We’re Car Free

skull/cell phone street art

Street art by Skullphone.

Well, at least temporarily. Some idiot piloting a SUV sturdy enough to patrol the streets of Kabul rear-ended me last week. He was probably busy posting a Yelp review on his smart phone.  I’m still in pain and our car is totaled, but I’m thankful I’m alive.

In the meantime Kelly and I have no car. Normally this isn’t much of an issue as I can get around by bike/public transit. But my neck and back are too creaky right now to do that. I’m considering some crazy options:

Become agoraphobic
I remember an interview with actor Harry Dean Stanton in which he described the way he deals with the craptacularness that is the City of Los Angeles. His answer? He never leaves the house. I could have stuff delivered–everything from straw bales to groceries are just a click or phone call away. Why venture out on this town only to see miles of deteriorating streets overseen by corrupt politicians? When I want to get some nature time,  I could rent a car. We’d save thousands of dollars.

Buy a Car
Car shopping, for me, is about as fun as a root canal without Novocaine. Was the 19th century carriage industry this scammy?

Take the car of the idiot who hit me
My new Jeep Wranger would be courtesy of the music video producer who totaled my car. (His mammoth vehicle, by the way, was hardly scratched.)  You should have to face consequences for negligence–this was not an “accident,” after all. Wreck someone else’s car by your own stupidity and you should have to donate your car to the person you hit. Nassim Taleb would suggest that the same principle should apply to Wall Street bankers. There would be a whole lot less texting while driving and financial risk taking if, as Taleb puts it, “captains went down with their ships.”

Move to Venice, Italy
Not only is Venice car free it’s also bike, moped, bus and train free. But then I’d probably end up in a nautical accident caused by a texting gondolier.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
I’m cursing my useless music degree. If only I had gone to a college that combined rigorous writing classes with machine shop and auto repair. My dream: a Kickstarter campaign to fund the conversion of a 1970s era Dodge Viper into a bad-ass electric vehicle. Or fuel it with our humanure methane digester. Airbrush the Root Simple logo on the door and folks would really notice our arrival at book signings–especially when we do donuts in the parking lot.

root simple viper

So, dear readers, what do you think we should do?

Leave a comment


  1. I like the agoraphobia idea, but when it happened to me, I bought another car. In my case, the car-shopping was easier because the nice people who fix my car also sell a small number of vehicles, and they found me a deal. I don’t know whether this happens in California, but look into independant repair shops that you or your friends like dealing with and see if they have or know about something.

    • I have a cargo bike–felt good enough to use it last night. But not sure Mrs. Homegrown is up for towing me around! Would certainly be nice.

    • It’s a complicated love/hate relationship. I have an elderly mom to take care of and lots of friend here. I grew up here and it’s home to me despite its many drawbacks. There are times I feel the pull of Northern California . . .

  2. I had a painless experience buying my new Prius-C (which I LOVE). Here’s what I did:

    1. Do the research ahead of time on models, pricing, options, etc.

    2. When you get it narrowed down to what you want, check out edmunds.com and research the “dealer invoice” price for the model and options. This is what they pay, and you can see the difference with how much they tack on for the “MSRP” sticker price too.

    3. Send out an email to every dealer in whatever radius from you that you could stand to visit and tell them exactly what you want, and what you are willing to pay, explaining that your figure is $x above DEALER INVOICE (I went with $200 over that amount). Let them know you’re emailing everyone, and will visit whoever can get back to you with the price you’re willing to pay–they should know they are in competition.

    4. Lots of people will get back to you without a price quote, or asking you to come in. Don’t–only people who send you a price and let you know what’s on the lot in writing (email) get a visit. Let them know that.

    5. They’ll probably come back with a price above what you ask and claim the dealer invoice price is incorrect, but whatever. Now you have a good sense of who’s honest, who’s already trying to give you the runaround, and who’s offering the best price. All from the comfort of your own home.

    6. If you want a test drive without commitment, do it at a place you’d not consider buying first–get in/get out. But if you’re really sure you know what you want, go to the dealer that gave you the best service via email and the best price.

    7. Having a price made it super-easy once we got there, and the saleswoman seemed glad too, because there were no games. We just drove it, bought it for the email price, and that was it.

    I figure we saved about $2000 this way, compared to the sticker price and info from the less-honest dealers. I think a similar thing would work with used cars–let them know what you’re looking for ahead of time, and you’ll save a ton of time and energy on the horrible shopping part. Good luck!

    • Beth–many, many thanks for the advice. Will definitely be referring back to your comment when we begin our car search.

