To Own or Not To Own A Car in New York

To own a car, or to not own a car in Brooklyn - that is the question...

A Classic PSP Discussion....

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image via here (thanks to a Creative Commons License)

For every perk (convenience, freedom, mobility) there is a potential drawback (inconvenience, cost, parking).  With alternatives like rentals and Zipcars, Park Slope Parents asks members what is it really like navigating the city carless? What’s the best option for you and your family? PSP has gathered tips, advice and comments from the members who have deliberated this topic over the years.

 

In this section:

 

Questions to ask yourself

- Pros (8 reasons to own a car a NYC)

-Cons (5 things that make owning a car tricky)

And opinions in between

So you decided to get a car. Here are parking and vehicle advice from car owners.

 

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN DECIDING IF YOU SHOULD BUY A CAR:

 

A few key questions to ask yourself in decision making process include:

Where do you work? Will having a car help with your commute?

Where does your child go to school? Will having a car help with the school run?

Where do you go with your kids?

How do you spend your weekend?

Where do you like or want to shop for groceries and household needs?

Do you have a parking spot?

What is parking like on your block?

What can owning a car do for you that a Zipcar and Rentals can't do?

 

PROS

8 REASONS TO OWN A CAR IN THE CITY:

 

1. Having a car is convenient for grocery shopping & errands with the baby:

One parent writes: "we had 2 cars, got rid of one when moved to Park Slope. We park on the street. Alternate side parking is a pain but you kind of get used to moving your car and eventually it becomes second nature, plus beats paying $$ for a garage. Sometimes finding a spot is difficult, but you can always find a spot higher up. We take the car out grocery shopping every week (Fairway is truly the best store to do your shopping) plus on weekends for little trips out upstate to see the fam. I can't really imagine not having a car. Zipcar is great and we use it when both husband and I need a car for the day, but sometimes it's impossible to get a car on weekends as they are all taken, plus Zipzar can be a bit expensive based on how often and for how long you use it and you have to be a very good planner since you need to know right away for how long you will need the car.”

“With an 8-months old baby, we feel it's very convenient to have a car here.”

 

2. Owning a car makes is easy to escape at the weekend. 

Think about where you spend your time and how often you leave NYC. Where do you go on weekends? This mom measures it up: “My husband and I both grew up on Long Island and my parents and many of our good friends are still out there. We are out there a lot, a couple of times a month at least, and having our own car gives us complete flexibility on coming and going. It also means we have our own car the entire time we are there, as we often stay overnight.

Another parent writes: “I know people do the math and can speak more to that, but unless you have people to visit in the surrounding areas (NJ, PA, CT, LI) you can probably squeak through without a car.”

 

3.  Having a car means you don't have to take the R train to work ever again.

Think about where you work and if a car will ease your commute.  As one parent shares: “I used to work in a part of Brooklyn that was difficult to reach by subway, and it was very convenient to have the car. Since then, most of my work has been in distant parts of Brooklyn, usually either unreachable by subway, or on a different subway line (I'm a public school teacher.) So having a car made sense.

 

4. You can take the kids on those hard to get to & cumbersome extracurricular activities

Taking the kids to horseriding lessons?  Lugging heavy Hockey equiptment?  Having a car can make those activities a heck of a lot easier.   "Now that the children have come along, having a car means that my youngest can take tennis lessons on the Tennis Center, which is so hard to reach by mass transit from here. And when she takes classes at the Botanic Gardens' Children's Garden, it's not a schlep to get there and back, and I can be home for my older daughter (she's in middle school and gets home on her own now.) And having two busy kids, not close in age, and VERY different from each other, I can still take each of my kids to different activities on the same day without losing my mind (well, almost, anyway!)"

 

5.  Gas prices might be cheaper than MTA travel (but then don't forget to factor in the cost of a garage)

Here one member asseses that “Gas is cheaper than MTA even for one person, for family - for sure. Even at $4.50. Easy to calculate.  So, with all the disadvantages – I don't want to go back to "no car". On a weekend morning I have a choice - new coffee table from Ikea or beach in Long Island. Or BBQ on Hudson River? But Parking in Park Slope - biggest issue. Look for a garage and add to the cost of ownership.”

