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Here's Why It's Annoying to Own a Cool Car in a Big City

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2017

A friend of mine recently visited me in Philadelphia, so I brought him into the parking garage where I park my cars in order to show him my Dodge Viper. As we approached it, we discovered the sight you see above: Construction workers had created a makeshift scaffold over it using two ladders and some wooden boards in order to work on piping for the business above the garage. This was going on without my knowledge, and I have no idea how long it had been happening.

Fortunately, the construction workers respected the car -- and once I moved it, I checked it over for damage and found nothing. My friend told me he would've been livid with the workers and with the garage (to which I pay $250 per month) for not contacting me before the work so I could move my car. But I laughed it off, because here's the thing: It's just one more tale in the saga of owning a cool car in the middle of a big city. And today I'm going to tell you why that's just so amazingly difficult to do.

As many of you know, I live in the middle of Philadelphia, in a strip known as "Center City," which is the densest part of the United States aside from Manhattan. And I truly believe that Philadelphia -- along with other highly dense big cities, like New York, Boston, and areas in Chicago, San Francisco, and a few other cities -- is one of the most difficult places imaginable to own a cool car.

Parking is probably the primary reason. I cannot even begin to count how many times friends have sent me cool cars for sale, and replied -- when I told them I don't have enough space to buy anything else -- that I should just "park on the street." I meet this response with open laughter. Street parking is a possibility in many places. Not here.

Here's why: Yes, there is legal residential street parking in many parts of Philadelphia (and the other cities I mentioned). But by my estimation, they've given out approximately 11 million street parking passes for roughly 37 spaces. So what happens is, if you leave your spot at any time except peak business hours, when people have commuted to their jobs, it will be taken within four seconds of your departure.

And once a parking spot is taken, it's over. There's an entire world of people, here in Philadelphia, and in other crowded cities, who have cars -- but only in theory. They refuse to move at night, or on weekends, for fear they'll never get their parking spaces back. So their vehicle just sits in its space, at all hours, on all days, because they don't want to risk losing the parking space. Obviously, all this can be remedied if your home has parking attached to it, but it's tremendously rare. My house has one parking spot, and I consider it a gift from above, sort of like Fruit Roll-Ups.

So what I do with my other car is, I park in a monthly garage. I pay $250 a month to park my Dodge Viper in a parking garage a couple of blocks away from my house. Which would be fine, except that it's the single most incompetent business in the entire history of human time. Seriously: I believe the entire operation would be better run by a small child whose sole experience with automobiles is that he once used a marker to draw on the inside rear window of his mom's Acura MDX.

During my time in my parking garage, I've had my access key card completely fail on several occasions, I've had parking garage staff accuse me of parking multiple cars in the garage, I've had parking garage staff accuse me of not paying my monthly bill, and I spent a week trying to track down parking garage staff to get my key card when I first signed up. There are abandoned cars in the garage, there's a group of kids who smoke in the garage most weekdays, the garage gate arm is often damaged, and I once had a parking garage employee ask me why I was leaving the garage that evening. "Uh ... because I can?" And then, of course, the scaffolding incident.

And this experience is not unique to me: This is how parking garages are. Parking garages are never highly competent, tremendously well-run businesses. People don't generally get into the industry of placing cars into lines after laboring through four years at Harvard.

So parking is a challenge, and street parking is impossible. But it isn't the only issue.

One major problem I have is finding a decent repair shop here in Philadelphia. I've had several recommendations for excellent shops out in the suburbs, but many are more than 40 minutes away -- and very few independent shops offer loaner vehicles. Trust me when I say I've taken more 45-minute Uber rides than you could possibly believe, in order to go pick up recently fixed vehicles. Which, by the way, leads me to the following question: Why do Uber drivers brake so late? Seriously. Why? Why don't they just ease into the brake pedal? Smooth it out just a litttttle bit. It's not that hard. Has Uber trained these people to stop like they're driving in heavy fog and they just encountered a moose on the road ahead of them?

The main reason for this lack of good repair shops is that most people here in the city have cars they just don't care about all that much. People here know they'll be subject to parking woes, and narrow streets, and other issues, so they just don't bother with cool cars -- and that means they don't bother with good repair shops. To this day, I've never heard a recommendation for a decent non-dealership repair shop within a half hour of my home.

And then there's the final issue, which is the roads. They're bad. In fact, they're bad in two ways. One is that they're constantly potholed and damaged and pock-marked and covered by steel plates, simply because it's difficult to do road repairs correctly in a place where the roads are always in use. But also, they're just dull. Philadelphia is a grid, I live right in the middle, and a drive out to a fun group of roads is a 25-minute proposition for me. There is very little fun to be had inside the city.

So you're probably wondering why I live here, then, if it's such a hassle for vehicle ownership. Well, the truth is that vehicle ownership is just one facet of my life, and I happen to like everything else about the city: the convenience, the closeness of everything, the fast pace, the constant activities, and BLAH BLAH BLAH, OK, I admit, I'm starting to get sick of it. I'm starting to want a little more room for the cars, and I'm starting to want better roads, and I'm starting to want accessible repair shops.

Also, I'm starting to want to park my cars in a place where I don't have to walk up and find a burly guy named Jeff standing on a flimsy board four inches from my hood, with a power drill in his hand.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Here's Why It's Annoying to Own a Cool Car in a Big City - Autotrader