Why Driving in New York City is Worth It

Even the country’s least car-friendly city can be a gearhead’s playground.

Despite splashy news reports of robotic parking lots, drive-in elevators that take your car directly to the door of your starchitect-designed apartment, or Gilded Age–style motor courts fronting high-end office and residential towers, Manhattan claims the lowest rate of car ownership in the nation. Recent surveys indicate that less than one-quarter of households in the borough possess a vehicle, far below the national average of 92 percent. Even those of us who love cars find New York challenging: I test luxury and exotic vehicles for a living, but given my town’s pervasive public transportation infrastructure, I rarely drive in the city.

Yet when I do, I love it.

Driving in New York is like playing a real-life video game with no rules. You become part of a swarm, a mobile hive mind where you have to anticipate the unpredictable at every moment. It’s a challenge to your reflexes and capabilities. It also immediately makes you part of an insider group. In L.A. or Dallas or my hometown of Detroit, you aren’t just defined by your car; residents understand that getting behind the wheel is a performance, a kind of costume. Even farmers’ market hipsters will throw a thumbs-up when you vroom by in an Aston Martin Vanquish. But in the pedestrian-centric city of New York, only those truly in the know will recognize how cool a 1999 BMW M5 is parading down Park Avenue. Everyone else just sees traffic.

“That’s really the best part about being a gearhead in the city, the enthusiasm you bring out in people and the community that surrounds the love of cars,” says Zac Moseley, director of Manhattan’s Classic Car Club, a NetJets-style organization where members pay an annual fee for the use of dozens of classic and contemporary vehicles, from Fords to Ferraris. “Cars are the forbidden fruit here, and like any other exiles in an unwelcoming land, when car enthusiasts find each other, there’s an immediate bond of shared passions.”

In a city with such clogged streets and inflated rents, owning a car can be as daunting as driving one. By eliminating ownership, car-sharing programs like the Classic Car Club, Audi’s Silvercar, General Motors’ Maven, and Zipcar solve the problem of what to do with your vehicle when you’re not using it. You just drop it off back where it belongs. (Parking in a Manhattan garage averages around $40 per day and $450 per month, and prices escalate rapidly from there.)

The new, New York–centric app DropCar may put that money to better use. For less than the cost of a typical monthly garage in Manhattan, DropCar will dispatch a valet to wait with your vehicle while you’re shopping/visiting/dining or ferry it away to one of its large-scale parking structures, to be returned whenever you request it. Some New Yorkers may think of a chauffeur as the ultimate luxury, but for those of us who love our cars, more time behind the wheel, without the pain of parking, makes the city our own private track.