Diy & Crafts

Communal Cars

Remember the broken-finger-tire-changing story I shared a few weeks ago? Well as I mentioned, the body of the car, a little Fiat 500e, was pried open in an attempt to free Olive’s finger. After I returned from Alt Summit, we filed a claim with our car insurance to have the bodywork repaired.

Though the car runs fine, the damage to the exterior was extensive enough that our insurance carrier determined it was a total loss. Which means we’ve had some car decisions to make. And oh my goodness I can not believe how much I dislike making car decisions. Choosing a car is a pain. Purchasing a car is a pain. Dealing with maintenance is a pain. Renting a car if yours is in the shop is a pain. Anything to do with the DMV is a pain. Getting rid of a car is a pain.

In an attempt to make some of the issues less of a pain, we’ve looked into all sorts of different car options. We’ve tried leasing. We’ve tried car loans. We’ve bought cars outright with cash. We’ve used big car dealers, and small used car dealers. We’ve bought cars from private owners. We’ve even imported a vehicle from overseas.

I’ve concluded that I just find the whole thing pretty painful no matter what. There are predictions that Generation Z (my kids) will be the last generation to learn how to drive, and that car ownership will become a hobby. And I’m over here like (fist pump!) let’s make it happen!! Sounds great to me.

Maybe it’s because of where we live, but the math of car ownership doesn’t always add up. At the beginning of the semester, Ralph was considering getting a car. He added up a down payment, a monthly payment, insurance, oil changes and regular maintenance, unexpected repairs, gas, parking (which is expensive here if you can even find it), tolls, and parking tickets. Then he averaged it out by month, compared it to his monthly Uber use, and concluded it’s more affordable to keep using Uber. Isn’t that crazy? And of course, all of those things Ralph added up — the maintenance, getting gas, etc. — take time and brain space as well as money.

But, even though using a car service offers some awesome conveniences (like door-to-door drop-off instead of finding parking), it doesn’t offer the same independence as owning your own car. Longer trips — even from here to San Jose or Santa Cruz — can feel out of bounds, and car rentals aren’t typically an option until age 25. So using Uber works for most of what he needs, but not everything.

I know I’m not the only one that has issues with cars. There are lots of people trying to disrupt the current car ownership and car buying situation. Zipcars are shared cars and have been around for many years now. Car2Go is a newer version of shared cars seems to be a good solution for running errands — though it’s only available in a few cities. Turo is described as the Airbnb of cars. It lets you rent a car from your neighbors instead of a car rental company. (If you own a car that mostly sits in your driveway, Turo says you can rent it out approximately 9 days each month and it will cover your car payment.) Most recently, I looked into Canvas and Fair — they both work for drivers 21 or older.

Canvas is connected to Ford. You subscribe to the service for like $50 per month, and choose a short subscription, say 3 months, or a longer subscription of up to a year. And then choose your car for an additional monthly payment — the nicer the car, the more expensive the monthly payment. And you can switch out the car if you don’t like it. The monthly payment includes insurance and all maintenance. (Though gas, and tolls, and parking are still up to you.) And once you choose the car it gets delivered right to your house.

Fair is focused on short-term leases of used-but-reliable cars that you can return whenever you want to or need to — no 3-year or 5-year commitments. They handle everything on the app and it only takes a few clicks to make arrangements — it’s totally paperless. The inventory is narrowed way down for you, so there are only fairly new cars with low miles available, and all car brands are included. They cover roadside assistance and routine maintenance and you can add-on insurance through the app or provide your own. They also have a whole program for people who don’t own cars but want to drive for Uber.

Our 8-seater commercial van (a Mercedes Metris) has about 1 more year left on our lease. Once we hand it in, I think we might try Canvas or Fair for our next car. And I think if Ralph decides he really does need a car, that these services would be a good fit; a way to test out the realities of car ownership without a long term commitment.

In the meantime, our insurance just cut us a check for the loss of our Fiat, and our plan is to buy a replacement Fiat with the money. We love the 500e — it’s little, easy to drive and park, cute, and totally electric. I’m going to find one on Autotrader and see if I can do the whole purchase via email. We’ll see how it goes.

One fun thing: While the Fiat has been in the shop being evaluated, our insurance provided us with a rental car. And the car happens to be a handsome blue Mini Cooper Convertible. We’ve had it for a week now and it’s so delightful! Oakland has had some very sunny days (another one is coming tomorrow), and the whole family gets such a kick out of opening the top. In fact, June’s new favorite thing is to be picked up from school with the top down — I’m pretty sure she’s convinced there is nothing cooler. But I keep laughing because anytime I drive it with the top down I feel like I’m driving a mid-life crisis. Hah!

I told Ben Blair that I have no desire to own a convertible — I don’t think we’d actually have the top down much. But it’s been such an enjoyable novelty that I requested we rent one once a year or so just for fun.

Your turn. What’s your take on car predictions? Do you think your kids will learn to drive? Do you have good public transit where you live and don’t really need a car? Have you ever tried a car-sharing service like Zipcars or Turo or Car2Go? Do you find decisions about cars to be painful, or do you enjoy that kind of thing? (My Dad loved buying cars — he was so good at helping me think through car decisions, and made a hobby of finding good deals on cars. I’m missing him this week.) How would you feel if most cars were communal shared cars? And it was rare to own your own car? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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