Car Talk: Rent or Own?

One of the great things about living in a city like New York is its public transportation. It seems you're never more than a 60-minute subway ride from just about anywhere. But leave the city? In a car? That you own? It is beneath Loot to say fuhgeddabouddit.

Every street in the five boroughs is filled with parked cars, even as parking garages thrive on some of the most expensive real estate on earth. Of course, you could just rent a car. But is that really cheaper than owning?

Let's break it down.

Say you use a car, on average, two weekends a month. Purchase aside, which option makes more financial sense?

First, let's assume you have a monthly spot at a garage. Parking on the street, in theory the cheaper choice, begins to seem a lot less frugal when you're repeatedly slapped with $115 parking fines .

To get an overview of average parking prices throughout NYC, Loot called up Dean Bravos, the senior vice president of sales and partnerships at ParkWhiz , an online parking reservation company. (Full, tedious disclosure: Loot's younger brother works at ParkWhiz.) Bravos says the average monthly parking price in Manhattan is $415. The Upper East Side, he says, has the highest concentration of garages and, unsurprisingly, the most expensive monthly price -- at 953 Fifth avenue, a spot costs $1,100 a month.

Let's assume you are wiser, and poorer, and pay Manhattan's average price, which comes to $4,980 a year. In a previous post , we'd gotten an insurance quote of $88.90 a month ($1,067 a year) to keep a car in the city, so, leaving aside (expensive) variables like maintenance, we have, in total, fixed costs of $6,047 a year.

Now for a rental. The lowest summer rates (hello, Chevy Spark!) that Loot found from rental places in Manhattan were $107 a day, for a total of $321 a weekend. In the off-season, we found rates for $53 a day, or $159 a weekend. Assuming there are three months of summer and nine months of the off-season, that's (6 x $321) + (18 x $159), or $4,788 a year -- $1,259 less than owning a car.

And now for the disclaimers.

First, the rental car prices above reflect a search for the cheapest rental in Manhattan. If you rent a car from a place in midtown, your rates are going to be higher.

Second, we understand that if you are willing to go a little out of your way, costs for both parking, and rentals, drop dramatically. The average parking price in Hoboken, a 10-minute PATH ride from Manhattan, is roughly $150 a month, according to ParkWhiz data. And rental prices in the off-season drop close to $15 a day.

Finally, the variables. If you own a car, chances are something will go wrong with it, which costs money. By the same token, rental cars have hidden fees in insurance costs, late fees and gas surcharges.

Ultimately, the margin between owning and renting is slim enough, and the variables variable enough, that the choice is mostly a matter of personal preference. And, given the nightmare of trying to drive out of the city on a Friday, or back on a Sunday night, perhaps we're asking the wrong question.

May we introduce you to Metro North ?

James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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