    • I never buy new. As soon as you drive a new car off the lot its depreciated 10 – 15%. I always buy a 2 -3 year old used car. That way, on a percentage basis, they’ve depreciated the most they are going to depreciate over the shortest period of time. I keep the car for 10 years or so, wring most of the value out of it, sell it privately, and repeat the process.

    • Not meaning to offend, but there is a zip car site at Union Station, not far from EP… when the wife and I were without an auto for a while (living in EP), that’s where we would go… easy bus ride, mid-length walk, and we lived on the big hill across from Elysian Park.. felt like we were in the Bay Area, all walking around and stuff.

      Sadly, a daily commute to Burbank for the lady, and a stint working in Redondo Beach for me put us off of hours spent on pub trans (and i love the train!) and daily car rental… but still thinking of going back to it… now in Los Feliz, and multiple zip spots in east and regular hollywood…

  3. I’d use a city car sharing service like zipcar until you get a replacement car. For many city dwellers and infrequent drivers, it’s a cheaper alternative to car ownership and is more environmentally responsible.


    • There was talk of a zipcar site near our house but it didn’t work out. If they ever roll out a Silver Lake/Echo Park location I will look into it. It would be a great option. Pick up a sedan a day or two a week and rent a truck when we need to haul stuff. Would save a lot of money.

  4. Government should require the liability insurance rates to be proportionate to the damage potential of the vehicle being driven. This way SUVs, while certainly safer for the driver, would also cost them for the potential damaged and recklessness they entail.

    Regarding landscape, there’s virtually no limit to the amount of productive creativity the govenrnment can create with the issuance of their own currency restricted to a domestic circulatory system. (Review the history of greenbacks for an example of the benefit this can provide, and the sinister way it was sabotaged by proponents of the federal reserve act). With that in mind, California could issue california savings bonds as payment for procuring construction services. The bonds would only be good for exchange in cali and the government would have to adopt a policy of only securing services of businesses supplying ownership, materials, and labour native to cali. It’s high time we start employing the level of technology we’re capable as a society instead of being constantly burdened by costs and constrictions imposed by those entities (wall street, etc) who intentionally dry up the means of exchange that allows our societies to function. To this end, I could suggest abandoning this 2-dimensional perspective on traffic management, and instead begin implementing road cover spanning urban landscapes which would effectively create elevated greenscape with walking/cycling/etc paths. Essentially identical to green roofing, except it would be a roof overtop of the streets.
    Many criticisms would come over the economic impacts of using such a payment system. Most likely in the form of the residual debt burden imposed when the bonds come due. However, the payment for the bonds can be procured in a more predictable and smooth fashion over the duration of the lifetime of the bond instead of being fiscally irresponsible and assuming debts from other jurisdictions to cover the overhead. A final provision can be made to give the government the right to extend the duration of a bond if it is seen as financially necessary. Thereby buying them time for the economic impact to yield an exernalized benefit. If they leverage this in ways directly linked to increasing the interstate or international competitiveness of california’s industry, they stimulate the export development necessary to cover the overhead of securing the bonds without going into debt to a financier. Some would call this a dirty trick in line with non-tariff trade barrier, but the fact remains that every country in the world employs such tricks to bolster their own industry at the expense of foreign competition for as long as they can get away with it without being sanctioned.

    As usual, I always look forward to candid feedback.
    P.S. From my own experiments, hybrids like the prius enjoy a fuel effficiency which puts their operating cost at about 30% that of a conventional combustion engine. The fuel savings (factoring in the rising price of gas) over the lifetime of the vehicle (depending on usage) will far outstrip the premium paid for a hybrid in the first place. There’s a recent TED video featuring the guy who helped found space-X. Indirect quote, but he expects all vehicles in north america will necessarily be hybrids within the not-too-distant future. Such economies of scale and competition will dramatically reduce the dealer invoice price on them.

    • I love the idea of liability rates being proportional to damage potential. It would address the ethics problem that SUVs created–that is, the problem of your own safety being at the expense of others.

  5. John and I send our wishes for a speedy and complete recovery.

    If you can do it, sue the bejesus out of the guy who hit you. He deserves no mercy, especially if his mind and eyes were electronically engaged elsewhere while driving. Because I do not have a cell phone, I actually pay attention when I’m driving and I’m shocked – shocked! – to see so many drivers around me looking at their laps while speeding on the highway. It’s gotten to the point that I’m amazed I haven’t been hit by some idiot.

    • Thank you. I’m having my doctor take a look at me to make sure there is no long term injury.

