From the Forum – Tips for a Keeping a Car in the City

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Tips for a Keeping a Car in the City:

“Wondering if you have any advice for me- I’m looking to purchase a car and keep it in the city. (I live in Logan Circle.) After more than a decade relying on mass transit and walking (here in and New York), I need to cut back on standing/walking due to a health condition.

How realistic is it to get a car in the city? I live .6 miles away from my employer, where parking 24/7 is offered for $250/month.

Any advice is helpful, but please don’t snark on me for getting a car while living in a walkable area. Trust me, if I could keep doing without a car, I would!”

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82 Comment

  • If you only need a car for getting around locally (say, in lieu of walking somewhere), why not just get a Car2Go membership? I’d imagine that would be tons cheaper than monthly payments + insurance + 250/mo parking. With that said, if you are set on buying a car of your own, I’d highly recommend you take a look at the Fiat 500. Super small (which is great for city parking) and fun to drive. (Full disclosure: I want one.)

    • My car expenses are really low– $75/month for insurance, no monthly payments (when I did have them they were less than $200/month because it’s a cheap Hyundai), no parking fee aside from the RPP, no repairs because it’s a good car and I only have about 110k miles on it. If you’re not logging lots of miles on a regular basis I’d recommend enrolling in the Progressive Snapshot program which will save you TONS of money on insurance.

    • I live in Logan as well and finding a Car2Go is pretty much impossible at any time of the day. Would end up spending more time walking to a Car2Go than walking to employer.

      Side rant: the amount of Car2Gos up near Walter Reed, near the MD border, etc. are very frustrating when the more urban parts of the city tend to have none. A co-worker lives in Takoma and a woman in her block consistently has a Car2Go every single day of the week.

      • Car2Go tends to follow the commuting patterns and are especially prevalent in areas that are not as well serviced by public transportation as core DC (basically Columbia Heights and going north from there have LOTS of Car2Go’s).

        • Car2Gos (Cars2Go?) also tend to sit in place in the more “suburban” parts of the district, turnover is much higher in the more “urban” areas, like Logan Circle.

  • Awesome Ghia in that picture!

  • Sorry to hear it, and I rarely drive but it is awful useful having a car sometimes. Even though you have 24/7 reserved parking, if it’s available at your address DO NOT skip the RPP when you register. For $35/yr, you never know when it’ll come in handy, like when you have out of town guests.

    • How are you able to give your guests the registration sticker from your windshield? Some ANC’s ask DDOT to mail out visitor passes, so that’s probably what you’re referring to.

      • You might want to give them your reserved parking space and then park your own car on the street, or be able to park closer to home so your elderly parents don’t have to walk so far, etc.

      • SMH. Your car–>street. Visitor car–>reserved spot. Well worth $35/yr.

      • SMH. Your car–>street. Visitor car–>reserved spot. Totally worth $35/yr.

  • Welcome to the dark side!! Seriously, I walk everywhere in the city but I LOVE having a car and would never give it up. You’ll be able to drive west to Shenandoah Valley, east to the beach, down into Virginia, up to Baltimore or Philly, out to Dulles, hell, just get a Costco membership.

    Hopefully parking isn’t too bad in your neighborhood. I have a parking spot now (hallelujah) but spent three years street parking in Adams Morgan and it was pretty awful. Here are my tips:

    1. Pay attention to street cleaning. It’s over now but keep an eye out in the spring.
    2. Don’t leave ANYTHING in your car. It will get broken in to.
    3. If you do get broken in to, try not to feel too bad. It’s kind of just a fact of life. Hopefully they won’t get anything valuable because you paid attention to tip #2.
    4. If you leave it parked for long stretches of time (although with parking at work it sounds like you won’t), check on it every so often. I used to leave mine parked for weeks at a time and construction signs would go up and I wouldn’t realize it.

    Good luck, and have fun exploring.

  • 1) Your car will get dinged/bumped/brushed against. Stop worrying about it and just accept it and move on.

    2) You will get a parking ticket. You will feel aggrieved. But the ticket will be legit and you should just look at it as the price you pay for having a car.

    3) The Penn-Branch and Rhode Island Ave DMV are the locations you should use. Not the Southwest DMV.

    • I would disagree with 2 and 3. I haven’t gotten a parking ticket in years! The places with confusing signs and aggressive ticketing are areas that are much easier to metro to anyway. As long as you have an RPP you’ll be fine in your neighborhood, and will probably not have to worry about ticketing for the other places you’re likely to take a car (suburbs, Cathedral, Arboretum, etc). And I’ve had nothing but great experiences at the SW DMV (but prepare yourself for a major headache if you ever move to NoVA and have to use one of the DMVs there).

