I also have the freedom to pick sick kids up from school, etc. Having the Forester is also great for Alaska. Note that we don’t even have to get winter tires for the Forester because of its 4-wheel drive. It handles great in the snow. And we can much more easily fit our coolers of fish and all of our camping gear for our annual dipnetting trip.

Having children does not necessitate a second car. We successfully had 3 children for nearly a year with just one car. It was only when two kids ended up in two different schools that we even talked about the possibility of two vehicles. For us, Mr. T having over 250 hours more with our children annually is worth the cost of the second car.

What is your transportation situation? Have you analyzed all the costs?

Two Cars

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, at no cost to you, helps support Northern Expenditure and keeps our heat on in the winter. Thanks!

Previous

Martin Luther King, Jr.: To the Dream

Next

Caught With Your Shirt Off? Own it!

40 Comments

  1. Mr. MMM and I often debate the idea of keeping both cars. Right now, we’re in the “we need both cars” camp, mostly for convenience and safety reasons. We don’t live in a city and aren’t able to walk/bike to many places. I also like to be prepared for anything. I know emergencies rarely happen, but if one did, I don’t want to be delayed getting to the hospital or getting to my loved one just to save a few bucks. For us, it’s mostly for peace of mind. We are, however, smart about it. We drive fuel-efficient, reasonably-priced vehicles. One is paid off and the other is almost paid off.

    IMO, the amount of time Mr. T. is able to spend with the children if he drives to work is all the justification you need. You can never get time with loved ones back.

    Happy driving!
    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • MaggieBanks

      We will constantly re-assess the situation, but right now, it is totally worth the extra time with the kiddos.

  2. no car for us. We managed to live close to the school so we are walking less than 1 km daily. When the child will change the school we will change the apartment. The economy:
    – no money spent for car ( just the common transport )
    – no time spent with the car in service/clean/fuel etc.
    – no issues with parking ( in Europe the parking is very expensive)
    – more time to walk (good for health)
    – more time to read in metro

    • MaggieBanks

      I love it! And if we live in a town where all that is possible, I would LOVE to live with no car. As you may know… it is my dream to live in a small, European village someday with my kids.

  3. “Having children does not necessitate a second car.” I think this is such an important takeaway. Most people assume that they need this, or convince themselves that it is a great idea without actually taking a look at costs or pros vs. cons.

    I personally think under $5000/year for two vehicles is very attainable. I’m sure if I looked at what myself and my fiance pay combined, I’d be very angry haha, but we currently keep our vehicle costs separate. Great update!

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks Alyssa. It was actually hard for us to get a second car because we’ve been so proud of our “one car family” status for so long! But time is more important than money sometimes, and here it definitely wins out.

  4. So glad to hear that another frugalista spends money one car washes too. We wash the suburban once every couple of weeks during the winter. It just gets filthy, and scratched when the dirt gets ground in by the kiddos. After our last budget meeting the Mr. says that he’ll start pulling it into the hand-wash bay (or bringing it to work, where he can wash it in the shop). Glad to hear your vehicles are reliable and aren’t costing an arm and a leg!

    • MaggieBanks

      We usually only wash it right after the temperature drops below freezing because then it doesn’t get as dirty when the snow is actually frozen… but these past two winters of freezing, melting, freezing, melting have made that plan a problem! 🙂

  5. I sold my car for 6500 bucks when I moved to Manhattan, and applied it directly to student loans I believe. Right now I use my feet mostly for transportation and subway occasionally. If I need to get out of town I fly or take the train. It can be annoying not having a car, but it saves me a ton of money.

    • MaggieBanks

      If we lived in a city with great public transportation for all, we would love to do that. Taking the kids to school on the subway would be quite the experience. As it is, Mr. T does take the bus periodically, but it’s not a great way to take the kids to school. 🙂

  6. Since we didn’t get married until we were 30/31 we already had double of almost everything and this included cars. We never considered becoming a one car household, mainly because we weren’t in a “challenge everything” mindset then and it was super convenient to have 2 cars, as we both enjoy doing different things for hobbies. Weekends or fridays I could go kayaking and the car isn’t stranded at the bayou, and Mrs. SSC could get up early and go work out without leaving me stranded at home, etc…

    However, we analyzed the cost increase associated with me taking another job. Since we wouldn’t be commuting together anymore – there would be extra costs associated and Mrs. SSC wanted to know that number so we could set a reasonable limit to “is it worth it or not?” She used the depreciation the gov’t uses of ~$0.56/mile and gas increases, and it was about $8k/yr. Using other commute calculators, I found they put it at about half that, but still, the upper limit would be about $8k/yr, I think a lot is assumed for maintenance and depreciation.
    Fortunately, my salary increase was enough to make it worth that increase in cost whichever one was used. Looking at budgeting, we are probably in the $4k/yr range because we haven’t had to replace anything major – engine, transmission, etc… I do car washes too, sometimes with the kids, and sometimes paid, but not paid ones very often. It’s nice that the silver hides dirt well, lol.

