By on August 23, 2016

New York City (MsSaraKelly/Flickr)

Micah writes:

Hi –

My wife and I live in New York City. For most people, this would mean no car, but our neighborhood isn’t on subway lines, necessitating wheels for errands, and we often leave the city on day trips. Our car – a ’98 Jetta – has needed nearly $2,000 in repairs over the past 18 months (and repairs are necessary, at an increasing rate), so it might be time to move on. We both agree that the best car for us is a Mercedes-Benz GLK Bluetec (yes, we test drove the previous generation), but that’s more for when we plan on moving out of the city next summer. We sorta need something until then. What are our options?

I see several:

  1. Negotiate a 12-18 month lease
  2. Try the lease takeover thing
  3. Buy something CPO that’s small and cheap that we can flip next summer
  4. Buy the Benz now, insurance be damned
  5. Just rent something for whenever we need to leave the city

What do you think? Thanks!

There are two huge problems with owning a car in New York — parking and insurance. I’m not sure which borough you live in, but parking spaces in Manhattan and Brooklyn probably cost more per month than my house in Kentucky does. So kudos to you for paying outlandish fees to park a Mk III Jetta, and it won’t cost you any more to park a Benz than it would cost you to park a Jetta — unless you feel like you want a better, safer parking spot for your new whip, which might cost more.

So let’s look at each of your options and determine which one is right for you.

1 and 2: Leasing a car in New York isn’t a terrible idea — until it is. Some captive leasing companies will be kinder than others when it comes to damage sustained over the course of a lease, but New York is a magnet for scratches, dings, and dents. Along with Washington, it’s the only city where the cars with bumper guards seem to outnumber those without. While the lease pricing might be attractive upfront, you might get a nasty shock when you go to turn in the car, especially if you’re leasing something that you have no interest in keeping at the end of the term and if you’re not going to lease another car from that OEM.

3: I like this option, and I’m not even sure that CPO is a must. If you’re only planning to keep the car for 12-18 months, I’d probably go a little more used so that your depreciation hit is lessened.

4: I’ll ask you the question my father would ask me in the same situation: would that make you happy? If so, is the increased cost and pain of the insurance in the city worth it? That’s a question that only you can answer. Financially, it might not be the smartest decision, but the emotional value could make up for it.

5: This would appear to be the most economical decision. I don’t know how often you leave the city, but the cost probably comes out ahead. However, the convenience factor is very low here. Do you really want to have to plan your life out that far in advance? If you need to make a nice little Saturday out of a run to the Home Depot, are you prepared to deal with that hassle?

There’s one more option you didn’t mention — keep the Jetta and suck it up on the repairs. I have a feeling that you have no desire to own the Jetta for even one more day, but I have no doubt that at least five members of the B&B will tell you that this is what you should do. Screw that. Life is short.

So here’s what I’d do:

Find a used car that you don’t mind driving for the next year or so that’s already taken a nice depreciation hit but should still be fairly reliable for that time period — why not a nice Cadillac ATS 2.0? 2013s are going for about 40 percent of MSRP right now, but I don’t think they’re going to trend any lower in the next year. That means you should be able to sell it for nearly exactly what you originally paid for it, provided that you keep the miles low (which sounds like a given) and the dent fairy doesn’t bless you with too many visits. The 2.0 is a relatively well-tested powertrain at this point, so you shouldn’t encounter many issues.

Then, when you get your house in Connecticut and your picket fence, you’ll be able to transition into that Benzo, completely pain free. You’re welcome.

Questions for Bark can be electronically mailed to [email protected], or sent via this new Twitter thing to @barkm302. I also have Snapchat. I don’t know how to use it. 

[Image: MsSaraKelly/Flickr]

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42 Comments on “Ask Bark: Hot Car In The City...”

  • avatar

    Consider the cost of a payment versus the cost of your repairs. Time and time again I see and hear people getting rid of their “Money pit” only to replace it with a payment that takes more money from their wallets. Yes, I know the cost of increased reliability and peace of mind is a real consideration, as is the happiness quotient. But my rules are that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, fix it. If you can’t fix it, replace it. And finally, cry when you buy it, not every time you use it.

    $2000 over 18 months is $111.11 per month, which is chump change when compared to the note on a GLK. I’m going with Bark on this one, budget for repairs and drive the VW until you’re out of the city. Once you’re out of the city and actually need that daily driver, spend your money on the car you want (cry when you buy) instead of settling for some stopgap compromise in the meantime.