    • I would change recommendation #2 to: “Pay close attention to parking signs. If you do, you will probably not get ticketed. If you get a ticket nonetheless and it’s legit, pay it. If it’s not (sign was missing, ticket was given before/after the enforcement period, etc.), take photos and protest it.”
      I thought the Brentwood DMV location near the Home Depot (I’m assuming that’s the one you’re referring to as “Rhode Island Ave.”?) no longer handled general DMV-type issues, just commercial driving licenses (or something along those lines).

      • There’s a new DMV location in the Rhode Island Row development, right next to the RI Metro. They do ID’s and other standard “DMV” services. There’s another one further in Brentwood that only does commercial licensing.

  • buy a small car (easier to park and cheaper gas), and one that’s used (preferably one you don’t mind getting a little scratched up if you’re going to be street parking).

    As the others have said, pay attention to street cleaning signs. Also, whenever you see conflicting parking signs (and they are everywhere), always follow the most restrictive one. Even if one sign looks like its telling you its ok to park, if another one is saying something different, you WILL get a ticket.

    Ditto to not leaving anything in your car.

    Get a spare car key – you never know when you’ll lose your keys or lock them in the car!!

  • Hi everyone –
    A related question… I live in Shaw – zone 2 – and haven’t received my guest parking pass. When I called DOT, they said that residents in Zone 2 will not be receiving the guest parking pass stickers like the rest of the city. Does anyone know anything about this? Please tell me it’s all a bad dream … I have a partner that stays overnight and needs to park somewhere … ugh

    • Zone 2 is not participating in the Visitor pass program. If you need parking for a visitor, you can still go to a MPD station and get a 2-week pass. But unless your partner is arriving/leaving more than 2 hours before or after the residential restrictions, they should still be able to park overnight.

      • Why is zone two not participating? Wtf? Sometimes my parents visit from out of town for a few days and it’s pain to go to the police station every single Time… This is the first I’ve heard that we aren’t participating…was there some kind of meeting or announcement about this that I missed?

        • The whole visiting parking pass was a debacle , but it definitely came up at ANC meetings. I’m happy to be corrected if this is wrong or overly simplified, but one concern was that b/c so many people work in zone 2 and parking is already so tight in many neighborhoods, that selling or renting passes would be a real problem. Other zones don’t have the same resident density and worker density for this to be such a concern.

          • Thanks guys … my ANC representative said that we would we getting passes — at least those of us who have received them in the past. But Anonymous, you’re response is exactly what I heard from DOT. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more but this is crazy

  • homerule

    Thanks for all your comments, PoP-ers.

    Followup question: does it make sense for me to get a parking spot at my work for $250/month? It sounds like parking is a bit more reasonable than I thought.

    • I would say don’t get one right away – test it out for a month or so first before you commit to paying that much.

      • Agreed. See how much hassle it is to not use the parking garage. I personally would rather spend that money on a parking spot right next to my apartment. Logan Circle parking gets crazy on nights/weekends.

    • I don’t know where you are, but $250 seems like a lot to spend on parking. Then again it’s free where I work!

    • Why not try it without the work parking and if it’s too difficult then you can lease a spot?
      The Logan area can be tough to park in (west of the circle, I don’t know so much about east of the circle). I could easily imagine that you’d end up parking more than 0.6 miles from home. But there are also sometimes weird pockets in a neighborhood where parking is more reliably available, maybe you’ll discover one of those near your apartment!

      • East is definitely easier. An ex lived on 11th and P, had a car, always found parking pretty easily. Of course that was 2 years ago, and given the growth of the area, it might be different now, but still think it is easier than west of the Circle.

    • If you have health issues that mean you can’t walk a half mile then you are going to need dedicated parking on both ends of your commute. Depending on your mobility issue you might be better off looking into some sort of handicapped or regular scooter type vehicle for work transportation and use a car share service for other needs.

  • Agree with most everything posted already re street sweeping/tickets/leave nothing in your car/you will get dinged. Additionally, I would add – cheap gas close by at the station at Sherman/Harvard – great mechanic nearby at Auto Tech Services on Ontario Road. You’ll have to do trial and error to figure out the fastest ways to get around town, but you’ll get it. Also, be on the watch for buses and cabs and bikes while driving; it’s a mess out there!

    • Yeah actually I’d like to emphasize your last point… As someone who obviously values walking/biking/public transit as an option, try to remember that when you’re driving.