 

6. For some, a car simply makes life easier:

This parent has been happy either way, but at the end of the day it is all about lifestyle.  If your lifestyle can handle car duties, then having a car can be great: “I was with Zipcar for years and was very happy with being carless. Then my partner inherited a car and so for the last year I've been commenting to work in it. Because I drive daily (I work in Red Hook). I don't have any issues with parking and never need to "move the car" for street cleaning. We live in the North Slope. We have been really happy with the ability to just hop in the car and go to see our friends upstate, or go to the beach on Long Island. It’s made a lot of things easier, but of course we were lucky enough to not have car payments so it's been a good deal for us. I think if I worked in the city it would be different and might be more of a hassle.”

 

7.  It can actually be cheaper to own a beat up old car than to have a Zipcar

As one parent describes: “We used to use Zipcar a lot and then inherited a 11 year old car with low mileage. We are glad we have a car now, for 3 main reasons: we have a car whenever we need it, easier to travel with kids (without having to lug around the car seats and other gear and we can just leave them in the car), and for us, it's cheaper than Zipcar because of the number of times we use it.  We also live in south slope and do not find it hard to park the car on our street or the next block. You just have to remember (or write down) where you park the car to remind yourself to move it. Do you need to make payments on the car? If you do, you wanted to add that cost to monthly gas/maintenance when comparing to the average # of times you use the Zipcar to get an idea which is cheaper.”

 

8. Zipcar can be a hassle (but wait for it, there are some other opinions about this we'll get to later)

One longterm Zipcar user rantss: “I can't to speak to not owning a car, since we've had a car for years (first in CA and then we kept it when we moved to Brooklyn 6 years ago), but we did consider selling our car and relying solely on Zipcar (which we've used many times when traveling to other cities in lieu of a car rental). In the end we decided against selling our car, and here's why:  Zipcar is expensive for overnight weekend trips; it makes more sense to get a rental, but getting a rental in Brooklyn is a hassle and it could be quite expensive too.  We moved from Park Slope (where we sometimes opt to take any kind of public transportation available, even if it wasn't very convenient just because we didn't want to lose our parking spot) to Clinton Hill where we rarely have issues with finding parking within reasonable distance from our house Zipcar can be difficult to get last-minute, and with a baby it's hard to plan things in advance (also it sucks to be penalized for returning the car late. Fearing being late was always stressful for me when using Zipcar).  Our car is quite old at this point (though it runs fine), so we dropped our collision coverage, making the overall insurance much cheaper.”

 

5 CONS ABOUT OWNING A CAR

(& THE PROS ABOUT USING ZIPCAR)

 

1. Zipit because Zipcar rocks

One family has been carless for 14 years, thanks to Car Rentals & the growth of Zipcar.  They write: "We've been car-less for 14 years and still like the Zipcar and sometimes weekly rental option over owning.”

Another PSP member describes how “I got rid of my car last November and I’m still okay with that decision but the idea of using Zipcar instead of your own isn’t a reality unless you’re talking about a few hours.  If you want to go anywhere for the night or the weekend that means renting a car (zip doesn’t offer that except for Mon-Thurs overnights) and in NYC renting a car for the weekend is over $300 unless you were to pick up at the airport or possibly white plains or farther out in NJ (yes, you can rent at a cheaper rate in jersey city but the rental place is closed on Sunday – helpful, no?).  It’s actually been quite problematic for me as I use to like to go out to my sister’s in Princeton for a night or go upstate for the weekend which is now a more expensive proposition and I end up taking the train which is a pain with a baby.”

 

2.  You can always rent! Even if it's all the time.

 

Yes.  You can always rent a car, as this parent does:  “We have had this debate in our household often. We have mostly been a non-car family with a brief period of having a car we were borrowing. It was nice to have access to the car, but here's the thing we keep coming back to: Even if you rent a car a LOT in a year (as we sometimes do), it will still most likely be less expensive than actually owning a car once you add up monthly insurance, gas, parking tickets, etc. Zipcar is great, the Avis on Court St. often has good deals, too. Just something to keep in mind.”

