/ Motoring

Could you get by without a car?

When the lease on my car came up I decided to give the car-free life a try. Do you need one as much as you think you do?

With emissions scandals hitting the headlines and a lot of conversations around poor air quality, it got me wondering whether I (and my family) really needed a car to go about our day-to-day lives.

After some lengthy discussions with my partner, we decided to take the plunge and go for the car-free life. Here are our experiences so far.

Shopping and day trips

With online shopping being so easy and accessible, the weekly shop was something we didn’t have to worry too much about (as long as you don’t mind someone else picking the items for you – we’ve had a few interesting sized carrots delivered!)

Fortunately the local shops are within walking distance, too. So if we do run out of anything essential, we know it won’t be an issue.

Day trips on the other hand required a bit more discussion. It’s a big one for me, as I love getting out of the city and into that fresh country air (plus hot chooclate and a scone, please!)

Without a car we’re severely restricted on where we can get to, meaning seaside trips and countryside walks are out of the question without some advanced planning.

Is a car better in an emergency?

We’re lucky enough not to have had any emergencies in the family recently, but it does make you appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having a car when you need to get somewhere fast.

For example, if I had to rush to my son’s school in an emergency, I’m not so sure I’d like the idea of being stuck on a delayed train!

My verdict on going car-less

So, will we go back to being car owners any time soon? Maybe not quite yet.

We’ve found we can get by now with little bother, but it’s not without a downside – it does severely restrict what we do (especially spontaneously) and, I have to admit, I am missing those countryside scones.

We are lucky that with living in London we do have convenient transport on the doorstep – I’m not sure we could have made the same decision if we had to walk miles to a railway station.

But what about you? Would you consider a car-free life? And do you have any advice for anyone who may be considering it? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to discuss the pros and cons, and my experiences so far!


Probably five taxi journeys per hundred pounds would get the shopping done each month. Longer journeys might be a hundred pounds each on average by public transport, plus taxi to get from the station to wherever with two suitcases maximum for everything. No spontaneous outings and quite a few waits at bus stops and station platforms for connections. Going places would usually take twice as long. Probably an hotel bill in the month when a return journey can’t be made the same day. Meetings and club activities would take twice as long with public transport added and there would be additional taxi journeys for any evening excursions. No means of carrying large loads anywhere, being available for family outings or being the driver when alcohol is consumed. Many day trips to stately homes and beauty spots would be impossible even with a taxi which would not wait while one explored and walked. The car is intertwined with much of what we do everyday, including the school run and work related driving. The growing family have swimming lessons, Karate, dance and drama, football and hockey, Brownies, (you name it) after school and at weekends. Fitting those in around a bus timetable might be difficult and restrictive, especially if it meant having to stay while the activity took place.
Saving on fuel and depreciation would begin to balance the financial costs and some would be better off than others. The obvious answer is to look at what is travelling on the roads around you. They are mostly crowded, with people going about their daily lives -several hundred thousand journeys an hour on any stretch of main road. This must tell you how essential the car has become and how its loss would affect us all.

GeeCee says:
9 February 2019

What about renting a car when you need one – I thought that was available easily in London. Can’t remember what it’s called, like they do for bicycles. Then you could do your trips out of London.

That’s a good suggestion but I suspect that it is an expensive option in the UK when you take into account insurance. I believe that it is cheaper to hire a car in another country than in the UK.