      I may be overly accommodating to a fault, but I personally feel that walkers, bikers, and buses should be yielded to at all times (when it makes sense), because they’re not the ones clogging up the streets and polluting the air. Maybe that’s just a function of my guilt though.

      Cabs are a different story though, they’re the worst and it’s every man for himself out there.

  • 1. Unless you’re rich and zero f#cks are given about money, get a used a car. In particular, get a car that you won’t mind getting dinged up. It’s gonna happen – we live in DC and you can’t have nice things in public. Fact of life.
    2. Get a parking spot.
    3. If you do have a nice car, get a Bumper Badger for the rear of your car and the BumperShox for the front. This will cut down on the wear & tear. Your bumper is going to take the brunt of the pain with parallel parking.
    4. Get a small car that gets great gas mileage. The Prius C compact is really roomy, yet small.
    5. Parking and moving violation tickets – again, it’s a fact of life. Just learn to accept them now and save yourself the mental anguish.
    6. If you are parking on the streets in Logan Circle: DO NOT TAKE YOUR CAR OUT AFTER 6PM ON FRIDAY OR SATURDAY NIGHTS, if you intend on coming home later that same night. You will never find another parking spot.

  • On a related topic, can anyone recommend a good mechanic that won’t try to screw over two women? Ideally more on the eastern side of the city? My check engine light just came on, and my girlfriend thinks we should go to a place out in VA that someone recommended, but then we have to borrow her mom’s car to get home from there and it sounds like a big hassle when there are obviously lots of mechanics in DC.

  • Try to avoid driving near a cab– the drivers are very unpredictable and the can sometimes be downright aggressive (esepcially if you’re a woman).

  • 1. Small hatchbacks are really great city cars. Fiat 500, VW Golf, Honda Fit, Mazda 3, etc.

    2. Leave nothing at all in your car. Not just valuable things, either. Take everything out. Some jerk will break your window just to check if the empty bag sitting on the floor of the back seat has anything worth taking.

    3. Don’t buy one of those bumper covers. Just accept that your bumper will get scratched. Mine is a constant source of amusement/horror for my car-loving, suburban-living friends. Whatever, it’s called a bumper for a reason.

    4. There’s cameras all over the place, but avoiding speed camera tickets is the easiest thing in the world. Just don’t speed. 30 mph max in DC and you won’t ever have to worry about them.

    • Oh yeah, I love my hatchback! I can’t imagine ever going back to a trunk.

    • If you’re driving 30 in a 40mph or 45mph zone, you are my enemy. Don’t be “that guy.”

      • Where is there a 40 or 45 mph zone in the city?

        • Eastern stretches of NY Ave, MacArthur Ave in the Palisades/Georgetown, the Whitehurst, some of the tunnels that go under the Mall (I might be wrong on this last one…)

          • You’re right about 395 – 45mph limit. Also, 40mph on North Capitol. I’m sure there are others as well.

          • MacArthur is 25mph all of the way, and has a speed camera southbound, just past Reservoir. Canal Rd, which connects M to MacArthur/Foxhall, is 35, although pretty much everyone does 50, which is awesome when they pass 2″ from me when I’m biking.

        • NY Ave past Bladensburg Rd, parts of North Capital, Canal Rd, and obviously 295.

    • Yes on hatchbacks! I’m always amazed at the amount of stuff that will fit into my tiny Ford Focus hatchback.

      • I can’t do a hatchback. I have some things that I just leave in my trunk, bocce set, camp chair, shovel, car cleaning supplies. I would rather leave them there than find a place for them in my small apartment. It also means if I can’t carry all of my luggage, or whatnot in, I can leave it in the trunk without worrying that someone will see it and break in for it.

        Though I do like all of those little hatchbacks, I just know I’m too lazy for one.

        • Most hatchbacks have a cover that prevents anyone from seeing into the “trunk”.

        • Mine has a cover so you can’t see what’s inside. I guess it’s a little easier to break into than a trunk, but probably not much.

          • Yeah, that’s true. I guess it just seems less secure looking to me. Though really, who knows, jerks who break into cars don’t seem to be discerning.

          • Popping a lock is popping a lock, whether it’s a hatchback or a sedan.

          • I was thinking more along the lines of them smashing the hatchback glass.

          • Re: 4:08 PM

            I wish the car thieves would just pop a lock. I’ve replaced every window in my Civic at least once since moving here. Sometimes I would debate if I was better off just leaving it unlocked.

          • When I was thinking about a hatchback-type car, a family member pointed out, “Well, if you have the cover drawn, a thief might think because that’s because you’ve got something inside.”
            I don’t know if that correlates with actual real-life thief thinking, but it was one of many reasons that I chose a sedan with a trunk instead.

