BEST/WORST CITIES FOR CAR LOVERS


THE FOLLOWING IS REPOSTED FROM REALTOR.COM


What are America's best urban areas for folks who can't wait to get behind the wheel, and those where residents should just fuhggeddaboutit and buy a bus pass instead? Realtor.com®'s data team set out to find the wheel truth.

Automobile aficionados "want to jump in the car with their family or friends and go on scenic drives. And maybe some open spaces where they can kick up the turbo," says Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association. "Car lovers will gravitate to those cities that provide a good network of streets and roads. And they want to avoid intense congestion."

For Tesla and other electric car owners, plentiful charging stations are essential, he adds.

To determine the best and worst metros for car lovers, we calculated the following data for the 100 largest U.S. housing markets. (We only included two metros per state, for geographic diversity.) Our criteria:

  • Percentage of realtor.com single-family home listings with a garage, as well as the percentage that have a garage for three or more cars

  • Average number of vehicles per household

  • Rate of car ownership

  • Traffic fatalities (per capita)

  • Electric car sales by state (per capita)

  • Percentage of roads in "good condition"

  • Average number of hours spent in traffic

  • Number of automotive service technicians and mechanics (per capita)

  • Average price of unleaded gasoline

  • Average annual auto insurance rate by state

THE BEST 10 CITIES FOR CAR LOVERS


1. Colorado Springs, CO

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 2

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.24

  • Home listings with a three-car or larger garage: 12.9%

  • Median home price: $371,000

For that special breed of American who equates road-tripping through breathtaking mountain roads with a religious experience, Colorado Springs is a pretty tough place to beat.

“We have an ever-changing landscape, beautiful weather for convertibles, so many great drives within an hour or two from Colorado Springs to experience,” says local real estate broker Brandon Renaud of The Innovation Group. "In the spring and summer, snowpacks melt off, and by May or June, you’ll start to see waterfalls coming off mountain passes." And that's when folks really fire up their engines.

With the Southern Rocky Mountains to the west, the Palmer Divide to the north, and high desert lands to the south, there are no shortage of fantastic drives. The biggest challenge may be keeping your eye on the road. For example, a road trip on the nearby Pikes Peak Highway will give you views from an altitude of 14,000 feet.

And why settle for just one car? Colorado has the second largest number of homes with a three-vehicle garage or larger.

"Multiple cars per family is not uncommon,” Renaud says. “Many clients also have four-wheelers, motorcycles, and hobby cars.”

2. Des Moines, IA

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.9

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.33

  • Home listings with garage: 46.8%

  • Median home price: $275,000

So you've had enough of your grueling, caffeine-fueled commute that should only take 20 minutes, but stretches into over an hour of grinding, bumper-to-bumper unpleasantness? Well, consider what your commute would be like in Des Moines. The average driver spends around seven hours in congestion ... per year. Compare that with a whopping 104 hours in L.A.

What to do with all that extra time? We suggest a road trip. Situated right in the middle of the country, Des Moines offers wildly picturesque options in every direction (Mount Rushmore National Memorial is only one state and 650 miles away).

And if you're in the mood for popcorn and a movie, try Valle Drive In. Built in 1948, it's Iowa’s oldest drive-in movie theater, and one of just a handful left in the state, down from nearly 70 during their 1950s heyday. Double features offer a retro experience at a retro price.

3. Salt Lake City, UT

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 2​

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.39

  • Average annual auto insurance rate: $1,145

  • Median home price: $370,900

This city is world-famous for Mormons, skiing, and 3.2% beer, but maybe it should be just as renowned for its car culture. There's the Salt Lake City Utah International Auto Expo, where you'll see more than 350 new cars and trucks, including the latest fab offerings from Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. And there are some of the most spectacular driving routes in the nation. Check out the Uinta Mountains, sandstone buttes that jut majestically into the air in Monument Valley, and the famed Delicate Arch, a stone formation in Arches National Park that is one of the world's most celebrated geological features. The latter is so popular that it's emblazoned on the state's license plates.

