My VW Rabbit on Skyline Drive;

Surviving Southern California without a car

Americans are notoriously car-obsessed, and Southern California may be the nation’s best demonstration of this. Public transit is woefully lacking, freeways dominate the landscape, and we really do spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how–or how not–to get from one place to another. SNL was pretty accurate. 😉

Since moving to Ventura in July 2014, we’ve never owned a working car. Our cross-country drive was the last for my 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit (pictured on Skyline Drive in Virginia), thanks largely to the deleterious effect road salt had on several expensive parts during the vehicle’s time in New England. Deciding the car wasn’t worth the repair costs, we garaged it until we could donate it; despite the necessity a vehicle seems to be in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, we’ve managed not to replace the Rabbit since its last drive in late 2014.

Understandably, we’re able to live without a car almost exclusively because we both work for a distributed company. As I noted, public transportation is generally insufficient, and particularly so where we live; not commuting at all is crucial.

Similarly, location is a significant factor. We’re within walking distance of every major shop we need, and are heavy users of Amazon Prime, so our shopping is largely confined to fresh items from the grocery store. Beyond location, we purposefully rented a two-bedroom apartment to provide sufficient office space for both of us. Essentially, we rarely venture far beyond wherever we can reach on foot.

When we do need to get around in the Ventura area, we have access to a taxi company, as well as two ridesharing services1. We’re also blessed with a friend who regularly travels for lengthy periods and lends us his car in exchange for watering his houseplants and bringing in his mail.

On the rare occasion that requires a car, we benefit from a strong relationship with the nearby Hertz Local Edition. Since HLEs don’t charge airport concession fees, and typically serve customers whose vehicles are being repaired or whose insurance is covering the rental cost, their rates are much lower than competing rental options. Combined with discounts available through my employer and from AAA, renting has been more economical than buying or leasing2. This will almost certainly remain true for as long as our rental needs are largely for work-related travel, and Hertz continues to offer suitable rental rates.

Have we thought about leasing a car? Absolutely. I even contacted a few dealerships and came close to scheduling test drives. Fortunately, circumstances have allowed us to avoid such a commitment.

  1. Since our desire to travel in Ventura generally involves food and/or drink, there’s a clear upside to relying on taxis and ridesharing services.
  2. Further dissuading us from having our own car is the low cost of non-named owner insurance: we pay $150 per year for the same coverages that would cost just under $1,000 with a vehicle.