Richard says:
9 February 2019

We currently have three cars, one because of having bought a car to help our eldest daughter, but then she was medically unable and the car just stayed. It is the oldest and is now the dog’s body car, tip visiting, dog transporting and just about any other messy or drop of the hat tasks. It recently rolled over the hundred thousand miles so should owe little for its build impacts.
As for getting rid of any of the cars, well last month we travelled about 1,000 miles attending radiotherapy, half an hour by car, a minimum of one and half hours by putrid transport; which is all but unusable anyway due to my wife’s other health issues. On Friday morning there was a round trip to two hospitals between midnight and five am due to a different health issue. life without personal transport would be impossible and just bring forward the inevitable. I have a bus pass though it probably averages about 0.75 of a journey per year due to impracticality issues affecting that option. Currently I am the only one driving due to the complications of my wife’s treatment(s). Main plus standby transport options are essential in our circumstances, so short answer No, and even at EOL a car of some sort would be needed

Hubby and I are lucky to be able to lead a car-free life. We have a cracking bus service in Edinburgh and we can easily take the bus to lots of places including work. We are members of the city car club, so we can easily hire a car for day trips where buses or trains won’t take us, or for that occasional trip to Ikea. We hire a car for holidays when needed, including sometimes picking it up after an initial stress-free train journey. For emergencies we could easily take a taxi, which would probably be cheaper than keeping a car just for emergencies.

If you live elsewhere than a reasonably sized city/town, the story will be very different, however. We must invest in better public transport. (At some point we won’t have a choice any more anyway.)

I have a bus pass and use it regularly. In doing so I add an hour (and another a half if things take longer to do) onto the time it takes to do things.

Except for very occasional business trips, I normally only use my car at weekends and for holidays. I’m mostly retired now, but I also walked to work during the last seven years of my full time employment.

I seem to remember driving to work can easily become a nightmare 🙁

I am more dependent on the car than when I was when I lived on the outskirts of a city with an excellent bus service, but it’s nearer the places I visit frequently and my annual mileage remains about 8000 miles. My biggest disappointment is that the last bus back from town is at 17:00. When house hunting I had checked that there was an hourly bus service to the village but not the time of the last bus. 🙁

Since I retired I have become more of an enthusiast of park & ride schemes, though some are better than others. When attending meetings I try to arrange car sharing. I have never liked paying for parking, so park & walk suits me and provides exercise.

I am retired but when I was working I lived within two miles of work, though drove there except on sunny days. Sadly it was not safe to cycle.

As an asthmatic and affected by air pollution in city centres I think we should take action to deal with the problem. When I had a holiday in London a few days ago I had to go to a hospital and get additional medication. I’m not planning to replace my car for a few years but if I was doing that tomorrow I would go for a hybrid.

I would find it difficult to live without a car but the first move would be to use an online supermarket.

I’d suggest you monitor your journey – and your health – with one of these, and avoid the underground.

Alternatively, start a Which? campaign to move their office to somewhere healthier. Garden cities were created to move people out of the poor living conditions in London. We should do the same for the workers 🙂 .

Yes, living in London and having access to good public transport, I do get by without one — I do wish I had one sometimes when I’m doing a long trip or moving house though.

But you’ve got a roof garden. 🙂

Scones on the roof…has a nice ’30s feel to it. Will the butler – old Steen, I think he’s called – be on hand to serve canapés?

At risk of taking this wildly off topic (it is Friday)… what goes on first on a scone: jam or cream?

Would it be high tea on the roof garden.

Has to be Jam, Oscar; far denser and the cream sits nicely on top.


I can’t drive, and I especially can’t drive and serve scones at the same time. Signed, old Steen

Have you looked into joining a car club. Being in london, we are spoilt for choices when it comes to travelling. I use zipcar and uber for times when a car is necessary. I cannot imagine driving in london on a regular basis.

We have two cars – our PHEV and a Toyota all wheel drive vehicle. We’re now thinking of getting rid of the Toyota all-wheel drive, since we barely use it It’s essential at times, when we have heavy snow, but that seems to be a diminishing occurrence, so we can almost certainly get by on the PHEV.

But going car-free isn’t a realistic option for us. We live in an isolated rural position and public transport and taxis are both almost non-existent, so without the car we’d be in trouble. The nearest GP and Pharmacy are both three miles down the valley and 800′ lower in altitude, so even basic essentials would prove a struggle.

