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Tips for Maintaining a Car in the Big City

It’s a common misconception that owning a car in New York City is more of a hassle than it’s worth. While it’s true that maintaining a vehicle in a larger metro comes with some unique challenges, it’s tough to beat the convenience of being in control of your transportation. If you (and your wallet) are up to the task, here are some important tips for maintaining a car in the big city.

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Know Your Parking Situation

Nothing is more frustrating than watching your dashboard clock tick away as you endlessly circle the same blocks hoping someone frees up a spot. New York City can be a nightmare for drivers, especially if you’re anything less than confident in your parallel-parking abilities. Luckily, there are numerous resources available to help make finding that sweet parking spot less of an ordeal.

If you’re willing to shell out some money, there are several options. Not many buildings in New York City offer spots, and if they do, it’s likely a few hundred a month, so consider apps like SpotHero or ParkWhiz. SpotHero is an excellent tool for the precise planner as it allows you to find and reserve spots from your web browser or smartphone. If you’re simply looking to familiarize yourself with available parking in your borough, ParkWhiz comes equipped with area maps that help you pinpoint available parking and average rates for each lot. The convenience offered by these apps comes at a premium, as do monthly parking passes for a lot or garage. But it’s worth the money for security and preservation. Explore nearby garages as soon as possible: These are often in high demand and you may wind up on a waitlist.

Of course, the much more affordable option is street parking, so long as you can avoid parking tickets. The first step is to take a long walk and explore your neighborhood, every nook and cranny in a couple thousand feet radius from your home. Make sure to note the street signs and when street-cleaning times are. This is called “alternate side of the street parking” and usually once a week, for an hour and a half interval, all cars must be moved. Once you know all the various times, you can plan strategically when you’ll have to move your car. This is a bit of a hassle, but if you do the research and create a system, it’s manageable. Your best bet is to pick a neighborhood to live in that has no “alternate side of the street parking,” such as Long Island City in Queens, which is very close to Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The other type of highly prevalent street parking involves the one- and two-hour meters. At roughly a dollar an hour, it’s one of the best deals in town. There’s a catch, naturally — you have to run back to your car every couple hours to pay or risk getting a $100-plus ticket. At least you don’t have to fret too much about breaking out your piggy bank; most meters in the city accept credit and debit cards.

Size Matters

If your preferred method of transportation is the biggest SUV at a dealership, you’re in for a rough time. There’s a reason cars have been trending smaller and smaller over time. They’re more fuel efficient, they save space, and they’re far more affordable than many of their larger counterparts. Plus, when parking space is such a luxury, you’re much more likely to find a spot with a smaller car than, say, a Cadillac Escalade.

If you own a larger car, it may be time to trade it in. This will save you loads of money on gas alone. Keep in mind that NYC dealerships can be a bit pricier than you’re used to, so investigate car shops across state lines. Consider something small and classic, like a Volkswagen. There are tons of VW dealerships in New Jersey that are bound to offer competitive pricing and trade-in offers. And while you’re looking, pick a model with a rear-view camera for easier parallel parking. New York City is all about minimizing cost and maximizing efficiency and a smaller car does both.

Don’t Drive Just Because You Can

As a new transplant to the city, you’re quickly going to realize that driving your car every single day likely isn’t worth it. While it’s great to have a vehicle as a backup for important events or trips out of town, New York City is full of amazing public transportation options that you should use to the fullest extent. Even if you’re strictly relying on rideshares like Uber or Lyft, you’re still going to save yourself money on gas, mechanic visits, and regular maintenance. Your mileage will stay low and your car will last longer. Plus, the more your car stays in the safety of your parking spot, the less likely it is you’ll end up with nasty dents and dings. There are also rubber Bumper Bullies to defend against the most common scratches and scrapes.

Also, while it may occasionally be tempting to use your car to take advantage of New York’s nightlife, you don’t need to drive to bars. In a city that offers so many ways to get around, it’s best that you leave your car keys at home before a night on the town. A good rule of thumb to follow is “if you can’t afford public transit or a cab, you can’t afford to go out.” Drinking and driving is always a bad idea, and no one should have to track down a DUI defense lawyer.

Find a Mechanic You Trust

Building a relationship with a mechanic is a lengthy process. Finding one that you trust may require some trial and error. A good way to find a quality mechanic is to ask a local cab driver. Many taxi services rely heavily on mechanics since their vehicles are in use so frequently and require maintenance more often. These mechanics often reward loyalty and repeat business with more competitive pricing and faster turnaround times. If you’re unable to get a referral that way, it’s usually best to get one through a friend or family member that has a dedicated mechanic for their vehicle.

It’s usually a good idea to avoid large chains as well. This applies to most anyone, not just NYC residents. Chain auto shops are notorious for ripoffs like inflating prices, providing lower quality services, and fabricating expenses. Instead, look for independently owned shops. Not only are you being economical and supporting local businesses, you’re also much more likely to get higher quality service and attention to your vehicle.

Ways to Cut Costs

Owning a car in the big city can drain your wallet faster than you might expect. From higher than average gas prices to premium parking costs, you never know when you’re going to be hit by unanticipated fees. That’s why you should always come prepared with a suite of cost-cutting mechanisms to help you save on your vehicle-related expenses. One method to try out is a gas price app. Gas stations just blocks away from one another can have wildly varying prices in NYC. These applications compare user data of current gas prices in your area. This way, you’re able to find the best deals each and every time you need to fill up your tank.

While owning a car in New York City is definitely more complicated than pulling into your driveway and calling it a night, thousands of the city’s residents own and maintain vehicles successfully. You have to be prepared for the added costs of maintaining a vehicle in an urban area but if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll find that the convenience it offers is second to none.

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