I haven't owned a car since 1999--what do I need to know?
March 12, 2015 4:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving from Brooklyn, NY to Portland, OR and will be owning a car, at least for the first couple of months. All the advice for this situation is about *what* car to buy, but I'm being given a used car, so I'm more curious about the top things to keep in mind about owning a car, how your life changes, all that sort of stuff. What am I forgetting, what am I missing, what do you wish you knew about owning a car before you owned one, have you been in a similar situation?
posted by Automocar to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You will be shocked at how quickly you start defaulting to driving over walking or especially taking transit. For this reason, the folk wisdom is that people gain 15 pounds the first year they have a car.

Definitely do the regularly-scheduled maintenance. It makes a difference.

One thing that's really nice about having a car is that it gives you more options for things like grocery shopping. You can go to Costco, you can go to the Asian market across town, you can go to Winco (a NW discount grocer chain) if you want to save money, etc. you can also buy more than 6 rolls of toilet paper at a time, which is nice.
posted by lunasol at 5:06 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I bought a car this past October after not having had one since 1997. It has been a weird adjustment. I still live in Chicago, but I'm in a less transit-friendly neighborhood now, and there's no car-sharing in my neighborhood, so I kind of need a car now. I don't drive every day, and I never drive to work, but my life has changed pretty significantly since I got a car. I don't worry about planning trips to Costco or whatever around Zipcar (or a friend's) availability. I can take impromptu road trips without much planning. I am relearning everything about keeping a car maintained. My car has indicator lights for different maintenance things and even for when the gas tank is getting low, which is pretty cool (and seems high-tech to me, but probably isn't to most people). I still take public transit and bike or walk a lot, but now I can give friends rides, get out to the suburbs for whatever without much hassle, etc.
posted by smich at 5:09 PM on March 12, 2015

Oh and! If you're not sure how long you'll have a car, make sure you get out of the city while you have it. The NW has amazing mountains, beautiful forests, wild beaches, and some cute offbeat towns. Moving from the northeast to Seattle, I was shocked at how much there was to explore.
posted by lunasol at 5:09 PM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

This is kind of dumb, but if you are like me you will constantly forget which side of the car the gas tank is on. Fear not! If you look at your gas gauge you will see a little arrow pointing to the right or left. That is what side you pump the gas.

I seriously didn't know that until a freaking Buzzfeed article.

(possibly not available on older cars but every car I've seen from the last 4 years have it)
posted by joan_holloway at 5:11 PM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I was without a car from 1990 to about 2000 (when I moved to a small village and said, "oh dear, I need a car"). I still don't drive all that often--I've had my current car since 2005 and have put about 15K miles on it. The primary benefit is independence: no need to rely on public transit (which is...limited...in the village in question); can go wherever you want whenever you want; can buy stuff in one go instead of several small trips. It's also nice to have a car when it is REALLY REALLY COLD outside and you don't want to walk a mile to work in subfreezing temperatures.

That being said, it also takes a chunk of $ out of your budget, between the insurance, the gas, and the regular maintenance (plus the unexpected things, like the time the muffler fell off my previous car).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:11 PM on March 12, 2015

If you're not going to be driving that much, you might want to consider Metromile insurance. The cost is based on how much you drive. For me it was the most sensible option.
posted by smich at 5:15 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well Portland isn't super cold, I think you should keep in mind an emergency kit. Specifically the kitty littter / sand for if your ever parked on a sheet of ice, jumper cables and gloves. Also put in 10 or 20 depending on your neighborhood for bribing people to jump you.

Add a local towing company to your phone if you don't have data, nothings worse then crashing your car then hobbling ten blocks on a sore leg to find someone with a damn phone book.

Plus I don't think anyone has mentioned it, but since your moving across the country a car plus watching Creighslist or Kijiji will get you a LOT of cheap and free house items.
posted by Liger at 5:18 PM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Liger is right: consider getting AAA.
posted by Monochrome at 5:43 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Change the oil. Nothing ruins an engine faster than old oil.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:49 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

An auto club is a good idea, but the Better World Club is wonderful alternative to AAA that is not part of the highway lobby (AAA unfortunately devotes a lot of resources to fighting bike lanes and such).
posted by susanvance at 6:28 PM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Just some little hacks to keep having a car very convenient and efficient:

Keep a little baggie for a rubbish bin in your car.
Every time I have change, I chuck it in the coin area of my car for parking money.
Keep an umbrella, or 3, in the trunk.
Keep a stash of re-usable grocery bags in the car. Useful for groceries but also ANY time you need a bag to stash stuff in.
Every time you fill up, if you can, fill 'er up to full. Saves you time constantly getting/running out of gas in the long run.
Program your radio stations. Load up your favourite music.
Invest in a really great handsfree option.
A car charger for your mobile.
A pen is always handy.
If you don't have a spare key, GET ONE MADE.
Get the AAA membership.
Find out where all the cheapest carparks are in your commonly visited places.
Keep your tires filled with the right amount of air - changes your ride!
I'm a woman who hates getting cold, and I live in a city where the weather is pretty unpredictable, so I have a jacket that lives in the car.
When I park my car in a multi-storey complex, I note down where it is in my phone.