We are, however, conscious that cars spew forth noxious gases, which is why our PHEV is currently doing around 2000 mpg. New charge points are appearing in the area, so it’s becoming increasingly easy to drive an EV.

June Adamson says:
7 February 2019

We have cut down on car use by walking, cycling and occasional bus trips. Local buses are poor for medical appointments and trains worse. We try to make those trips count by shopping en route. Down side is that we don’t do enough long journeys to keep the battery fully charged!

June: I recommend you buy a battery conditioner. It’s ideal for low mileage users.

A problem with modern cars is that they slowly drain the battery when not in use. Those who leave their car at airports may find it won’t start when they get back. Weekly use of a battery charger will help and a battery conditioner can be left connected for long periods without risk of damaging the battery. If the battery does have to be replaced then go for the highest (Ah) capacity that will fit the car. It’s harder for those who don’t have their own garage or drive.

I’m another one who tries to combine journeys and that is easier when you are retired.

Phil says:
8 February 2019

Or simply disconnect the battery.

On some cars the radio will need to be re-coded if the battery is disconnected and the alarm won’t work. I recently bought a new battery and a short time after I disconnected the battery I was deafened by the alarm, so I assume there is another battery or capacitor in there somewhere. Disconnecting the battery used to be an easy solution.

Yes indeed – after fitting a new battery to my Note, I had to do something strange (using the door window switch) to re-enable the ignition system. The radio also had to be re-coded, but that was simpler to figure out.

….And your automatic windows may not work automatically.

Nigel Hayman says:
9 February 2019

I connect a Ctek charger once a week to keep my car battery conditioned. I don’t need to disconnect the wires to use it. This can be a pain if you lose the radio settings etc.

Back in the 70s I fitted a cigarette lighter plug on my parents’ battery charger, making it a simple matter to put the battery on charge without lifting the bonnet. I still have the charger but it’s no use now since in modern cars the power socket is disconnected when the engine is turned off.

I have one car and would be devastated if I lost it having had a car since I was 17 years. 3 years ago I was diagnosed with a medical condition which meant losing my full licence and receiving a three year medical licence. The medical licence is up for renewal this year and may be revoked. I have to apply for it and get my application approved by the Doctor.
I cannot imagine how I would manage with things I now taken for granted, even things like going to hospital.

I’m sorry to hear the and hopefully you will have good news. Two of my university friends lost their licences in their early 60s because of medical conditions but one is driving again. The other has moved to a place with a bus that stops outside the door. A couple of older friends are still driving but are now living within a short walk from the town centre.

Thanks for the comments, I also have a bus that stops virtually outside the house. We have a underground train that also links with Liverpool. So we have good transport, but so many questions. The thought of going to the tip in the bus. !!

I have bus envy. 🙂 I have a friend who took early retirement and now drives a minibus to help those who don’t drive. If he knew someone needed to go to the tip he would be round at their house with his car and a trailer. I used to have neighbours who would do anything to help but they are no longer with us or no longer able.

I’m the same, I go through great anxiety when my licence is up for review. I also broke my foot a few years ago and couldn’t drive for several months – it made life incredibly difficult, and I realised then that I would not want to be without a car.

Anne Reed says:
7 February 2019

At age 77, three years ago, I gave my car to a daughter who needed it for her new job and could not afford one herself as she is still paying off debts. I also help with servicing etc costs.

It was partly a selfish act, as I had become the family taxi driver, taking this one shopping, that one shopping, another to the dentist, the other one wanted picked up at her home and taken to the station as bags too heavy, etc etc.etc.. I love my family but it was never ending.
I missed the car a little at first but then – what a relief it was. When the phone rings now I answer it in peace and goodwill.
Internet shopping, groceries delivered, local shops 10 minutes walk away , the occasional taxi into town and best of all if I do need a lift when she is not at work – I know the number to ring.