  6. I wish you could take the car of the guy that hit you. I have been rear-ended twice, and it sucks. I saw a huge SUV rearend someone on Slauson a few months ago–he was sooooo determined to not let someone in front of him (using their turn signal, in heavy traffic, approaching the mall) that he totally rammed the car in front of him.

    Also, make sure you always have your head rest adjusted to your height. Back seat ones too if/when you have people back there. It amazes me how many people don’t do this, and it doesn’t take much to hurt your neck.

    Feel better.

  7. I agree. Step one is to move out of LA. Is there something on this blog that explains why you live there? Unless you are giant hockey fans…. (half kidding).

    Anyhow. Why is it you don’t have a rental car or courtesy car for the week, on Buddy Bender’s dime? That is how it works up in Canada…

    • Funny–I didn’t even know the LA Kings were champions this year! I’m here for friends and family, but this accident does make me want to move.

  8. It seems to me that the insurance company for the guy that hit you should cover the renting of a car for while you figure this all out.
    Then if you are going to buy I would go with Beth’s idea above.My uncle was a car salesperson and he would think Beth’s plan is rock solid.Leave them no room to be crafty.

    • Since the guy hit me and pushed me into a 2011 Mercedes, we are up against the limits of his collision coverage and they will only cover a few days of a rental car. Kinda sucks. And we will definitely be following Beth’s advice.

  9. So sorry to hear that you were hurt in the accident, Eric, but very glad that you’re alive and on the mend. I second what Ruben said: you are probably eligible for a rental car paid by the rear-ender’s insurance company. When someone rammed into my car last year, my insurance company had me call the other guy’s insurance company to set this up. Having a rental car might at least get you through the most painful part of your recovery.

    Thanks to Beth for the great information about how to buy a new car painlessly. I’ve started thinking about replacing my 14-year-old car, and will certainly use her technique!

  10. I am so sorry to hear about your accident, I hope you take care of yourself and get all the medical care you need. The insurance company of the other driver will be calling you SOON, to offer you a payout — probably several thousand dollars right up front — it’s tempting but don’t do it unless you are absolutely sure you are 100 percent on the road to complete recovery. They can be quite persistent about wanting you to sign off, so just be ready.

    OK, so I’m going to ask the question, too. Why are you still in LA, anyway? I say that as an LA native, having grown up in Eagle Rock (class of 1977!). I left years ago to pursue fresh air and more space per square foot and its the best decision I ever made. You guys seem like you’d do really well on a couple of acres. Things are a lot cheaper outside the city, too. Everything from housing to car insurance, the latter for reasons painfully obvious to you today, I am sure. Sending positive thoughts your way as you heal.

    • Thanks–will have my doctor look me over before signing anything. And I really need to do a post explaining why we’re here.

  11. When the same thing happened to us, we used Costco auto buying service to get cheap quotes for the model we were interested in. Backed up by prior research, we knew which quotes were close to MSRP. We were contacted by a few dealers, some slimy and some straightforward. Unfortunately the only dealers on their list for the car & price we wanted were far away. So then we went to the dealer close to use and asked if they would match the Costco deal of the dealer far away, and they did.

    They actually claimed they were getting a $76 loss on selling it to us that way, but since this was a Dec 31, I got the feeling that we were helping them satisfy some quota or something. Month-end purchasing is good for internal quota satisfying also.

    Costco and AAA offer auto buying services where supposedly you get “fleet” pricing. Some dealers do a good job with this and some don’t. For example, a few years we were able to get a stripped down Nissan Versa at a good price, while Honda Fit was available at “fleet” pricing only if every bell & whistle was attached, which raised the price, negating any discount effect.

    Years ago my FIL did the math and figured out that it was cheaper for him to take a cab when he needed to go somewhere, than to pay for a car operating costs, maintenance, and insurance. If you don’t have a zipcar near you, that is something to consider. Also, do you have any public transportation near you? (LA is getting better at this in some areas).

    Best of luck with recovery.

  12. I’d take option 1 – agoraphobic. In fact, that’s how I would live if I didn’t have children who have activities to which I need to drive them. I love having things delivered rather than having to drive hither and yon to find them. With the Internet being what it is, I’m surprised more people aren’t exploring car-free lifestyles.

  13. When I was a kid, like 8 years old, we had to bike ourselves to any place that was less than about 5 miles. Children these days are too pampered.