    I agree having children doesn’t necessitate a second car, or even a “big SUV” type of car, but having a second car does have a lot of convenience associated with it.

    • MaggieBanks

      Great share! We did a time calculation before we did a cost calculation with the two cars. And because Subarus don’t seem to lose any value in Alaska (seriously, the don’t seem to depreciate much at all after the first two years), we figured we could just sell if for nearly the same amount of money we bought it for if things went awry. But so far, we think we made the right choice. It’s always worth reassessing, however.

  7. Currently, we have 3 cars. Yikes. It sounds like a lot, but we had good reasons (at the time). We sold the high-mileage, gas-powered car we had before we had any PF knowledge. I wanted an electric car because I worry about my carbon footprint, and somehow we ended up with two (good sales pitch, maybe?). Anyway, we’re going to one car next year when our leases end, so we’ll really challenge ourselves to make it work. Are you able to garage one car for a couple of weeks as a test?

    • MaggieBanks

      Maybe ask a friend if you can keep one at their house for a week so you’re not tempted to use it…? Better than paying for a garage. 🙂

  8. You have it exactly right – asking yourself if this purchase is worth delaying financial freedom. And some of the time, it will be (like you’re experiencing with the second vehicle). We ask ourselves this question a LOT, and most of the time the answer is no…but every once in a while, we’ll come across a situation where spending a little extra money is probably worth the cost.

    Right now we are saying yes to some small home renovations as we gear up to selling this baby! It’s definitely worth spending a little extra. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Our energy updates were totally worth it as well. 🙂 It’s the ultimate question to ask… and changes the way we look at everything!

  9. This is a great break down of costs! Quite honestly, I haven’t dug down deep into my car costs simply because it’s one of my bigger financial regrets (graduating from college prior to getting serious about finances!). Right now we have two cars – but I just accepted a new job downtown that may allow for better public transit/incentive to get there. Also, we are taking into account walking distances when we are ready to buy a home! I love being able to forget about a car for a weekend because of location. I love your perspective and that one of the positives of a car is to allow for Mr. T to have more hours with the whole family! Opportunity costs are always great to factor 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      When it comes down to it, it isn’t all about the money. 🙂 We live 8.5 miles from Mr. T’s work and about 3.5 miles from Penny’s school. Everything is close in Anchorage, but there are also the harsh winters to take into account. 🙂

  10. We had to buy a second car after we moved for new jobs and they were in opposite directions of the house, with no options for biking that felt safe. Like you we gave it a ton of though but we ended up not having much other choice. At least it sounds like you got a great deal on both of yours!

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes, sometimes the unfortunate answer is “yes, we need two cars.” We do feel like our cars are reliable, frugal, and excellent options for our family… so that helps. 🙂

  11. 250 more hours with the kids per year for Mr. T? DONE. You’ve just paid for your second car right there!

    We still have two cars, while we’re working. We actually were a one-car household the entire time we lived in the city, and we’d bike and take the bus if we needed to get somewhere when the other had the car. Or rent a car if it was for work (or cab — this was pre-Uber). But when we moved to the mountains, we knew my little old Honda Civic wasn’t going to cut it on the snow and ice, and we bought a Subaru Outback, which we rely on so much now. The main reason we need two cars is that our town has no public transit nor airport shuttles, and I have our car parked at the airport the next state over half the time while I’m traveling for work. Not wanting to strand Mr. ONL, a second car is a necessity. But you better believe we’re downsizing to one the second we quit our jobs. We can’t wait!

    • MaggieBanks

      Things were definitely a lot simpler in some ways with one car. And I still dream of living in a small, European village where we take the train to Church, walk to school, etc. No cars would be fabulous! The semester I spent in London riding the tube was great! (PS- I HATE driving… so Mr. T is at the wheel if we’re together… and not because he’s a chauvinist!)

  12. Indeed, when you are far away from school / job there is no solution but a car (and 3.5 miles are a lot, you cannot walk it daily, we have a half of mile and is just a perfect walk for morning/ afternoon ). I bought the apartment to be close to the child school and same my friends are doing. I will move again when the child will start the high-school – I want to be easy for the child.

    • MaggieBanks

      That is ideal. My kids attend two different schools currently, which also is a problem. 🙂

  13. We need both of our cars. Mr. Smith has a truck that he uses in his construction work. I commute 30 miles to work in an office three days per week. The loans are paid off, and we keep our expenses low with Mr. Smith doing all of the repairs (http://creatingmykaleidoscope.com/2015/03/12/how-we-save-hundreds-of-dollars-on-car-repairs/).

