The Pros and Cons of Owning a Car in an Urban City

To own a car or not to own a car can be one of the biggest dilemmas of urban living. Many city dwellers choose a car-free lifestyle because of the excellent walkability and public transit availability in urban settings. However, others find that the benefits of owning a vehicle are well worth the costs. In this article, we’ll compare the pros and cons of owning a car in an urban city, so you can decide the best option for yourself.

Pro: Flexibility

A car can add a ton of convenience to your life. It allows you to go wherever you want without worrying about how to get there. You’ll be able to drive to the suburbs without requesting an Uber, take road trips instead of flying a plane, and explore your city without looking up transit schedules. You won’t live your life at the whim of other companies and drivers. Instead, you can simply take off and arrive whenever you want.

However, before you purchase a vehicle, you’ll need to consider what car is right for your lifestyle. While a small electric vehicle may be a great choice for people who are mainly driving on their commutes, it may not be the best choice for road trippers and campers. If you’re mainly using your car for road trips, a vehicle with four-wheel drive may be ideal but difficult to keep in the city — which means it might be better to remain carless and rent when you want to get out of town.

Con: More Expenses

Car ownership will always come with more expenses than walking, biking, and public transportation. On top of paying for car insurance and gas, you’ll need to keep up with your car maintenance to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape. Oil changes, tire rotations, and other maintenance services can cost car owners up to $2,000 per year.

The cost of car ownership can be higher in the city than in suburban or rural areas. Driving city miles tends to be rougher on your vehicle than highway miles. Since you’re constantly braking and accelerating, which puts stress on your car and leads to higher fuel consumption, you can expect to pay more for gas and more frequent maintenance. Plus, since city driving often involves going through poorly maintained roads next to a large number of drivers, you may be at higher risk for costly accidents.

However, if the cost of public transit continues to rise, car expenses may be comparable to other transportation expenses in the future.

Pro: Emergency Preparedness

A vehicle is a great asset when you’re faced with emergencies. Rather than having to rely on taxis or Ubers — which take time to arrive and come with high costs — you can instantly drive yourself or your loved ones to doctors and hospitals. If you ever need to evacuate your area due to a natural disaster, you can be one of the first to get to safety.

Con: High Traffic Levels

As urban areas continue to grow nearly as fast as suburban areas, many cities may become overcrowded in the future (if they aren’t already). While large residential buildings can help solve housing issues, infrastructure issues are much more difficult for cities to resolve. This means high levels of traffic are likely to persist in urban areas. If you own a car, you’ll have to deal with the stress of driving through congested roads.

Pro: Faster Travel Times

Despite the high traffic levels in urban areas, driving a car still tends to be cheaper than taking public transit. In New York City and Los Angeles, people save 22 minutes on their commutes when they drive alone. If you believe the cost of driving a vehicle is worth the hours you’ll save each week, car ownership may be the right path for you.

Con: Parking Pains

One of the biggest pains of owning a car in an urban city is parking. Since space is limited — especially in popular tourist areas — it can be difficult and expensive to find parking spots no matter where you need to go. A quick trip to a grocery store can cost you a few extra dollars, even if all you needed was a carton of eggs or a gallon of milk.

If you don’t have a dedicated parking spot at your home, school, or office, you may need to pay hundreds per month to purchase one.

Does the Cost of Car Ownership Make Sense for City Living?

Car ownership isn’t for every urban dweller. It can heavily increase your monthly expenses and add the stresses of traffic and parking into your life. However, if you want the convenience and peace of mind of being able to go wherever you need to be (and fast) it may make sense for you. Consider your lifestyle — including your typical commute, average income, and the number of road trips you want to take — as you make your decision to best decide if car ownership is worth it for you.

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