Going Car-Less After 22 Years – A Journey Ends, a New One Begins

On the way to the 3GSM Mobile World Congress Cannes in 2005 with my car. Quite a ‘salty’ affair over the alps in early spring as evidenced by the salt streaks all over the car.

I must have had one of the oldest cars in Cologne. In 2001, I bought a used Toyota Paseo from 1998 and have driven it until now. That’s 22 years, and for the past decade, people were already strangely looking at me whenever I showed up with my old and quirky car that had so fallen out of time. But I didn’t care much. It was a great car, and it didn’t ever let me down when it really counted, not for a single of those 265.000 km that were finally on the odometer. If you think about it, that’s almost the distance to the moon. Not quite, but almost. However, I’ve come to a point at which I would have had to invest a significant sum to keep it going. So with a sad heart, I finally had to say good bye. Yes, with a sad heart, because over the time, I’ve developed a personal relationship with that car that just never let me down and has served me so well. So here’s an epitaph and some musings why this ending will also be an interesting new beginning. That’s because I intend not to buy another car and instead switch to alternative mobility options. So here’s the story:

I drove this car for so long for some many reasons. The main one probably is that this car just refused to die. Apart from wearing parts like breaks, shock absorbers, tires, some rubber hoses, very few specks of rust in the wheel pants, and a rusted muffler once in 25 years, nothing ever broke on this car. And no, this car never had an easy life. I didn’t have a garage to protect it from the weather for most parts of the 22 years I owned it. On top of that, I once managed to end up in the ditch with it in icy conditions which required quite significant repairs, and twice somebody hit me from behind. But that car just refused to die. All the while, this car saw a lot, 265.000 km is quite a distance. Several times, I’ve been to the south of France with it, and I was in Austria and Italy with that car more times that I can count. Thousands of kilometers of trips at a time. And still, it refused to die and the age gap between my car and those cars one frequently sees at the roadside that have broken down became larger and larger. So as you can imagine, I really liked this car and I even gave it a name.

If I had to make the same investment decision a few years ago, I probably would have done it without thinking twice. But the world and my life have changed so much in recent years. Until the Covid sanitary crisis broke out, I commuted to work between Cologne and Bonn on a daily basis. That’s an 80 km round tip. On most days, I would use public transportation, but there were the occasional infrastructure breakdowns and public strikes. And, truth be told, every now and then I suffered from public transportation fatigue, which also made this car so valuable as a theoretical and practical backup option. But then Covid broke out, which completely changed the mindset in this country on working from home. Also, we were fortunately at a point where most things in the telecom lab I work on could be could be controlled remotely. On top, wireless technology became more and more complicated, so testing things in the real production network rather than in a lab became indispensable. Living in the center of Cologne, I have one the of the best 5G/LTE networks in the world right at my doorstep. So my need to commute daily decreased significantly and the main motivation to still go to the lab occasionally is to meet people in person. But for that, I don’t need a mobility backup option anymore.

So ever since Covid forced such a radical change, I’ve been musing what I would do once I had to let go of the car. Over time, it became clear to me that I don’t really need a car anymore. In Cologne, I almost never used the car anyway, as finding a parking space at the destination was just as difficult as finding a parking place when coming back. Walking is usually faster and I have rediscovered using my bike for somewhat longer distances. I seldomly use public transportation in Cologne, buses and trams are just too infrequent. Electric scooters became an interesting additional option over the past years, and I have at least four apps for the purpose. I don’t like the apps for privacy reasons, so they are on a burner phone. That being said, I find it interesting that the business case of lending scooters depends on good mobile networks and fast reaction times to unlock them. I’m glad to have played a small and indirect part in this with my work in the mobile industry.

Over the past years I also started renting cars or using car sharing options to get a more comfortable car for longer distances. Booking a car from home, sometimes weeks in advance or just an hour before, and then just using an app to unlock and use it without any further overhead like signing rental contracts at a rental car station has also been a game changer and significantly influenced my decision to go car-less. And there is one more thing that has been bugging me for many years now: My car might have been almost 25 years old, but it was MY car. It had almost no electronics inside and I OWNED this car. It didn’t spy on me, nobody tried to sell me add-ons via software upgrades, and it had little software inside that I couldn’t control. You can spend money on today’s cars but from where I stand, I don’t think you really own them anymore. So even if I had decided that I needed another car, I would not have bought one to own. Leasing would perhaps have been an option, because at the end of the day, you only rent that car and pay for the running costs on top. I find this a sad development, but then, it’s not my problem anymore.

So I’m sad I finally had to say good-bye to my car. On the other hand, there’s no more backup option anymore now, so let’s see how those new mobility options, for which I can now spend the money that no longer needs to be put in a private car, will work out for me. After 22 years, a bitter sweet but exciting new beginning!

One thought on “Going Car-Less After 22 Years – A Journey Ends, a New One Begins”

  1. Thank you for the very interesting take. Would you be kind enough to elaborate on the “modern cars are spying” take? As far as I know, apart from Tesla and a few other luxury cars, over-the-air updates can only be performed at a dealer facility.

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