    When we had our third child this past spring, everyone assumed that we would go out and purchase a NEW van. We cannot fit three carseats in my vehicle. However, we live three houses down from my father-in-law. All three seats fit just fine in his car. We rarely go anywhere as a “party of five” as Goofball takes the bus to kindergarten. With access to this other vehicle, we haven’t had any issues yet.

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh how i wish we could do car repairs! Mr. T is a many of all skills and talents, but cars scare him off. It’s the one area in which we just feel completely hopeless. That’s part of the stress of two cars and why it really was a tough choice for us (also, I hate driving).

      • I know cars can be intimidating, but at least try changing your own oil. It is so easy, even I can do it.

        • MaggieBanks

          Mr. T tried that for awhile. I think it’s probably easier on the Subaru, but the Sentra has some weird positioning that makes it difficult (so I’m told). But we should probably start doing our own on the Forester. Thanks for the motivation!

  14. We have only one car, but we’re both home all day every day. If Tim worked (and did so away from the house) we might have issues due to appointments and such. But overall, I think we could still make it work. But that’s because I work from home too.

    I think those are pretty reasonable car costs overall. I’m enjoying our car being relatively new. In the next 1-3 years, things will start needing replacing. I’m worried about it.

    • MaggieBanks

      Like I said, our Sentra has only needed work twice. And two batteries (those are easily installed – we actually do that ourselves and that’s saying something with cars!). Not all cars will need a ton of work.

  15. Such a good deal for two cars! And I’m sure it will be even lower next year without the maintenance issues (fingers crossed!) For about two years I was car free, but recently switched over to driving my partner’s car that is paid in full. Having a car is life changing and the ultimate luxury, in the best way.

    I agree with you, as long as the decision is thoughtful and considered, there shouldn’t be any guilt or shame involved! Happy you and your family found the perfect solution 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks Taylor! I was very upset losing our “one-car family” status, but ultimately, there isn’t any guilt. It was a thought-out decision and the trade-off was worth it.

  16. J

    I have a car but I let my brother use it because I don’t like driving but annual expenses probably looks like this:

    – Registration $700 (for a year!! – my jaw dropped when I saw how much you guys pay for yours)
    – Insurance $600
    – Maintenance $500 (this is a guesstimate)
    – Petrol $3000 (my brother fills up $60 a week, his employer pays for this though)
    – Parking $150 (another guess but we take a few trips to the airport every year and Melbourne’s airport parking is just…jjfdla;jfdlsaj!)

    Luckily, we haven’t had to do any major repairs since we got the car in 2012. I don’t know how much my partner spends on his car but I’m thinking it’s roughly the same, except for parking and that he has to pay for his own petrol. As for my transport situation, I carpool with my partner because we work in the same area but I still have to walk a fair bit. I like walking, so it’s actually good for me.

    And I agree, 250 hours more spent with family is priceless! Happy weekend Maggie!

    • MaggieBanks

      I hate driving too! Car costs are so weird and different all over the world. And even in Alaska, Subarus don’t seem to lose value… which is an odd phenomenon. Thanks for chiming in, J! It’s always a pleasure to see you around. And, as always from the time warp, enjoy tomorrow! 🙂

  17. We have two cars now, both paid off. I’d love to get down to one, but it’s not realistic now. Both are reliable (Hondas) and we’ll probably keep them until they die. If we get stationed overseas or in a big city, then that would probably be the time to make the shift down to one or possibly none.

    • MaggieBanks

      If we stay here, we’ll probably keep both cars until they die. If we move, we’ll probably just sell them both up here and get something somewhere else since it costs $1500 to ship a car out of Alaska – or you could drive the Al-Can (but I’ve heard too many scary stories!). 🙂

  18. Great article! My wife and I have been using one car for the last 18 months and it’s worked out great! In addition to the costs of insurance/etc., it requires us to go to the same places at the same time – saving more on gas overall. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to more great content!

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks Rob. Life was definitely simpler when it was just Mr. T and I. Three kids and two cars make things more complicated in a lot of ways. But for now, 2 cars works for us.

  19. 1 car for us (2 adults and 2 kids) and we live in suburbia in Australia. Some people ask us why we don’t have 2 cars, almost looking at us with pity. It is not by necessity, but choice. We live near the school and public transport is pretty good, weekends are a bit tricky but we work around it. Sometimes it is nice excuse to say we can’t go somewhere so it makes the weekends not so hectic.

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes, those are the things I miss about having just one car. 🙂 Maybe we’ll go back someday where it makes more sense… I actually prefer being a one-car family, but the trade-off to two was actually worth it at this stage.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén