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At some point in our car-dependent lives, we reach a point when cars are no longer worth it to keep. When that is is different for everyone, and it requires thought and planning. Many people just run into a situation where they are forced into giving up driving. With foreknowledge, possibly you can avoid that and make arrangements for a car-free life when the time comes.
Oh, the horror of giving up driving!
After about 45 years of commuting and schlepping kids to ball games and private lessons, retirement restores the possibility of relaxing and having fun trips. And then, somehow, it dawns on you that this isn’t working any more.
Well, you’ve spent most of your life as a licensed driver and car owner. You’ve had options because of the cars you had. And now it’s time to give up the options, or make other arrangements. Change is hard.
A German living in the USA once told me Americans are all like cowboys, each with his own horse, while the Germans are all on the train or stagecoach. He wasn’t in New York City, where there’s lots of public transportation. He was in “regular” America, the vast space where the car rules. So he had a point.
When my mother-in-law quit driving, she at first expressed relief. She was always a nervous driver, having started in her 40s. But she had a couple of bad slides one winter, followed by a decline in her health. The car started needing expensive work, too, and her budget was tight. She had doubts about her ability to pass the vision test. It was time.
She checked around and found out that the community action program has a bus she can ride to various places, and a volunteer companion could take her shopping once a week. She had relatives with cars in town. So she sold off the car and quit driving, thinking she had it covered.
Then it hit. She was totally dependent on others to take her places. Being a very independent person, she found it hard to ask for rides. The bus only ran around town. One of her doctors was in a neighboring city; she had to ask her daughter to go there.
Then my mother-in-law ran into a constriction in her activities. The bus didn’t work out for her volunteer job at the thrift shop. Nobody who went to her church was available to take her so she went only when a relative had time to take her. Shopping was only on the day the volunteer companion came. And so on.
Over time my mother-in-law adjusted, but her overall level of activity dropped because she wasn’t going places and staying involved. Instead she became the classic old person who complains that nobody has time for her. It was sad, and all too common a story.
Signs it may be time to get rid of the car
Above you’ve seen an example of a very strong-minded person hanging onto her car till she got overwhelmed by problems that forced her to give it up. Let’s take a closer look.
The expenses associated with owning a car can be astronomical if you’re on a tight budget. No really cheap way of owning a car exists. Either you have payments and some maintenance, or you buy one for cash and have lots of repairs. Rare indeed is the used car that is sold in really good condition.
So if you own a car, and live in a state that requires it, you will have to carry some insurance on it. The state and local governments may have taxes yearly on the car. Annual fees for inspection and registration complete the picture.
Ah yes, but then you have the equivalent of a 3,000 child. It needs gas all the time, oil regularly, tires as they wear out, ditto brakes and battery. And then the child gets old and needs wheel bearings and such. Just when you think you’re caught up, the suspension needs work. And this is a trouble-free car that doesn’t strand you on the side of the road.
You and your car are a team. Your car may be brand-new and be at the top of its game. Are you?
Barring degenerative diseases that cut into your driving life, you may have 20-30 years after retirement behind the wheel still. Keep your vision clear with regular vision exams, glasses and care.
Take care of any chronic conditions you may have and don’t take chances with, say, blood sugar crises while driving. Also work with your doctor if you find he prescribes you something that is too sedating, or affects your balance and coordination. It’s possible a lower dose will do what is needed. As we get older, we often find we need a little lower dosage on some medications.
Be generally active. If you’re driving, you need your body to work predictably and reasonably quickly if an emergency develops. Don’t be the person who mistakenly hits the gas when you meant the brake. You may end up in someone’s living room with your car.
Pay attention to how your body is working. If you start having problems, work with your doctor to get ahead of these problems so you are still safe to drive. And if the doctor advises against driving, it’s time to figure out your options.
Your location and situation
If you live on a wooded hillside miles out of town, your non-driving options will likely be very limited. Most people live closer to others. However, some towns are nearly as devoid of options as that wooded hillside cabin.
With the advent of Uber and other ride sharing companies, you may find that getting places is no big deal and that the cost isn’t too much. Certainly a few rides won’t cost as much as feeding the big kid in the yard.
Some places have real public transportation. Often seniors can get a pass for a reduced price and ride for a reasonable amount. Another plus for public transportation is that you do walk at least a short way to access it, which is good for you.
Our rural counties in northern Vermont and New Hampshire have buses that take you places by appointment or by route. Intertown buses are scheduled by route so people can get to appointments in another town. The in-town buses are by individual appointment so you need to plan ahead to go places. No impromptu scoots to the ice cream shop, but the buses are cheap to free for elders.
Don’t overlook family and friends. You may not want to ask for rides, but there will be times it’s necessary. If you go to church, maybe a neighbor also goes there and could scoop you up on the way. If your cardiologist is not at the end of a bus ride, or you can’t get one, perhaps you know someone who can take you.
It’s not something we car-happy people want to think about, but eventually the reality hits that we can no longer keep the car and must consider giving up driving. But if you stay healthy, the car stays in good shape, and you have a back-up scenario, that day should not have to come soon.
Anything I’ve missed? Comments please!