In Summer she says ” Mum shall we all go to the country tomorrow?”. Yes please.
On her days off she says “Mum would you like the car today?” Erm, no thanks.

I don’t even worry about needing it for hospital visits as it costs an arm and a leg to park there that’s if you can even find a space in time and haven’t died from stress before reaching your appointment place.
It’s horses for courses though and many do rely heavily on their cars I know and not all older people are lucky enough to have family live near them.

Wendy Greener says:
7 February 2019

I am elderly and disabled and not using a car would really make life hard. I think the idea and the aim to lesson pollution is good but as things stand, not as good as one would think. If we all order food shopping on line this will massively increase delivery vans. Same goes for shopping on line. The diesel usage may be equal to many small cars.
As things stand, local shops are closing and cars are mostly needed to get to large retail centres.
I suggest that those who can, should use only small economical vehicles and when suitable use the train. The government needs to improve our railways. There also needs to be more investment and jncentive to use alternative fuel vehicles. I’d have one but they are too expensive.

Abby Semple Skipper said Today 11:18

The sawdust on the floor of the butchers

Sure that wasn’t the joiner’s, then?

Or roasted Chest Nuts….

When you look up a destination on Google Maps, it will show you a comparison between journeys by car, public transport and walking. The last two can be measured in days sometimes, from my very rural location. Unfortunately I can’t live where I love and go car-free. I also need 4-wheel drive, for the country lanes and terrible road conditions. I don’t think I have a choice – yet. But I have bought a lovely vintage tricycle which I will use to get to the nearest village shop (4 miles away) when the weather improves!

Those who live in towns might well get by without a car. They might have to – our local town has built 4 bed houses with one parking space allocated – nowhere for visitors who have a car, nor a partner or grown up family member.

I live in the sticks, bus twice a day otherwise a half mile walk to the bus stop (OK on a nice day but when it snows, rains, …….?). And getting to a final destination off a bus route involves long walks. Again, OK on…….

So could I get by without a car? Only with great difficulty and inconvenience. I visit family and friends and drive on holiday, apart from routine chores that require travel. So I’ll stick with a car while I can.

Phil says:
8 February 2019

I had a taste of it last year when I was unwell for several months (minor operation that went wrong and left me temporarily disabled) and it was a bit of a nightmare. Spent a fortune on taxis getting to the hospital and GP’s surgery, the latter being only 4-5 miles up the road. There are buses but they’re few and far between so when there was nobody available to provide a lift I was a bit stuck.

Groceries and so on I already get delivered so shopping wasn’t a problem but no, I’d hate to be without my car.

Chris Blomerley says:
9 February 2019

I’m a retired ol’ geezer living on my own in Rawtenstall, Lancs. My car’s an elderly Focus which is about to curl up its wheels. I’ve now been without it for a couple of weeks. There’s some loss of convenience but public transport is adequate on most occasions. It’s rather fun juggling bus and train timetables, use bus pass/senior railcard a lot and have made some long complicated journeys quite easily. I can walk to shops and local services. Not had to use a taxi yet but will if needed. I won’t have to pay car insurance, repairs and spares, tax, fuel, and the considerable vehicle depreciation – or clean it, check oil water screen wash tyre pressures …So far, it’s looking good! Will I still be thinking that in a year’s time??

Chris Blomerley says:
9 February 2019

PS – I don’t have to scratch around looking for places to park, either. Bliss!

Joanna says:
9 February 2019

We live in a rural location. We manage to be a one car family by car shares and cycling and walking when we can. The bus service is a bit hit and miss – when my car share partner is on holiday, I use the bus for work, so that my husband can use the car for our turn on the school run. With only 2 buses in the morning, and two back in the evening (spaced by an hour) and at £7 or so return, I need to ensure that I catch the bus!