    • 0 avatar

      Upon further review this is exactly what Bark advised against, so I can’t say “I’m with Bark.”

      I’m 70% Bark, with my plan being the lazy backup. Except I’d just keep the ATS, because ‘Murica.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, but dividing repair costs by months isn’t an accurate measure of the cost.

      Sure that accounts for the cash outlay, but there is also time lost, productive hours from work lost as well as the disruption involved with logistics and getting the repairs done. The “Debt Is Bad” crowd fails to consider those costs in the calculation, as well as the deleterious unpredictability unreliable cars have. One month you’re paying nothing, and the next you’re in the hole by over $2,000. Every month is a roll of the dice, and with older VWs the house always wins.

      Numerically driving older cars may look better on paper, but leasing has two very attractive benefits;

      Cost of transportation is a predictable constant. That matters for most budgets including my own.

      At the end of a defined period, you hand the car back. This is also very attractive for reasons I’ll get into.

      Look around your modern , 2013+ mid grade car. Unless it’s an absolute stripper model, it probably has more computer parts in it then a 1990s era 740 BMW.

      Keeping a modern car on the road when stuff breaks will require the stealerships cooperation , thanks to all those proprietary computers ; there’s so many proprietary components necessary for the car to work that soon (if not already) it won’t be financially feasible to keep an older car running. Water pumps and suspension parts won’t break the bank, but when that integrated touchscreen CAN-BUS fails at 75K miles it’ll cost four figures to fix, and without that computer talking to all the other computers, no more car regardless of how mechanically sound elsewhere it may be. Which is just fine with the OEM,because why should they care about the second or third owner when they only make money off the first?

      Going forward I see leasing being the only safe way to get a reliable car , unless one has a hookup for cheap OEM computer components.

      • 0 avatar

        If you spend $111.11 a month keeping a pile of crap on the road at the end you have an even bigger pile of crap and some cash (assuming any savings isn’t pißed away). If you spend a few $100 a month on a new car at the end of X year you have an X year old car with many years of trouble free motoring in front of it but less $. If you include the value of your time the later option is usually the best.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree, unless you can budget for repairs and the downtime doesn’t hurt your bottom line through lost income, rolling the dice isn’t a smart move. It makes especially less sense to dump money into a vehicle if the value of that vehicle is less than the amount of the repair. Cases in point, I kicked my ’92 SunTurd to the curb when the cost of a heater core replacement exceeded the value of the car, and I did the same when my ’00 Protege (which as one of my former VP’s was known to say, was studying to be a real car one day) lost two of its four forward gears.

        I’m focusing on their plan to move within the next 12 months. I see no reason for a stopgap vehicle between the one they hate and the one they love. Keep the one they hate going for one year then get the one they love, or skip the middle step and go straight to GLK.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with you about 95%, with the caveat being that & eBay have become awfully good hookups for cheap OEM computer components already. I daily drive a 2002 S-Class, which in theory is as bad an example of electronic complexity as exists in a used car. But parts are plentiful and surprisingly cheap. The downside is that you have to be able to install them yourself Both time and tools have a cost.

    • 0 avatar

      If you spend $111.11 a month keeping a pile of crap on the road at the end you have an even bigger pile of crap and some cash (assuming any savings isn’t pißed away). If you spend a few $100 a month on a new car at the end of X year you have an X year old car with many years of trouble free motoring in front of it but less $. If you include the value of your time the later option is usually the best.

    • 0 avatar

      Fuck that don’t repair the POS. Clean it up and sell it.

      What Borough do you live in? Manhattan has some of the lowest auto insurance rates compared to the other boroughs.

      I was in a similar situation. Had a 2001 Land Rover Discovery. Paid off, I was the second owner, meticulously maintained with all service records. Took many weekend trips and was a beast for long trips and winter. Had it break down multiple times randomly, at the worst times. Costing me well over $1 to $2k each time.

      It costs more to keep damn Euro cars on the road. All the money you throw it it goes down the drain. I dumped it and got a new car. I loved it! Best decision I made was to move out of the damn city though.

      Get what makes you happy. I lived in Queens for a while as well and had a garage spot. As a car guy, I could never live without a car. Driving around boring zip cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Also just to add, almost all luxury cars are leased in NYC. Check the deals going around to see if they work for you. Otherwise get a CPO GLK or Wrangler or whatever you want.

