Best and Worst Cities to Own a Car

By Ben Hartwig
14 May, 2019

Owning a car comes with many obligations, some pleasures – and lots of costs. Most times people own cars because they’re suburbanites who commute to a job and live far enough out of an urban center that there are few options for getting around other than private transportation.

Despite a lot of news about people who work in coffee shops or from home while wearing pajamas, transportation continues to be a core cost of living, right up there with food and shelter. And those who study the economic health of Americans say salaries have been flat but costs of living have risen in the past 15 years, transportation among them.

Consider some of the “hidden” costs of owning a car:

  • insurance premiums,
  • fuel,
  • upkeep, like new tires and oil changes,
  • tolls and parking fees, and
  • state vehicle taxes and emissions testing.

On top of those common expenses are the “oops” issues, like repairing damage from a fender-bender and parking tickets.

Cost of ownership

While every day can’t be Bruce Springsteen singing “Pink Cadillac” while you cruise along a beach with the top down and a bunch of friends in the car with you, a few choices can affect how much you enjoy your car. One survey of multiple sources revealed that the least expensive states to own a car are New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia. These rankings are based on sales and title costs, fuel costs, and average repair costs over a three-year period. Each of these three cheapest states averaged less than $11,000 in costs over three years.

The same survey showed that the most expensive states to own a car were Michigan, Nevada, and California, each coming in at more than $15,000 per year on average.

The states with the highest taxes on gasoline figure into the equation, too. Pennsylvania tacks on 58.7 cents per gallon, much of which goes to improving the state’s road infrastructure and transportation projects. California adds 53.5 cents per gallon, yet still has issues with at least 25 percent of its roads, which are considered to be in sub-optimal condition. Washington and Hawaii both have state gasoline taxes of over 40 cents per gallon as well, putting them in the top five.

Traffic

That expensive gasoline won’t get you far if you are stuck in traffic, which isn’t unusual in some cities around the country. In fact, Los Angeles is on par with some of the worst traffic in the world as commuters there regularly spend 12 percent of their time – or 102 hours annually — in gridlock. New York City isn’t much better as it’s tied with Moscow for the amount of time residents spend stuck, which was 91 hours a year, according to data collected. Rounding out the finalists were San Francisco, Atlanta, and Miami, putting five U.S. cities in the top 10 worst gridlock in the world.

Thefts

Auto thefts are an indication of property crime rates in general, which just adds to the burden of those who need a vehicle for practical purposes like commuting to work. Tops in auto thefts are Albuquerque, New Mexico, Anchorage, Alaska, Pueblo, Colorado, Redding, California, and St. Joseph, Missouri.

Tickets

Cities that enforce strict parking regulations can take a chunk out of your wallet, perhaps adding significantly to your vehicle ownership costs. As you probably guessed, these fees go hand-in-hand with the cities that are most congested and where finding parking is highly challenging. Baltimore, San Francisco, and Boston are among those cities that charge the most for parking tickets and write the most parking tickets as well. San Francisco’s parking ticket revenue amounts to $98 per capita, the same as Washington D.C., which Baltimore’s revenue is over $100 per capita and Chicago’s is about $97 per capita.

Fatal accidents

Big cities mean lots of traffic, making fatal vehicle accidents more likely, particularly if weather, poor road conditions, or poor vehicle maintenance are factors. In the U.S. some 40,000 people die in car crashes each year, making car ownership a costly enterprise in terms of risk. People’s driving records are easy obtainable to check fatal accidents. Here are the country’s top 10 cities according to the number of motor vehicle fatalities that took place there in a recent year:

  • Philadelphia: 93
  • Detroit: 108
  • Memphis: 117
  • Chicago: 117
  • Jacksonville, FL: 140
  • Dallas: 174
  • San Antonio: 180
  • Phoenix, AZ: 215
  • Houston TX: 239
  • Los Angeles: 305

Best cities to drive in

It makes sense that the best cities to drive or own a car in are those with the lowest costs, best infrastructure, and least accidents. According to a source that made an exhaustive evaluation of several criteria in every state, these are the best cities to drive in: Corpus Christi, Texas; Orlando, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina, and Plano Texas.

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