          • I don’t understand that logic. With my hatchback, at least, it’s a small hassle to remove the cover, whereas having the cover down is the easy default position.

        • I leave a ton of stuff in my hatchback and park on the street in shaw….fingers crossed knock on wood haven’t had a breakin yet. I always use the cover thing and don’t leave anything more valuable than a pair of shoes or (more often) empty beer cans in the seating area where it’s visible.

          • How on earth do you end up with empty beer cans in your car??

          • austindc

            By drinking beers. Permit me to demonstrate.

          • Isn’t it illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the car? Though I guess it could happen if you’re tailgating a lot, but wouldn’t the sounds of cans rolling around back there drive you nuts? I also don’t think it would help your case if you ever got pulled over for something, and some crackhead could smash your window if he thinks one of them might be unopened.

      • Ford Focus for the win! I am amazed at what I have been able to haul in mine.

  • Although you mentioned you need a car for your help, you might also consider some other motorized forms of transit, such as: scooter, motorized bike, segway, taxis

    Again, it’s not clear whether that would meet your needs, but any of the above allow you to avoid the high parking, insurance and vehicle costs. If you assume monthly parking costs of $250, car payment costs of $200, insurance $100, and gas $50 (since you wouldn’t be driving far), that gives you $20 a day to spend on taxis and none of the hassle of owning your own vehicle.

  • Along with the idea of embracing wear and tear on your car, also be prepared to be a bit handy. I’ve had to replace side mirrors four times (only one was my fault) and I was naive and went to my dealer the first time. After plunking down $281, the next time I decided to buy one on Amazon for $30 and watch a youtube video so I could do it myself in an hour. I’ve also epoxied my spoiler back together.
    Just make sure to park it in a less trafficed area for maintenance or strange men will come out of the woodwork and try to “help” you.

  • On top of all of the other really good advice I’ve seen I would only add that you get a club for your steering wheel. I have a parking space and my car sits most of the day during the week. However, I do sometimes have to drive while doing errands. On the weekends I drive to to my part-time job work job and since I get off really late it’s nice to know that I have a space. But whenever I’ve gotten lazy and didn’t put the club on the steering wheel I’ve come out to broken windows and a tampered ignition. In my opinion it’s a really good deterent to any young kid looking for a joy ride. Get a club, it will pay for itself many times over!

  • homerule

    Thanks everyone for your comments! You’ve given me a lot to think about : ) And, for all you hatchback lovers out there, the Toyota Yaris is looking miiiighty fine.

  • Oh dear – is that the darling car you are buying? My first thought in seeing it, if that is so, is that you just need to be prepared for the SUVs and Jeeps etc to roll right back over that sloping front and neat front fenders while they get in and out of on-street parking in front of you. Yup. Nicks and bruises go w/ city cars so set those expectations at a reasonable level. We had a sweet little Mazda RX7 that lived outdoors for many many years – in Logan but in the very early years of the 90’s where parking on Corcoran was always doable. We’ve just sold our later car but then came right to Venice for a year so we’ve not had the experience on no car in the city. (we were just grandma/weekend drivers mostly anyway…). Opps. Back to comment: biggest hassle was digging out in the winter or stuck because we didn’t dig out in the winter; bumps and bruises (to the car, not us) but it WAS always nice to have the option ….

  • I have been living in Logan for 7 years and have a car. My suggestions would be:
    – Buy older vehicle (you can afford to purchase w/ cash or affordable monthly payments for you)
    – Street park, if you are willing to walk up to 4 blocks, it’s not that hard to find parking. (east of circle)
    – Willing to take risk to get liability only insurance saves big time…$30-$40 / month vs. $70+/month (older car)
    – Purchase reliable car like Honda or such w/ low maintenance and high driving milage
    – Pay attention to street signs and move often to not get street sweeping tix and pop up maintenance and moving signs reserved.
    – Drive your car a bit each week to save on replacing car battery every year for lack of driving.
    – Paying $250 / month parking spot is norm, and complete rip off, unless you can afford it
    – Best part is Logan is zone 2 same as Georgetown!

    • Yes, emphasizing the don’t forget to drive your car to keep the battery alive part. When I moved here I didn’t know that if you don’t drive your car for a month, the battery dies!

  • if your insurance offers “mechanical breakdown” coverage definitely get that. If your window gets smashed during a break-in, it covers that for a $50 deductible. I don’t really know how much it costs to have a window replaced, but I would imagine it’s more than that…

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