        Knowing the city pretty well, I always drive in on weekends and know where to park for free on the street. Go explore and drive out. Same goes for trips to the beach, Long Island, CT or upstate.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. At some point you are paying for a warranty. The assumption is 100% uptime, which no car ever hits. If the car isn’t needed to commute, then you will pay a lot for a hypothetical. Since all my cars have over 100k, warranty is not a “thing”.

      Add up the taxes (over 8% in NY) alone for the new car…pays a lot of repairs. Keep the crap car for NYC….don’t toss pretty and shiny at NYC.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    Running wild and looking pretty!

  • avatar

    I don’t know if the Nova Eurosport Brougham is the best choice here. The only good thing about the ATS is that it is fun to drive, I think it’d be miserable in regular NYC traffic.

    Considering they own a MKIII Jetta (TDI?) now and want a diesel Mercedes in the future, it sounds like they are Eurocar fans. I’d probably just do a 3-Series lease and buy the GLK once you’re settled outside the city.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t drive when in NYC but I sure as hell remember the Buick sized potholes everywhere in New England .

      Good luck no matter which way you decide .


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Autosharing through Zipcar or one of their competitors.
    No insurance, no gas, no maintenance. And it will allow you to drive different vehicles to determine what you truly like best.

  • avatar

    Old Lexus. You can pick one up for what you spent on repairs/will over the next 18 months… And it feels like a Benz

    And why is it readers with class and money are concerned with financing/leasing?

    I’m sure you can scrape together the $4k-$6k in cash to pick one up, have it gone over by a mechanic (timing belt/water pump is a good idea regardless of service records) and have many years faithful service.

    My salvage title $500 poverty-edition ’98 Corolla VE has performed flawlessly for the past year. I’m sure it will more many more. And this is built like crap compared to Lexus of the era.

    • 0 avatar

      …or are people vein about cars because neighbors/coworkers make fun of your old car? I had a coworker get rid of an awesome ’91 Celica (and pick up lousy financing on a Pontiac of all things) because the marketing guys were giving him $hit.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Surely if you can afford a new Benz you can afford to keep that Jetta running. I don’t know why some people think nice things are out of their reach :)

  • avatar

    Car sharing. BTW for those not here, even the NYPD is using Smart cars for their traffic wannabe’s.

  • avatar

    Keep the Jetta until you move. Take an Uber when the Jetta is broken. It doesn’t make sense to break in your new car in New York

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    Get rid of the Jetta – why budget for big budget repairs on something that’s rapidly approaching the 20 year mark. Be done with it.

    Buy a used Wrangler – it will retain most of its value and will take the worst NYC can throw at it.

  • avatar

    I didn’t see any space needs justified, so used Prius C. Cheap to buy used (even CPOV), holds value, easy to flip, easy to urban drive and park, extremely low maintenance and gas costs. No biggie when it gets scratched, dented, dinged in NY because 1) it was cheap, 2) you don’t care, you’re getting a Merc as soon as you move out of the city.

    Practice delayed gratification for another year.

  • avatar

    $199/mo least FTMFW!

    Chrysler 200
    Chevy Sonic
    Mitsubishi Mirage (did I just type that?!)

    Dump the Jetta asap before something big takes a $#¡Г on it. I’m usually for keeping older cars, but that does not apply to German ones, especially ones that have already proven to be more trouble than they’re worth.

  • avatar

    ” If you need to make a nice little Saturday our a run to the Home Depot, are you prepared to deal with that hassle?”

    The hassle of a zip car? There is no hassle.

  • avatar

    How about selling the Jetta for a couple grand maybe and put that money towards rentals as needed through ZipCar or Turo, plus Ubers/taxis when it’s more convenient? Then, when you move out of the city, get the new car.

  • avatar

    The answer is always Miata!

  • avatar


    Used Prius. Highly reliable, good room for stuff and low gas prices right now have probably pushed the prices down. It will probably retain its value well from now on. It’s compact on the outside, has a good turning radius and is going to be easy to park.

    Yeah, it’s a dog and, no, it doesn’t have any Fahrvergnugen but NYC isn’t exactly Lime Rock.

    And it’s an excellent car for a literally hot city. The A/C will run without running the engine much at all. “Idling” on a hot day, you keep cool while using hardly any gas.

