Downsizing Your Car

People around the world were thrown for a loop last year as the COVID-19 pandemic upended nearly every aspect of modern life. With lockdown orders and social distancing recommendations, many people found themselves confined to their home and without the need to move around as much as they once did. This has led to massive changes in how people do everything from shopping for groceries to entertaining themselves.

As more people were faced with extended periods at home, we wondered how the new normal of the pandemic impacted people’s decisions around their personal vehicles. We surveyed people on the impact the pandemic has had on personal transportation and the changes, if any, they’ve made to theirs based on the events of the past year. Read on to learn more.

Out and About Less

When leaving the home carries the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, transportation habits are bound to change. The people we surveyed appeared to confirm that. The average weekly car trips people reported taking were nearly cut in half, down to 5.4 from 9.8.

Utilization of public means of transportation were impacted as well, with only 8.6% of people saying they had been frequently using it during the pandemic, down from 18.7% before COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic has been punishing for public transportation across the country with decreased demand as more people work from home and restrictions on the number of riders allowed at any given time to satisfy social distancing guidelines. It’s not all bad news, though, as some cities around the world have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to adapt public transportation systems to the new normal.

Personal Transportation Changes During the Pandemic

With people clearly rethinking how often they venture out of their home and the means of transportation they use when they do go out, we wanted to see whether the pandemic inspired more drastic changes to people’s personal transportation. In a broad survey of 2,059 people, we sought to get an overview of the number of people making particular changes.

Overall, 57.6% of people said they’d made some type of change to their personal means of transportation since the onset of COVID-19. The most common change people reported was buying or acquiring a vehicle (27.2%) followed by reducing the number of cars in their household (21.5%). For some, though, size was a factor, with 13.6% saying they downsized to a smaller vehicle. Conversely, 14.8% of people sought an upgraded vehicle.

Reasons for Making a Change

Once we found that a fair number of people had indeed made changes to how they get around since COVID-19 arrived on the scene, we wanted to dig more into the impetus behind these decisions. Not surprisingly, the pandemic appeared to have an impact: 34.8% of people said that they made a change to their personal transportation due to the fact that they were driving less.

Financial strain was also a major factor, with 32.5% of people citing it as a reason they made a change. The financial impact of the pandemic has been an unfortunate reality for many across the country. As lockdowns hit the U.S. in March 2020, the unemployment rate shot up from 3.8% in February to 14.4% in April. Even if people managed to maintain employment, furloughs and pay cuts were not uncommon as companies tightened their proverbial belts.

When asked about the permanency of the changes they made, a majority of people (59.9%) said the change(s) they made were permanent. An additional 13.1% were unsure whether the change(s) they had made were permanent or temporary.

Coveted Car Brands

Whether they made a change to their personal transportation in the past year or not, many people consider and covet car brands that catch their eye. To see what brands people are most excited about, we asked respondents what car brand they would want to own if price was no obstacle.

Tesla took the top spot in the 10 brands people were most interested in owning. Mercedes-Benz and BMW rounded out the top three. Toyota took the fourth spot and was most popular among baby boomers.

Making Decisions on About Car’s Future

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in many changes to daily life. Based on our findings, people’s decisions around their personal transportation were definitely a part of that. Nearly 58% reported making a change, whether that was buying a new car, downsizing, or getting rid of their car(s) altogether. The rise of remote work and the stay-at-home orders triggered by the pandemic meant that many people were using their cars less and generally out and about much less frequently.

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We approached this project with a multistep survey process. First, we ran a broad survey of 2,059 people to get baseline statistics on how many people generally did or didn’t make changes to their personal transportation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once that baseline was established, we ran a longer, more in-depth survey that included 808 people who had made changes and 216 people who hadn’t made any changes to their transportation.

All of the 1,024 people who participated in the second survey were asked about their transportation habits both before and since the pandemic. However, percentages on public transportation use are based only on people who reported having public transportation options available to them. All of these respondents were also asked about the car brand they would most like to own if price was no obstacle.

Only people who reported making a change to their personal transportation since COVID-19 were asked about the reasons behind their decision. The reasons were asked in a check-all-that-apply question, so percentages won’t add to 100.


The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every facet of life, including our means of transportation. If you know someone who would benefit from the information in this project, you may share for any noncommercial reuse. We only ask that you please link back here so the entire project and its methodology can be viewed. This also gives credit to our hardworking contributors, who make this work possible.

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