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The Challenges of Car Ownership for City Dwellers

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This is a transformational time for the car industry. Electric cars are growing in use, and self-driving cars are often the topic of news headlines. Also, thanks to a greater focus on sustainability, urban planners are trying to reduce carbon footprints by encouraging greener transportation.

City dwellers can often get around by foot, bike, or public transportation, like the bus or subway. This is a great way of reducing your impact on the environment. However, not all of us have these options. What if you’re in a city that still requires a car? For example, Los Angeles isn’t a walkable city. This is why they have such a traffic problem — practically everyone who lives there has a car.

If you live in or are moving to a city and you plan on having a car, there are a few hidden costs and challenges you should know about beyond just what to do when an accident occurs. Let’s dive into the complications of owning a car while living in an urban area:

The Reality of Owning a Car in a City

Whether you live in a city where few people own cars or where everyone drives, here’s what you should know:

  • Many cities have requirements for which side of the street you can park on, depending on the day. This often coordinates with the city’s street cleaning schedule. You may have to move your car from one side of the street to the other on a daily basis. Getting out there early can mean the difference between snagging a great spot or having to park far away.
  • Shop around for different garage and parking lot rates. If you live in an apartment building that has its own lot, you may be paying top dollar to park close by. If you don’t mind your car being a little farther away, you could find a much better price. Searching online is helpful for finding the lowest parking prices. You may even want to base your housing choice on which neighborhood has better parking rates.
  • Whenever possible, fill up your gas tank when you’re outside the city. Cities may have limited options for gas stations or gas prices, and you’ll almost always score a better price when you’re outside city limits.

Even though owning a car in a city can be time consuming and expensive, it’s also highly convenient. You can escape the city on ultra-hot days, visit your family whenever you feel like it, and head out on an impromptu road trip without any planning. Having a car can also increase your storage, which is especially useful if you have a tiny apartment or limited closet space.

Decide Between a New and Used Car

Your first choice when buying a car is whether you want to purchase a brand new car or buy a used one. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Insurance rates tend to be higher for city dwellers, as well as new car owners. If you have a new car in a city, your insurance rates are going to be much higher than if you had a used car.
  • New cars often get better mileage and have eco-friendly features, which is appealing if you’re concerned with sustainability.
  • New cars also have advanced technology, which makes them prime targets for break-ins. Think about where you’ll have to park your car and go over crime statistics for that part of the city.
  • Used cars don’t have to be run-down or beaten up. You can still get a recent model in great condition when shopping for a used car. If you get a paint job and perform regular maintenance on it, it would be just like owning a new car but without the cost of one.

Buying a car is a personal decision. There’s no right answer — whether you buy new or used is up to your preference. Do your research before shopping in person so you know what you want going in.

Alternatives to Driving in a City

Let’s say you’ve decided to ditch your car before moving to your new city and you’re not interested in purchasing a new one. While public transportation can incur some new costs, you should be able to recoup some money from your old vehicle to offset these expenses while you reconfigure your budget accordingly. Selling your car can generate some money to help. Even if your car is too old or broken to sell, you can earn some cash by junking it.

Once you’ve sold your car, you can budget for your new transportation costs. Here are some of your  transportation options:

  • If you don’t need to venture far from home too often, you can rent a car when you need one. The daily cost may be high, but it won’t be nearly as expensive as owning a car. Some cities have Zipcars, which are convenient car rentals that you book via an app and pick up without even having to speak with a real person.
  • Consider the public transportation options in your city. You may not live somewhere like New York City, which has a fantastic subway system to connect you to wherever you want to go, but you may still have access to trams or buses that can get you from point A to point B.
  • Many major cities (and even some smaller ones) have rideshare options available through apps like Lyft and Uber. If taxis aren’t available in your city, a rideshare service can help you get around without the need for your own car.

When you don’t own your own car, your transportation options pose unique risks. For example, the bus stop may be in an unsafe neighborhood. Drivers of rideshare services are prone to accidents, and you can’t control how distracted your driver is.

If you’ve only ever owned a car in a suburb or rural area, you have a lot of adjusting to do! Potholes like craters can ruin suspensions. Storing and driving a car when you live in a city comes with its own set of challenges and considerations. To get it right from the beginning, plan accordingly and set realistic expectations. You may also want to do a cost comparison to see how much you’re spending on public transportation and car rentals versus how much a car would cost. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you do your research before taking the plunge!

Noah Rue
Noah Rue is a journalist and a digital nomad, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn't frantically updating his news feeds, Noah likes to shut off his devices, head to the beach and read detective novels from the 1930s.

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