“[Drivers] here like to get out on the interstate and put the pedal down on a Sunday afternoon and really take advantage of the open spaces," says Jackson of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, whose members include dealers based in Salt Lake City.

It's not uncommon for households to have three to five vehicles. Who can blame them, with the cost of car insurance being so low? And the lack of congestion is pretty sweet, too.

4. Richmond, VA

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.9

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.13

  • Average annual auto insurance rate: $1,035

  • Median home price: $289,900

To keep an old car going, you've got to take care of it. Good weather and stellar road quality—i.e., motorways that haven't been pocked with potholes and rutted with cracks—don’t hurt, either. Richmond roads are blessedly free of such auto-destroying obstacles, which may be why the region is something of a hub for antique, vintage, and classic car collectors.

"Our state slogan is that 'Virginia is for lovers,'" says Bob Richmon, a member of the Central Virginia Model T Club, adding that it ought to be: "Richmond is for car lovers."

Their ardor is often on full display. "Anytime you drive an antique car here, people swarm you," says Richmon, who owns five antique cars, including a 1911 Model T and a 1969 Mercedes Roadster. "You can't go to a gas station and spend less than 25 minutes."

Antique cars need a special registration to use a state's roadways, and Virginia's certification system is easier than most, says Fred Fann, president of the Car Club Council of Central Virginia. Fann has three registered antique vehicles of his own, including a 1968 Ford Torino. It helps that the city has a network of specialized auto shops to repair these older vehicles.

Best of all, when you take your antique out for a spin, you’re unlikely to hit much traffic. The metro doesn’t even rank in the top 100 for congestion.

5. Dayton, OH

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.8

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.24

  • Households with three to five vehicles: 19.7%

  • Median home price: $139,900

Automobiles are in Dayton’s blood. The first battery-operated car ignition was developed here 106 years ago, by Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company. Heck, even the country's first speeding ticket was issued in Dayton in 1904—but it did nothing to slow Daytonians from falling head over heels in love with cars, and everything about 'em.

There are more car expos in Dayton than in just about any other city of comparable size. Among them is the Dayton Concours d’Elegance, a show that spotlights everything from early 1900s models to classics from the 1960s. Swing by the British Transportation Museum, where you can see more than 40 historical British vehicles, including a 1936 Austin Twenty Mayfair limousine, or America’s Packard Museum, named after the now-defunct luxury car maker.

"For over 100 years, the automotive industry has played a large part in the city of Dayton, and in turn, we've made our mark on the history of the automobile," says Kenny Brightman III, founder of Dayton Cars and Coffee, the local outpost of a global network of car enthusiast confabs. It attracts about 500 to 700 antique, muscle, and classic cars ’most every weekend.

Rounding out the top 10 best metros for car fanatics were Denver; Wichita, KS; Boise, ID; Raleigh, NC; and Virginia Beach, VA.

THE WORST 10 CITIES FOR CAR LOVERS


While owning a car is supposed to make your life easier, in these bottom-ranked metros, owners find themselves wondering if it's really worth the hassle. Time that you could spend relaxing with your loved ones is instead wasted in traffic jams. You find a parking spot on the street—and another car zooms in to steal it. Cue a spike in blood pressure. And did we mention those sky-high insurance premiums?

1. New York, NY

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.2

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.62

  • Average number of hours spent in traffic congestion: 89.4

  • Median home price: $471,000

New York didn’t just get our top spot, it smacked it over the head and ran away with it. It ranked toward the bottom on just about every stat. New Yorkers spend five times as much time in traffic congestion as fellow drivers in Colorado Springs. That may be why so many folks have opted to ditch their own motor conveyances and opt for cabs, public transit, Uber, bikes, or even their own two feet.

“A car isn’t a priority for most of the people who chose to live in New York," says Gary Malin, president of the real estate brokerage Citi Habitats. "There are so many other ways to get around.”

New residents often feel liberated by leaving their cars—and the related expenses, which quickly add up—in the rearview mirror. Those who can’t part with their cars might be in for a shock. A parking spot can cost residents anywhere from a few hundred bucks to more than $1,000 a month.

