Friday, February 16, 2007


Book Review.
(Book by Chris Balish, Ten Speed Press, ISBN 1-58808-757-4)

"Your car is no longer a chariot of freedom; it's a money-sucking horse that gets you to the office."
- Men's Health Magazine

Chris Balish has put together an interesting book. It is aimed at those who are frustrated with the expense and stress of car ownership and operation, and whose minds might be opened to alternatives. (Sadly, it seems like the vast majority of American citizens willingly enter into total dependence on motor vehicles, from the day they get a driver's license, but it doesn't have to be that way.)

Frankly, it would be difficult to not have a car readily available, for hauling heavy loads or for long trips. But car use could certainly be cut way back in many cases.

Balish's book is actually divided into two segments.

First he makes the argument about the high price that is paid for car ownership. He does it with numbers – you can fill out an expense sheet to figure out the real dollars-and-cents cost.

The American Automobile Association – hardly an anti-car organization – says the average American spends $8410 per year to own a vehicle (as of 2004; consider that gas was $1.83 in 2004.). The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2003) says the same person spends 18 cents of every dollar earned on "the purchase, operation, and maintenance of automobiles." (How sad! You have a job, so you can pay for your car, so you can get to your job!)

But it's not just the monetary expense. Balish provides this list of "What you won't miss about owning a car."
- Rising gas prices
- Sitting in traffic
- Looking for a parking spot
- Paying to park
- Mysterious engine noises
- Trying to find a reputable repair shop
- Waiting for your car to be fixed
- Parking-lot dings
- Flat tires
- Scraping a frozen windshield
- Waiting for winter warmup
- Tailgaters
- Waiting in line at the DMV
- Negotiating with car salesmen

And then there's the time.

The average American driver spends 443 hours behind the wheel each year. (According to the Surface Transportation Policy Project.) That's 11 40-hour work weeks… 1/5 of a work year!

And then there's the stress.

"Heavy traffic has been shown to produce a high degree of stress which could be a catalyst for stroke and heart attack. A stressful commute coupled with high blood pressure may be a dangerous combination for morning commuters."

Can you identify? That statement was made by Karol A. Watson, MD, PhD, director of the UCLA Center for Cholesterol and Hypertension Management. A study published in the Oct 2004 New England Journal of Medicine indicates that "sitting in traffic nearly triples the risk of suffering a heart attack a short time later."

In the second part of Balish's book, he discusses the alternatives to automobile transportation, in detail. He includes detailed points to consider for:
- Mass Transit
- Carpooling and Ridesharing
- Motorcycles and Scooters
- Bicycling
- Walking
- "Make your errands come to you."
- Car Sharing
- Rental Car Weekends

I'd suggest How to Live Well Without Owning a Car to anyone who might consider an alternative. (It's available at and most everywhere else that books can be had. You might check your local library, too.) Of course, you are free to send in that car payment and insurance payment, and then get an early start to beat the traffic. Good luck!

1 comment:

Julie Fanselow said...

Sounds like a great book - and the photo below ... gorgeous!!

It ought to be enough to get even the most avid motorist to consider Greenbelt commuting at least a few days a week.