 More praise for rentals:

“We don't have a car and have never wished otherwise since our son was born, though we debated it before he arrived. Based on our previous experience owning a car in Brooklyn for one year, we decided we didn't want to deal with the headache and cost of insurance, break-in fears, and (most significantly) alternate side parking. We have found Zip Car to be more than sufficient for trips to Fairway, Ikea, etc, and it's easy to rent a car for weekends out of town. The people we know who really have found it helpful to have a car in the city are those who have vacation houses or out-of-town relatives that they visit regularly.”

“We have 4 kids & a dog, and usually I go rent the minivan, and then drive it to home-base, then load everything in it, including 3 boosters (at this point). Dragging everything to Zipcar would definitely not work, but if you have everything ready to go at home it's not much different then if you owned.

Zipcar is not without flaws, but gas, EZ pass and insurance are included in the price, which makes it cost efficient for many situations. You'll also be less likely to hop in a car to go somewhere within walking distance (something I was guilty of while living in the burbs & owning my own car), andtake our public transport system for most local-ish jaunts.  It not for everyone, but something definitely worth looking into to see if it's right for your family.”

 

3.  Watch out for the hidden costs of owning a car like parking tickets

This is a big con to watch out for.  Be sure to factor in other out of pocket costs like different types of insurance and parking tickets. And as one parent reminds us, sometimes those tickets are down to how you choose to drive.  One big complaint a parent has is “Tickets - nonsense, is up to you how you park and drive. I get about 2 $45/year (for failing to move over on alt side parking days) and one $115+ for double parking (failing to move back in time)."

 

4.  Parking is a pain

Alt side parking can be a bitch.  As one parent complains about owning a car: “Yes, it's convenient, but it's NOT convenient when it's 6 pm and all the legal spots for the next morning are taken and you've gone around the block for the hundredth time, and you are ready to tear your hair out! So, if I were you, I'd carefully weigh all of those factors. It might make a difference if you work somewhere that's easier to drive to (as I have. If so, you might be able to take your car and get it out of the Park Slope parking craziness. But if you work in Manhattan, or somewhere in Brooklyn easily accessible on the subway, you might want to think twice.”

“At the time we got rid of our car, we had alternative side parking 4 times a week, and parking was a part-time job. I often didn't even use the carbecauseI was afraid to lose the parking, which of course is crazy! We didn't use the car enough to warrant paying for a lot, so we decided to try giving it up for a while and have never looked back. We bike a lot, walk a lot, use Zip Car, take the train for vacations (no traffic!)and don't "feel bad" about using car services when it makes sensebecausewe save so much in insurance, parking tickets, gas, etc.”

 

5. Parking can especially be tricky with a baby

“Just think about the times when you come home alone with the baby and you have to drive around the block ten times and end up parking far away and will have to carry the baby and everything else home. How many things will you leave in the car, because you cannot carry everything and cannot leave the baby home alone. One disadvantage about not having the car is that shopping local with a stroller
AND carrying everything home afterwards is not fun either. We are happy Zipster with a garage just down the street and when I had to pick up the kids at nearly the same time at different places I took a Zipcar for one hour. Always worked for me.”

 

AND HERE ARE SOME OPINIONS IN BETWEEN:

 

“We love our Subaru, but at the same time, we hate having a car. Yes, it's super convenient to walk out of the house and be able to drive to Pathmark to load up on groceries, drive up to Rockland and visit family, and drive to meet friends in Jersey and Long Island. But truthfully, we pay quite a bit for the convenience of something we don't do often since we visit friends and family twice a month and visit Pathmark once (the rest of the groceries are either Fresh Direct or Union Market). If it weren't for my wife's work (sometimes she gets placed on projects in the middle of nowhere and will have to drive out there for months at a time), we would gladly get rid of the car. The combination of Zipcar, car services and public transportation would suffice. I bet it'd be cheaper too.

Also, alternate-side parking adds a bit of anxiety in the ownership of the car. Most hospitals will require that you have a car seat to take your baby home. You will become a pro at attaching it to various cabs and cars.

That said, it really depends on how much you'll be spending on fixing the car and where you live. North Slope is harder for parking, but South Slope is considerably easier. Insurance on a car you own is much lower since you can skip the comprehensive insurance. My guess is you could always try it for a year or at least the summer and see!”