  14. You could always move up to Apple Valley while the prices here are still good. Large lots (many 3/4 to an acre), clean air, low crime, no police helicopters over head, and peace and quiet. Of course you would have to learn to garden in the desert, but I am amazed at how many people do it and do it well. Of course you’d have to leave the ‘city life’ behind unless you want to drive ‘down the hill’ to get it. And I would get a RE agent who knows the area so you would get something nice. AV is one of the nicest areas in the high desert in my opinion.

  15. So glad you were not seriously injured! Hope you are feeling better soon! If I lived in a city that had a service like Zip Car and good public transportation, I would do that. Since I don’t, when our car was totaled, I took the opportunity to get a used Prius with the insurance payment. I looked online at rental car dealers who sell their vehicles after a year and found the car through Enterprise. The sales person brought it to my area so that I could test drive it, and I haven’t had any trouble with it in 3 years.

  16. 1. Join a car sharing network
    2. buy an edgerunner with electric assist from xtracycle.com
    3. bask in the glory of your new found independence

  17. well, like, I totally watch the real housewives shows in beverly hills and orange county – they take limos everywhere- can’t you do that? That’s my midwestern vision of living in LA.

    I second the idea to move, preferably to a place that is more suited to the car free person. Never mind if that means somewhere in Europe or or some other continent. I hope the other, more serious, replies supply you with help. I have no answers.

  18. Recumbent bike? Cheaper than getting a car, though that won’t help with getting straw bales.. I’ve been looking into getting a sturdy trailer for my bike, so unless you bike far that could be a car replacement. http://www.bikeshophub.com/wandertec/ I like the wandertec trailers, they have solid bottoms and can come in pretty good sizes. Thing is I emailed them awhile ago asking about upgrading them to have the rails I see in these pictures but no response. I know it sucks L.A. is so sprawled out, it’s a miracle I haven’t had to use a car (but very much to the gripe of my car-driving friends, who have pulled many a favor for me… ;p) I have expensive health insurance, but only because I bike in L.A. and worry incessantly about people ticktacking on their stupid smart phones and plastering me all over their windshield. Though health insurance won’t help me if my neck gets broken, or I get crushed, a styrofoam hat can only do so much good.

    • I used to have one of these.


      I could cross half the city in less time than it took for public transit busses to do the same path, and it’s way cheaper in the long run. Interacting with traffic is a non-issue if you stick to the sidewalks. As much as they may make rules and laws to kick cyclists off the sidewalks, it’s just not safe to bike on the street. One errant bump with a side-view mirror and you’re going down and getting run over. We had a lady killed here last summer from that happening. If police or city council wants to give you grief over it… put it this way: compare the proportion of bicycle-pedestrian collisions resulting in death vs. the proportion of bicycle-vehicle collisions resulting in death. That alone should be sufficient justification for bikes to be permitted on sidewalks.

  19. After an injury the attorney told me that if I tell the doctor my knee is 100% better that the insurance company is off the hook in the future. However, if it is getting better, the insurance company will be liable for future treatment. You neck/spine/back/joints are all parts of the body that show the results of trauma years later as the body ages and symptoms re-emerge.

    Talk to your attorney before you talk to your doctor.

    I felt so much better immediately after surgery that I was ecstatic, but realistically there was still evidence that all was not as before the accident. Now, the knee is bothering me again. So, I will need more repair to the meniscus or a knee replacement which the insurance company will be liable for paying for.

    Right now, I am having back problems so severe that I can barely walk, all from a fall when I was shoved, falls from my bike, falls in the skating rink, picking up things too heavy for me, etc. Now, it is just one big mess that needs extensive surgery. Who knows how much was caused by bumper cars, picking up my children over the years. However, the few times I needed to go to the doctor, nothing was done for me–no surgery, no advice on what to avoid. You don’t want to have a problem in ten years and not have the insurance company liable.

    Maybe insurance in your state works differently. But, talk to an attorney, not your insurance company and certainly not theirs.

  20. Having not read the proceeding comments, I would recommend getting a lawn chair with wheels… aka: Recumbent Bicycle/tricycle.

    It is a nice look if you get the right model and you don’t have to worry about impressing the ladies with your wheels.

  21. How about a natural gas powered Honda Civic? One of my coworkers just bought one and while it was new, he got $3,000 off the dealer price through a Honda direct incentive along with a $3,000 gas card. Given the current CNG prices of around $2.00 per “gallon” and getting 40-50 MPG it should last him a long time. The only downside (aside from the immediate new car depreciation) is the trunk is really tiny.

  22. Pingback: 2013 in Review Part I | Root Simple

Comments are closed.