For a little over a year now, I have done something most people consider impossible: I keep a car in New York City. While it is a place that indisputably hates cars, owning a car here is not actually impossible. Here are a few things to do to make it easier.
As is the case for most people, owning a car is a matter of convenience. Keeping one in this city is anything but. You can’t go on grocery runs because that involves fighting for a parking space once you get to the store. You can’t drive it to work. You can’t go visit a friend in another part of the city. For most of your transit needs, a cab, walking or the subway are vastly more advantageous.
But it does help when you get that periodic itch to see some foliage outside of the city. It makes trips out of town a breeze. That part of it is nice. As for everything else, I’ll let you decide.
Some of my friends and colleagues opt to street park and invest in a couple good bumper guards, but I’ve had an arsonist light the garbage in front of my apartment building on fire before, so I use a covered garage out of fear.
If you choose to do this, and depending on how long you plan to use the garage, it might be wise to buy the yearly pass up front. Most third party parking websites, like Park N Save, offer it.
This will protect you from garage rate hikes, which fluctuate during the year based on the season. The downside to this, of course, is that you’re pretty much locked into that garage for a full year. If you don’t move around a lot, this is great. But if you do, you might need to find a more temporary solution.
Thankfully, garages are quite common in the city. You need to decide whether you want a covered one or not. Nearly all of them have monthly rates. It’s up to you to shop around and find the best price. I did my research online, and I was able to find a garage down the street from me at $300 a month, but that’s sure to go up by next year.
If you park on the street, you have to be cognizant of when the street cleaners come through and when you are allowed to park somewhere without getting ticketed.
Because I’m a cheap bastard, I will happily drive further for a cheaper gas station. So, sometimes you just suck up the inconvenience and buy gas away from the city. I know that sounds like backwards logic BUT IT MAKES SENSE TO ME.
At the time that is being written, AAA says the current national average price of gas is $2.13 a gallon, with the current average price in New York City being $2.46. WNYC says that there are only 39 gas stations left in Manhattan, with only one left downtown.
The cheapest gas that is also reasonably close is in New Jersey. And not right on the other side of the bridges and tunnels, mind you. They still hike up the prices there. I’m talking more in the suburbs, especially in Central and South Jersey. If you’ve got friends or family living out there, getting gas by them is your best bet. The only drawback there is that you don’t get to pump it yourself.
Sadly, there isn’t much choice when it comes to working on your car yourself. Short of taking it into a mechanic, you can find a big open parking lot somewhere in one of the boroughs to work on it. However, you’d be surprised at how easy this can be! Most people won’t bother you if you’ve set up in the corner of a parking lot in Queens. You may even make a couple of new friends this way.
Fixing your car is way easier in a city like LA, for example, because most living spaces come with a garage spot.
Washing and detailing will probably be the most difficult thing to keep up with. It’s true some of my Jalopnik colleagues don’t give a shit about the cleanliness of their car, but I’m not like that. I enjoy the process. If you can find a good hand car wash, that’s already good. If you somehow find a place to hook your polisher to an extension cord to an outlet, then you’re golden.
Car washes are really an oasis in this regard. Not only are they a place of zen and cleanliness, they are also can be an enthusiast hangout. Car washes are our turf. Who else keeps a car in the city? This is where you meet them.
One of our videographers, Jared Auslander, uses the self wash at the BP station near him in Brooklyn. This way, he can keep an eye on the materials used on his car himself.
If you’ve never driven in New York City before, there are a few things to keep in mind, with the first being be aggressive. Everyone says that, but here’s what it really means.
Traffic in New York City has a flow, as unbelievable as it sounds. Bottlenecks are common, lanes just end or decide to be turn-only ones with no warning. Most New York drivers understand that zippering is the way to keep moving in a jam. If you try to cut off someone who is politely zippering, you are the asshole. If you try to be polite and let people by who shouldn’t be let by, you are the asshole. So follow the traffic. Anyone who hesitates will be mercilessly honked at and left behind.
Mirrors are your best friend when driving in the city. Always keep an eye on your mirrors, because you never know when some car, biker or pedestrian has snuck up behind you without you noticing. Why? Because every single person on the street with you is trying to get their own thing done. Unless it’s a quiet Sunday morning, that’s the way it is because it’s the only way things work here. It’s why you’ll often come across cars double-parked, boldly, across the street from the precinct. Bicyclists and motorcyclists weaving between cars, illegally lane splitting. Pedestrians wantonly jaywalking.
When you’ve gotten all that down, also remember to watch out for the evil and nasty streets, which like to bite cars. Avoid the potholes or manhole covers entirely if you can, straddle them if you can’t. Especially in the spring, after repeated snowfall, salting and shoveling have done their best to destroy the pavement.
If they’re doing construction on the street and you approach a section where the asphalt has been stripped off, go over it gingerly like you have someone performing surgery in the back seat. That’s the only way you can avoid bent rims and a popped tire.
It’s so bad, in fact, that temporary tire fix shops pop up in what’s best described as pothole season.
What’s laughable about this whole situation is that Manhattan is the financial capital of America. It’s also where you can find some of the highest rents in the country. And the roads (the roads for the people!), with the sorry state that they’re in, only go to show that the city really isn’t meant for cars.
If we’re going to boil this thing down to one point, it’s that the whole idea of owning and keeping a car in the city is all about finding the workarounds and tricks. Side routes and little-known garages. Knowing the shortcuts.
I have family in suburban New Jersey. Their garage is where I keep my detailing supplies and my winter tires. The mechanic’s shop we like is there, and so is the driveway where I do my car washing. I know which gas station in town is the cheapest. So while my car lives in Brooklyn, I have a place to find some vehicular sanity.
There are little things I do at home to keep my other living expenses down. I rarely eat out, I usually pack a lunch, I don’t belong to a gym and my makeup is all drugstore brand. I rely mostly on public transportation or my own two feet. But the real savings started rolling in after I started buying Miller High Life over craft beers. Also, it is the champagne of beers, so I am still classy.
Yes, there are times when I get annoyed with the hassle. But then I remember how much I love cars and driving. And even though it’s that much harder to keep a car here, it makes me appreciate it that much more.