My husband keeps a beach towel in his car - good for random road trips, sitting on beach, impromptu picnics, drying off after getting caught in the rain, etc.
posted by shazzam! at 7:08 PM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

The parking nightmare. Everyone has horrible parking stories. Depending on what part of the city you're in parking may be a huge challenge. Be prepared for parking tickets unless you're fastidious about the rules. If you have to park somewhere new be prepared to add 10-15 minutes to your travel time for parking. That said Portland is highly walkable in many places and public transportation is great. Everyone here seems to bike, and there seems to be a plethora of car share services - Zipcar, etc. You don't have to fall into the trap of driving everywhere.

That said, all gas stations here are full serve - you're not allowed to pump your own gas. So weird but kind of luxurious.
posted by bendy at 7:37 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

My portland specific advice, from having been a daily Portland commuter for many years: spend the money for some new and good wipers. You know you're moving to rain, and nothing sucks worse than useless wipers in the rain. I tried all the various products like Rainx, and while not completely useless, nothing will beat a nice set of wipers. Seriously.

Snow infrastructure in the greater Portland area is shit, so for the couple weeks in December when there's a bit of snow, driving turns into a shit show. Just avoid driving then if you can.

If you plan on doing any adventuring outside of Portland metro (up to Mt. Hood, etc), I would carry chains in the winter. Technically in many places in Oregon you're required to carry them when there's snowy or icy weather.

When I moved to Oregon I waited to change my registration and license. I got pulled over and got a warning that unless i changed it immediately I would be fined $1700. So change that shit!

A heads up: it's illegal in Oregon to pump your own gas, so an attendant will come and do it for you. Weird at first, but you come to love it.

Also, if you're driving across country, absolutely get AAA, no question.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:42 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Get roadside assistance with your car insurance, it is cheaper than AAA. Use salt, not kitty litter for getting un-stuck in snow, kitty litter is clay and gets slick when wet. Keep an umbrella in your car, and an extra quart of oil. Never use jiffy lube, they are buffoons. Buy from Discount Tires, they will check your air for free, in any case, always ask for deals, do you have a special? Find a good mechanic, let them change your oil. Keep a tire gauge in your glove compartment. Make sure you have a working tire jack, and spare tire.
posted by Oyéah at 8:30 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

What do you wish you knew about owning a car before you owned one?

Remote Start is a new option where you can start your car remotely using your cell phone, let's say 10 minutes ahead, the point being that your climate settings start up ahead of you getting in your car (heating it up in the winter or cooling it down in the summer). If this is something you care about, you need to verify that your model can accommodate Remote Start. For example, if my 10-year old car was just one year younger, I'd be able to install Remote Start for a couple hundred, whereas my year and older it costs much more and disables some other desirable functionality, a huge disappointment for me since I live in Minnesota and hate the cold. If I knew about Remote Start when I was buying my car, I would have definitely bought a different model.
posted by rada at 8:35 AM on March 13, 2015

An easy, but way, way WAY overlooked thing to do is...Read The Manual (expletive deleted). The owners manual will have all kinds of relevant information about your car-tire inflation pressures (different for every car) oil change intervals (want to keep the car? change the oils-all of them-engine, transmission, differential, etc) how to operate any special features-four wheel drive, intermittent wipers, nav system, entertainment system, etc. How to drive your model for maximum gas mileage (not the same for every car depends on transmission and engine type).

If you buy used and the manual is long gone-you can usually find them in PDF online.
posted by bartonlong at 10:00 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Automotive insurance is more expensive and harder to obtain if you haven't had continuous coverage. If you have a Zipcar membership, they say they'll provide a letter that shows you've been covered under their fleet plan, but apparently this can be hit or miss in reality. If you are turned down for standard auto insurance because of a lack of previous coverage, you may* need to find an actual local agent who will get you into what's called the assigned risk pool. It costs more, and IME it bills monthly, but after six months or so you can use that proof of continuous coverage to establish policy with a regular carrier.

* This is apparently varies by state, and Oregon may be different, so start by calling the standards like Progressive, Geico, State Farm, etc., and don't look into assigned risk unless you're turned town and thus know you need it.
posted by fedward at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2015

One other thing, they have these middle lanes now with broken yellow lines on both sides. They are for turning or merging, after lefting into traffic, but one important use is the bailout. If traffic suddenly stops and you might hit the car in font of you, you can get over in that lane as a last ditch. I did that just yesterday.
posted by Oyéah at 8:18 PM on March 13, 2015

Sign up for Fuelly to keep track of your gas mileage.
posted by mgar at 2:28 PM on March 14, 2015

Find a properly reviewed (AAA, CarTalk, Yelp, etc.) mechanic BEFORE you need one. :)
posted by kschang at 12:50 AM on March 16, 2015

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