Becoming a one car couple

The two car family is on the decline. From Boulder, Colorado to Cape Town, South Africa the number of couples thinking about and experimenting with the one-car thing is increasing. But it’s tricky right? How does it work? Who gets the car and what happens when you both need to be somewhere?

One car. Two people. Does that sound romantic or like a fight just waiting to happen?

We spoke to a few couples about why they are doing the one car thing and the reasons were generally to save money and do less environmental damage. But when we looked further into the money side of it, things got hazy. It turns out we really don’t know how to talk about money and cars. There are three reasons for this.

1. Most of us have no real idea how much our cars cost to own and run.

We think about the monthly repayment and fuel costs and forget about insurance, services, parking, tyres and the weird ‘need to replace these brake pads before we skid off the road and DIE!!’ kind of costs. For many of us, car maintenance is like ‘bad luck’ – something we pray only happens to other people. We don’t factor it in and we certainly don’t plan for it.

2. We all have different car ownership tolerances

Some of us NEED to own a car. And for others, it’s really not that important. Like houses, they can become symbols of anything from freedom to adulthood. These different needs can sometimes lead one partner to automatically taking on the bulk of the responsibility and costs of ownership. And if our interviews are anything to go by, this can lead to some irritation about ‘lending’ the car to their partners. Are you a one-car couple? Or a couple where one person has a car?

3. This kind of equal financial sharing is still pretty new.

Dual income households have radically shifted what is financially possible in partnerships, but our behaviours are often slow to catch up. Most of us are doing this dual income/dual paying for the first time and we don’t know how to think about it. So much so, that we don’t even know that we have to think about it. The result is feelings. Lots of confusing, awkward feelings.

Which is why Kin was so excited to hear how Gabe&Steffi* do it. It’s clear. It’s fair. And it’s so diabolically precise as to have almost definitely come from the mind of a chartered accountant.

Here is the core principle: All Transport is shared 50/50. All. Of. It. (Except speeding fines.)

  1. The car is co-owned and while it’s in Gabe’s name, there is a contractual agreement that Steffi owns it 50%

  2. All car expenses are split 50/50 – fuel, services, tyres, maintenance, licensing and insurance, regardless of who is driving it most or earns more

  3. All other transport costs are split – Uber, bus, new tubes for the bike they also use to get around. (Wait? What?!?)

That last one tripped us up a bit, too. Our attitude was “Why should I pay for my partner’s uber?” Then we thought about it a bit longer.

If Gabe’s Ubering to a meeting, it’s because Steffi took the car to work, right? So why should Gabe be financially penalised? He shouldn’t. And in their case, he isn’t.

This kind of absolute clarity on the money and the value of what the money is providing keeps the anxiety, resentment and complications out of their relationship.

Out of all the one-car couples we spoke to, Gabe&Steffi were the clearest, most relaxed and least awkward about how it works, why it works and what it means for them.

So if you are doing the one car thing. Maybe try the Gabe&Steffi way.

*Gabe&Steffi are not their real names.