Sajidah says:
9 February 2019

I’ve been living in London for 20 years and have never had a car. The public transport system is wonderful (having lived in many cities without one). Online shopping helps especially with an annual delivery club membership such as with Sainsbury’s. The local mini-cab company also helps when I have time-sensitive travels or have to go into areas of London farther away from public transport – especially at night or to the hospital – or places with which I am unfamiliar. And for the trips into the countryside, if I was comfortable driving on the left side of the road (which I most definitely am not) I would quickly rent a car. Some car rental places are happy to accommodate you with a prior phone call. All of these costs are FAR LESS than buying and maintaining a car. That can buy many more scones for you!

Big john says:
9 February 2019

When i retired 20 years ago after working and driving in London, I thought about givving up my car and only renting one when needed. I am glad I did not. my anual milage when working was about 10000 a year, last year it was over 14000. Using public transport or taxis is a nice idea, but not when a 30 min car journey to my local hospital takes 90 mins buy bus and train or a £95 taxi journey. Even shopping is now difficult without a car, we have 3 small supermarkets within walking distance but they never seem to have the items i require. So by the time i have gone round them all it is quicker to go by car to the local retail park where i can get everything i need. As for hiring a car when needed, my car was off the road for 5 days having repairs following hitting a pothole. The loan car that was available was to small for me to drive so I ended up hiring one at £65 a day. I also have a dog. If i want to take it for a walk in the nearest country park, it either means 3 buses and a 20 min walk or a dog taxi at £25 if i dont use my car. Recently she had an opperation so has to attend the vets, physiotherapy sessions etc., that would have cost me £125 in dog taxi fares in the last month. As for emergencies. my sister is having cancer treatment at Barts hospital in central london. She became very unwell and was adivised to get to the hospital within the hour. Taxi, 30 mins wait and £65 fare. Car, £11.50 congestion charge and less than a gallon of fuel. So i think at the moment, with my location and lifestyle i’ll be keeping my car.

Like to see you manage without a car here in rural Shropshire. The “local” shops are over 2 miles away (as is the nearest railway station) and getting there involves walking along the busy A49 (a 60 mph road with no footpath!). The nearest bus stop is over a mile away, and also involves risking death on the A49, and the service is two hourly Monday to Saturday daytime only!

I know the A49 fairly well, e.g. from when I used to live and work in Cheshire but had aged parents in Worcestershire.

When I moved south to Gloucester, I chose to move to a house within walking distance of both work and the city centre. Without that investment, I’d be much more dependent on the use of a car.

I’ve never had a car (I can drive but never felt confident enough to put it into regular practice) and it’s definitely do-able as long as you make compromises. Mine is that I a) always live in a town/city centre with public transport b) live near a transport link to my workplace c) accept that my travel will be 2 or 3 times the length of a car journey d) accept that some places will just be inaccessible to me. This has definitely restricted my hobbies and my development in those hobbies, which is probably the greatest regret.
Online shopping is a boon – the heavy or bulky items that I’d have had to get a taxi for or lug back on a bus can be delivered to my doorstep.
In terms of expenditure I don’t know if it’s cheaper or not. I have discounted local bus fares and I have 3 bicycles (one for commuting, one for shopping and one with fewer baskets for evenings out) and use taxis if I need to. Obviously having friends with cars is great as they can take you round and about if you need to (like the local tip – where I worry my bike may be put into a skip while I am away from it! 😉 or for shared pleasure days out.
I also feel I am contributing less to air pollution, as even by bus it is 60 people per journey as opposed to 1 person in a car for the same journey, but that’s just unreasonable smug-ness since I also fly a lot!
I’ve also never had to worry about living somewhere with good car-parking, although ironically with 3 bicycles I am in more need of a garage than a single-car owner would be!
Years ago I read about somewhere in Scandinavia (I think) that had car pools for hiring cars as and when you needed them, which sounded a great idea.
It’s unrealistic to ask people to ditch their cars, unless the public transport improves – and that’s a vicious circle when services are demand-led. But it would be good if families could reduce the numbers of cars they have and car-sharing was more the norm.