    Buy this and save your money for future Benz repairs.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I would just live with your current circumstances, use a cab and bus (and friends) if no subway is close by. And what do you mean by “close by”? 1/4 or even 1/2 of a mile? That’s still walking distance and it will be healthy to do the walk a couple of times a day.

    When you do move out into the ‘burbs, buy a Colorado diesel dual cab 4×4. You can go to the beach, long distance drives, camping and fishing and drinking beer.

  • avatar

    a car in the city is a pita but since you say you need one, have the jetta given a once over by an indie see what it may need and decide if it is worth it, it does not make sense to buy a car for 18 months, taxes, reggie fees also add up, the only exception is due you plan on being a 2 car family in the burbs, if so buy the 2 car now maybe a golf if you like the german experience or maybe a gas sipping something or a used leaf, some parking garages let you charge for free, no idea how long they hold a charge but they are cheap used and in the city you do not go to far so range should not be a issue.

  • avatar

    You live in NYC so, generally, you don’t NEED a vehicle!
    Rent one via Zipcar or use Uber or a taxi!

    If you can afford a Mercedes Benz, you CAN afford to fix an old Jetta for years until it finally breaks down!

    That need for the MB is just for your darn EGO!!!

  • avatar

    07-09 Mercedes-Benz E350. Don’t be too concerned with miles; look for one that your future Connecticut neighbors bought new and had all the maintenance done. Mercedes fixed most of the problems that this generation was known for in the 2003-2006’s including the impossible to repair brake system so as a Benz goes it should be relatively reliable. Since you’re coming out of a ’98 Jetta you shouldn’t be completely shocked or upset if something does happen to break and should be able to find numerous examples for under $10k–I’ve got my eye on an 07 with 112k for $8990.

    An alternative is a 2002-2006 Mercedes C-Class. As Mercedes go they are relatively simple but still have some old-school Benz driving characteristics while being smaller (and easier to park) and are plentiful. The same dealer has an 02 C240 with 47k for $6900 but many can be found for less money with a few more miles.

  • avatar

    Jeep Wrangler. Here me out. It has big tough bumpers (and you can always add tougher aftermarket ones), is zippy enough with the Pentastar, can conqueor all of those pesky potholes, sits up high to see over traffic, and has a short wheelbase in regular or unlimited form making parking easy.

  • avatar

    I would keep my piece of junk VW until I moved out of the city. Repair only what is absolutely necessary to keep it running. Once you move out of here then make your new purchase. My advice would be to visit your local Lexus dealership at that point in time.

  • avatar

    Stick to the Jetta for another year before you move. If it breaks down use uber / lyft / taxi as needed.

  • avatar
    Silver Bullet

    You may appreciate not having a car loan when it comes time to apply for the mortgage.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree on the mortgage thing. If you decide to buy in Greenwich, a relatively new lease might affect the willingness of lenders to give you that jumbo mortgage you’ll need.

      I’d say: sell the 2.slow/TDI/VR6 (whatever ’98 you have) and use your new-found riches for Uber, Zipcar, Postmates, UberEats, Peapod, Amazon Prime, etc. You’ll have an even fancier lifestyle with all these door-to-door conveniences that used to necessitate a Jetta.

      Plus, wouldn’t it be a fun little experiment to see how you can get along without a car? Oh, did I mention a bus? a bicycle? If you absolutely hate it (and I can understand when January comes along), know that there’s a light at the end of the short tunnel, and you’ll be cruzing around (see what I did?) in a new diesel soon.

      Then move out of Greenpoint and into Greenwich (sellout, but that’s ok), get your $2M hovel and the Benzo BlueTec and live the dream life of debt until retirement. Oh, did you consider the following Fairfield County-approved machinery: E-Class Wagon & Range Rover Sport? At least the Rangie has a diesel, and maybe the next-gen E Wagon will too. Too bad Q5 & Q7 TDIs are out, because those are also allowed in Southern CT.

      If all else fails, there’s still a 328d Touring and that economical Cruze diesel. Just tell your neighbors that it belongs to the cleaning lady, and you’re watching it while she returns for an indefinite time to her native Ecuador.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes it can, there are two debt to income ratios considered when you apply for a home loan. It does vary depending on the type of loan but for example it may be 28/36 for many conventional loans. So as long as your car payment doesn’t make your total non housing recurring debt exceed the difference between those two numbers, 8% in this example, it won’t really affect your approval or max housing cost. Exceed that spread and it will affect the max loan amount you can qualify for.