"It's true that you don't need a car in Park Slope to do your local shopping -- grocery stores deliver (Fresh Direct is amazing), and I use the Internet for clothes and lots of other stuff. BUT, that said, it's great to have a car for Costco runs, getting out of the city on the weekends, etc. And personally I found that when our 2nd child was born, it was just not possible for me to schlep my toddler, his car seat, the baby, his car seat, and all our paraphernalia to Zip Car (which was actually across the street.) That's when we got a car -- being able to keep 2 car seats in the car at all times made it worthwhile.

That said, now that our sons are bigger and using boosters, it would probably be easier to rent (and I'm sure cheaper). Also, unless one of you is a stay-at-home parent, or is around a lot, moving the car due to alternate street parking can be pretty challenging.

My feeling though is that if you're from LA, you'll appreciate having your car (except maybe in the winter when you can't find parking due to the snow drifts.) Garages are expensive but a great relief in that regard."

 

If you do decide to get a car, here a few extra tips, hints and advice:

 

Tip/Words of Caution: Expect wear and tear:

 

“Not going to lie, I have a Prius that has been broken into about 4 times in 4 years: they ransacked the car while trying to steal our airbags and looking for change, iPods, etc. Thankfully it wasn't damaged, but it still feels like such a violation of personal space when it happens. We also have a fair amount of nicks and scratches from parking in the street. I've actually watched MANY people parallel park out my window and continuously hit the surrounding cars: forward (bump!), reverse (bump!), forward (bump!). It's pretty mind blowing. So really, if you're thinking of keeping a car (and I know I find it invaluable, especially to escape to the beach in the summer, to go to Fairway, last minute day trips, etc.), you should expect a little wear and tear.

“For the last 3 years, I have owned a Toyota Camry which has stationary mirrors, and I have had to replace them at least 5 times-not once being my fault, all having happened while the car was parked! And, only one time did someone actually leave their name and number and come by my house to pay me for the repair ($125 for mirror, painting and installation). My car was also recently hit while parked in a legal spot overnight causing quite a bit of damage which, since it is an older car and I do not have collision (and, of course, the person who hit me did not leave any information) cost me quite a bit in body repairs.”

“I would never, ever, ever buy a brand new car if you intend to park it on the street, between wear and tear and dings and people bumping your car getting in and out of parking spots and the occasional major
hit-you will not only be out a lot of money, but will be in tears!”

“I find it a BIG money saver to have side mirrors that fold in. When I had a car whose mirrors did not, I had to replace mirrors at least 3 times due to people squeezing through double parked cars and taking off my mirror.”

“Also, be sure to get Glass Protection with your insurance - someone breaking your window is very likely to happen. And, don't buy a car you really really care about the appearance of! Insurance - $400 for 6mo from Geico for family station wagon Audi A6.Repairs – buy a Toyota and never go to shop (I had Audi and Toyota - huge difference in reliability).”

 

Parking Advice:

 

“In terms of alternate side parking, I am home during the day, but always move the car the night before. I've found if I move it between 5:45 and 6:15 that I rarely spend more than 15 minutes finding a spot. And for the occasional times we can't find a spot, we just park it farther away (19th St.) where there always are spots.”

“We put our car in a garage. Not cheap but we live right behind the hospital and there is never parking.”

“In the south slope, we have about 3 parking garages, although we choose to save the money and park in the street. As for alternate side parking: if you're staying home it's not THAT bad. You just move it to the other side of the street, double parked, and then move it back. Yes, with kids it stinks a little, but you can try to be conscious of what side of the street you park it on at all times. I.e.: If I’m parking on a Wednesday afternoon and i know i won't need the car for a few days, I'll be sure to avoid the Friday side and just circle one more time looking for a spot. Not a big deal. Or you could just park in a garage and not deal with it!

“I think it depends where in the slope you live. I live in the south slope, on 13th Street, and i can almost always find a parking spot on my block without a problem. *Maybe* we have to circe the block once, and it can be difficult late at night at times, but as a whole, it's really simple. I do know people that live more in center slope and struggle daily with parking, though. So it depends on the area.”