Prospective Car Buyer (never owned a car before)

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Topic: Prospective Car Buyer (never owned a car before)

Travel and Transportation November 5, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Prospective Car Buyer (never owned a car before)

Hi all,

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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I’m all for it. I have 2 cars here and have no issues with parking (I have a driveway, but sounds like you can get parking easily so no worries), traffic, people judging me, etc. There is no safety inspection anymore; only emissions and you’d need to get a parking permit if you’re in a zoned area. You’re looking at about $300/year for all that. Just don’t spend too much on the car if you don’t want to. Buy used…something you love or something reliable (probably Japanese) and acquaint yourself with a good mechanic just in case. I use the guys at my local gas station so I can walk there (at N.Capital and New Hampshire, NW) and there is a 24 hour tire place near the intersection of Florida and NY Ave. I also highly recommend buying an annual AAA membership. It’s about $120/year (your insurance might offer a similar roadside assistance program-well worth it either way, as you will never have to worry about locating a tow truck and at least with AAA I can vouch for the awesomeness of the people they subcontract to). Just make sure you are conscientious of the bike lanes and don’t sweat it when people ding you while parallel’s the city and it happens! Also, if you don’t know how to parallel park, get someone to give you a lesson in a parking lot. I drive every day even though I live 1 block from the bus stop and 6 blocks from Metro. Happy Driving!


Are you a member of a credit union? I am, and I got my car (honda fit, which I love) through their car buying service. No haggling! I also got a great deal financing through them.

And let me suggest Better World Auto Club, rather than AAA. They have great service, and don’t spend your membership dues lobbying against public transportation.

The advice to buy used is good, if you have enough to pay it all outright then you’re free of monthly payments and won’t be too upset about the wear and tear that comes with urban driving. Take a look at all the scratches on bumpers and tire rims in this town.

Even if you have a space at home and work, parking is the main issue with driving in the city. It’s a time and cost factor that you have to consider wherever you go. I was once an hour late to a Saturday afternoon brunch party in Adams Morgan because I couldn’t find parking and ended up paying $16 for the public garage, where I got a nice scrape trying to squeeze into their tiny spaces. Even with the rare business that provides parking, you can find yourself driving in circles waiting for a spot to open up (hello, P Street Wholefoods). It’s more aggravating than you think.

Then there are tickets for parking and moving violations. You’ll get them.

Other costs to consider:
– Gas is not cheap these days. Get a car that’s lightweight with good MPG
– Insurance rates are higher in urban zip codes. Type of car and the color can affect that cost–something to consider before you buy.
– Maintenance and repair. Foreign cars often need specialized mechanics and winter in this town is really hard on a vehicle.

Having a car is very realistic in the city, I’ve had one for all 5 years I’ve lived here. For the first several years I rented an assigned parking space and now I park on the street in Adams Morgan.

Do you plan to drive to work? Would you be parking on the street (at work or at home)? I’m not as familiar with street parking around Logan Circle, but my impression is that it’s pretty tight. I’m only asking because if you drive every day and park on the street you may wind up walking more than 0.6 miles from/to your parking spots anyway, making it worth your while to walk or take the bus. You could also find rental parking spaces/garages, but be sure to factor that into your budget.

As far as picking a car, I’d opt for smaller, more fuel-efficient models from reliable makers. For city driving you definitely want something efficient, and smaller vehicles are much easier to park and navigate around narrower streets. If you park your car on the street, know that you’re practically guaranteed for it to get dinged up a bit. You can purchase a Bumper Buddy or some similar bumper guard to avoid that (I wish I had).

For what it’s worth, I have a Hyundai Elantra and am very happy with it. The warranty is quite good, and they have roadside assistance (which I’ve fortunately never used). Maintenance has been easy, I had to replace the tires a couple of years ago, a battery last summer (so it lasted 6 years) and needed my brakes serviced a few months ago (lasted 7 years). That was about it outside of a repair for an accident I had several years back. I’ve had repairs done at Embassy Service Center in Dupont Circle and Hill Auto in Eastern Market (for collision damage) and liked them both. My parents also have a Hyundai that they haven’t had any issues with, so we’re fans of the company.

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