Car Owners Beware: The Worst Cities in America to Own a Car

Motorists make their way out of downtown Los Angeles headed east on the Interstate 10 freeway on August 30, 2013 in California, where more Southern California residents are taking Labor Day weekend trips this year compared to in 2012, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. Some 2.44 million residents have plans for a trip of at least 50 miles from home this Labour Day weekend, with about 1.93 million expected to drive, up 6.2 percent from 1.82 million last year, according to the Auto Club.
Driving in Southern California may be rough, but LA isn’t one of the 10 worst cities for car owners | Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Do you feel like you spend dozens of hours every year stuck in traffic? If you live in Los Angeles and surrounding areas of Southern California, chances are you do. However, the access to quality infrastructure for drivers (e.g., parking lots, repair shops, and gas stations) means Southern California residents don’t have it the worst among American car owners in 2016. This dubious honor goes to big cities on the East Coast and much farther north on the West Coast.

WalletHub, a site specializing in credit reports, analyzed data on the key elements of owning a vehicle in the 100 most populated cities in the U.S. to determine the best and worst places for drivers. Analysts looked at ownership and maintenance costs (30%); traffic and infrastructure (30%); auto safety and severity of citations/fines (30%); and number of dealerships and service centers per capita. Here are the 10 cities that were the worst of the bunch.

10. Boston

Cars drive down Surface Rd. during winter storm Neptune which dropped over a foot of snow February 15, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. This is the fourth major storm to hit the New England region that has already seen more than 6 feet of snow in some areas.
Whether it’s the weather, the parking, or the high repair costs, Boston is a nightmare for car owners | Scott Eisen/Getty Images

If you live in Boston, maybe you should use the public transportation available. WalletHub rated Beantown the very worst in parking, number of repair shops, and access to car washes. You’ll pay a ton to park if you actually can find a spot, and if you need something fixed you’ll have to go out of your way to find a garage. With these conditions, no wonder Zipcar is headquartered in Boston. Our advice: Borrow, share, rent, repeat. And definitely become acquainted with mass transit options.

9. Seattle

Seattle public market
Seattle public market | Mark Ralson/AFP/Getty Images

When the BMW ReachNow car-sharing service opened for business in Seattle, the response was overwhelming, much like it was for the Car2Go program. People overwhelmingly want to leave their cars in the garage or give them up altogether in the Emerald City. When you consider the countless number of days spent driving on slick streets because of the rain, you get an idea why Seattle is such a drag for car owners. The city also ranks very low on infrastructure, traffic, and maintenance costs.

8. New York City

A Nissan Leaf illegally parked (fire hydrant) at Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan
A Nissan Leaf illegally parked (fire hydrant) at Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan | Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

We’ll personally vouch for the horrendous traffic, the endless construction detours, and the near-impossible parking conditions in Manhattan. According to WalletHub, New York is the absolute worst (100th of 100) among U.S. cities in terms of traffic and infrastructure and nearly as bad (99th) in terms of repair shop availability and maintenance costs. So New York City could be summed up as “expensive, frustrating, and inconvenient.” No wonder the subway is so packed most hours every day.

7. Oakland

Bay area drivers
Conditions in the Bay Area have been rated even worse for drivers than in Southern California | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Believe it or not, Northern California cities ranked worse than Southern California cities in the WalletHub study. Oakland, pulling in at No. 7, has high ownership and maintenance costs as one of its weakest links. Oakland also has the worst record for car thefts, so drivers have that issue to sweat as well. Then there is the impossible traffic and limited parking infrastructure. As in other big cities, car-sharing and public transportation are recommended.

6. Baltimore

Baltimore is yet another East Coast metropolis ranking among the worst cities for car owners in America | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Baltimore rated bad across the board in rates of auto thefts and accidents, traffic conditions, cost of ownership and maintenance, and parking in the WalletHub study. The same problems plague the other East Coast cities, but Baltimore was especially bad in its safety scores. Emerging car-sharing services, mass transit, and ride-sharing companies are a resident’s best bet here.

5. Philadelphia

Philadelphia traffic
Philadelphia is not known for smooth sailing on the roadways | William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

You’ll encounter impossibly narrow streets built for horse-drawn carriages, limited parking, a high frequency of accidents, limited repair shop options, and the most aggressive parking authority in America when you drive in Philadelphia. Fortunately for downtown residents, you can get around on public transportation most places you are going. Otherwise, unless you have a garage or easy parking setup in your neighborhood, driving in Philly will be a headache. And yes, things actually got worse during the DNC.

4. Chicago

Traffic jams up on the Kennedy Expressway leaving the city while inbound traffic remains light as motorists hit the road for the start of the Memorial Day weekend on May 23, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. AAA forecasts the number of drivers taking to the roads for the holiday will hit a 10-year record. The motor club expects roughly eight in ten Americans to take a road trip during the long weekend.
Chicago cracked the top five among America’s worst cities for car owners | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Whereas Chicago has high scores for auto safety and theft rates, the Windy City is among the country’s worst for parking fees, limited parking space, traffic, and cost of ownership. Like most big cities in the country, Chicago residents are far better off accessing available public transportation and avoiding getting behind the wheel during any rush hour. It’s just not worth the aggravation.

3. San Francisco

San Francisco at sunset
As pretty as San Francisco is, driving a car there is often ugly | Source: iStock

There are so many great things to do in San Francisco. Afternoons in North Beach, sunsets in the Presidio, trips to the Palace of Legion of Honor, and Mission taqueria pit-stops top our list. Driving is not of the things we’d recommend, and WalletHub ranked it among the worst. Cost of ownership and availability of repair shops could not be worse than in San Francisco, while parking availability and traffic are getting more frustrating every year.

2. Detroit

Detroit is known for high parking fees and intense rush-hour traffic | Source: Thinkstock

It may be the Motor City, but the glut of cars in downtown Detroit has made it a headache for drivers trying to drive or park there. WalletHub ranked it the worst city outside of the East Coast for owning a car. Besides its high parking and maintenance fees, Detroit has given drivers fits trying to navigate through rush-hour traffic and find a shop that will repair your car at a moment’s notice.

1. Washington, D.C.

The National Mall
High accident rates, inflated parking fees, and crippling traffic made Washington D.C. tops among worst cities for drivers in America | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

There is nothing fun about driving a car in the capital city. Among the 100 most populous cities, Washington, D.C. was the worst in average annual hours spent sitting in traffic jams and in likelihood of getting into an accident. The nation’s capital was nearly the worst in parking fees and lack of repair shops as well. Maybe all the lawmakers in town can pool together their experience and propose a bipartisan solution? We wouldn’t bet on it.

Source: WalletHub

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