“Garage costs here are like rent in other cities,” Malin says.

2. New Orleans, LA

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.6

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.12

  • Home listings with a three-car or larger garage: 1.3%

  • Median home price: $275,000

New Orleans is known for living it up. Thirsty for an alcoholic beverage? No need to find parking near Bourbon Street when you can just pull up to the nearest drive-thru daiquiri stand and grab a go-cup. Yes, it's a thing in the Big Easy. But don't be tempted to start the party before you get back home. The state suffers from a high rate of traffic fatalities, and New Orleans runs the table in drunk-driving accidents.

Plus, owning a car in New Orleans isn’t cheap. The average annual car insurance premium in Louisiana is $1,914. (Compare that with $1,215 in neighboring Arkansas. Ouch!)

3. San Francisco, CA

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.7

  • Average gas price per gallon: $3.12

  • Roads of good quality: 8%

  • Median home price: $855,000

Not only is San Francisco expensive for car owners, some of the streets are less than ideal for driving.

San Francisco has its fair share of bucket-list drives. Nothing but you and your car as you take in all the sights and vineyards along the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. Or do a slower version of the "Bullitt" chase scene down twisty Lombard Street.

But be ready to pay a fortune—in housing and at the pump. The average price for a gallon of unleaded gas in San Francisco is $3.12. Thank California Gov. Jerry Brown for signing into law a 12-cent gas tax increase that goes into effect in November. (The national average is just $2.34.)

The tax will go toward funding road improvements and congestion issues—something San Francisco sorely needs, since it got dinged in our ranking for its terrible road quality. And despite residents' eco-friendly leanings, it also took a hit for extremely high levels of congestion, with only New York and L.A. ranking worse.

If you forgo your own car, you're in luck. San Francisco has an extensive public transportation system, including municipal bus and rail, the Golden Gate Ferry, and those eternal tourist favorites, trolley cars. Plus, car-sharing services Uber and Lyft are both based here.

4. Miami, FL

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.6

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.39

  • Average number of hours spent in traffic congestion: 64.8

  • Median home price: $385,000

Miami drivers get a bad rap. Over the past decade, the city has topped lists for having the worst—as well as the rudest—drivers. So don't be shocked if someone flips you the bird while you're behind the wheel. Take deep breaths!

The metro area didn’t get any love on our list, either. Miami has a triple-threat combination of high car insurance premiums, congestion, and a low car ownership rate.

But the region does have a few prime vicarious attractions for auto lovers to enjoy. You could grab a ticket and join up to 46,000 racing fans at Homestead-Miami Speedway to watch the final NASCAR race, where the season champion is crowned every year.

5. Baton Rouge, LA

  • Average number of vehicles per household: 1.7

  • Average gas price per gallon: $2.13

  • Average annual auto insurance rate: $1,914

  • Median home price: $229,500

If you think congestion is something that only big cities deal with, then you haven't been to Baton Rouge.

When Dennis Harper, 51, moved to here from Texas three years ago to open a performance and muscle-car repair shop, the clogged roads caught him off guard. “I’ve spent a ton of time in Houston," he says. "And the traffic in Baton [Rouge] is equal or worse. It’s just terrible.”

Baton Rouge drivers spend about 36 hours in congestion every year—more than drivers in Denver, Nashville, and Sacramento.

The area is home to a thriving stock car and muscle-car scene, Harper says. But the costs of everyday driving are steep.

“To register my two cars in Louisiana, it cost four or five times as much" as Texas, he says. "And their car insurance is twice as much."

Rounding out the bottom 10 metros are Boston; Rochester, NY; Grand Rapids, MI; Los Angeles; and Jackson, MS.

Data sources: realtor.com, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Automobile Association (AAA), Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census Bureau, Inrix, insuranceQuotes.com, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nielsen, and TRIP.

Lance Lambert is a data journalist for realtor.com. He previously wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek and the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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