  • avatar

    A wise man once told me that owning a car living in Manhattan is akin to owning a yacht. If you can’t afford a yacht, you can’t afford a car. After a month of playing the every other day street parking game, I ended up stashing mine at the house of a friend in New Jersey.

    Assuming you don’t live in Manhattan, then one good answer is an old Panther (Ford Crown Vic, Mercury Grand Marquis or Lincoln Town Car). For $2-4k you should be able to find an example that will last at least a couple of more years. They are usually reliable even in winter, tend to last forever, and they are cheap to repair.

    I recommend the last generation – 2003 to 2011 model years – and not NYC cabs or most cop cars unless they have been substantially rebuilt or else very well taken care of. It will handle the potholed streets just like NYC cabs do. You insure it for the minimum. Gas mileage is not a problem given how few miles you will drive it. It holds five adults, and/or considerable cargo. If it gets dinged or vandalized, so what.

    Search the internet. There are a ton of them out there. Later, when you move to the ‘burbs’, it will be an easy resell.

  • avatar

    Having lived in NYC with car, there are two ways to go. Beater on the street, knowing it will get no love from anyone. Assume parking tickets, because the ONLY thing NYC can do on time is give you an alternate side summons at 7:58 am. The alternate is the master of the universe method, new car in a reserved spot.

    Parking on the upper west side in a garage will run more than the lease.

    If you don’t need it for work, dump the car and rent/uber/subway. Wait till you get the suburban digs to go for the new-er car.

    I had a parking space due to a set of deals, so I escaped the worst of it…but car ownership in Manhattan is what makes the bike crazies there rational – but only in Manhattan.

  • avatar

    When we lived in Manhattan, we kept my wife’s grad school car, a Toyota Paseo, on Long Island to use on the weekends. We brought it in right after 9/11 in case we needed to escape and the trains weren’t running. Our garage was subsidized by our employer, so it was only $200/month (plus $25 to the attendants so we could park it ourselves and leave when we wanted to).

    I say a cheap Toyota/Honda is the ideal city car. Reliable, economical, easy to park and who cares about bumper rash? What do I know though, we sold the Toyota to our doorman in 2004 and bought a new G35. Eddie commuted to Manhattan from the Bronx for years with our little car. It killed me to see it parked on the street!

  • avatar

    I’ve lived in NYC. If you need a car to get to the train, you live in a place where there’s free street parking. If you drive to the train, it’s crowded when you get there… Hence you need a small car to park. The difference between a Fit and a Panther is about six blocks of walking from a large parking spot to a small one. Look at the bumpers on a lot of small cars. Whichever holds up the best in the NYC demolition derby is your new ride. Buy a used Japanese/Korean car. Dump the VW unless your only source of recreation is sitting outside VW repair shops. Your time is your most valuable asset. Don’t squander it. Leasing an upmarket used car fails for two reasons: 1) you will be charged for every scratch and ding when you return it; 2) decent used cars cost too much to maintain.
    Forget the pleasure of driving. It doesn’t exist in NYC or anywhere on Long Island.

  • avatar

    buy CPO or lease = $500+ per month
    parking = $500+ per month
    plus gas, insurance, maintenance etc etc

    $1000+++ per month…

    Just take Uber everywhere, even every day, and you’ll be better off.

  • avatar

    Hi everyone –

    I’m the dude who wrote in. Thanks to you all for your advice, and extra thanks go to Bark for running my question, which I was pretty stoked about. I figured I’d update you with our plans.

    The neighborhood we live in is underpopulated – mostly warehouses and such – so parking here is a piece of cake. It’s a bad day when I get street parking two blocks from our place. So that’s not a concern. Of concern is that our neighborhood has awful roads, which had already contributed to 5 new shocks in the Jetta in two years. But, well, sorta moot point, as we decided we’d just hang out with car2go and walking for a couple months. I’ll keep an eye on craisglists nearby for cars that we’d be interested in that you suggested – like the older MB C-class or the Prius C – throughout the fall and see if we can turn up a deal. If not, I’ll count our blessings at not having to deal with a car parked on the street when the snow comes and we’ll get our GLK next spring.

    The only lease deal we considered (well, that *I* considered and tried to sell my wife on) was on the Volvo V60. $259 was a great deal there.

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