In January of 2021 I moved to Los Angeles for an unspecified amount of time. Since then I have only known one to three months out when I would need to return to New York City. The goal was to have a car to use and spend the least amount of money on it.
Buy a Car
Probably the most obvious approach. In California the sales tax on a used car is 9%. Add a $300 registration fee and the out of the door costs are fairly high. Prices of cars have changed but I was looking at cars in the range $10,000 to $15,000. This is an initial cost of $1000 plus insurance and maintenance.
In June I went car shopping and for $12,000 I could get a 2012 Ford Focus with 130,000 miles. I'm not excited about that car or that price.
Lease a Car
Many websites offer lease swaps. I found that these had large fees and most leases were greater than 7 months. Anything less than that and it wasn't worth the current owner swapping it. There is also a ton of friction in these transactions as the supplies are low and the market place sites doesn't expose information until you pay.
Fair was actually probably the best deal. I priced it out at the beginning of the year and didn't take it, which ended up being a mistake. Currently the company is under reconstruction but early in the year I could have paid $1000 and then had a $300 month to month lease. I still would have had to pay for licensing and insurance. That deal is no longer available and it is unclear if and when the company will return.
Rent a Car
Large Rental Brands
On Kayak rental cars early in 2021 were $500 a month before taxes and fees. I was able to get cheap rental car insurance on a family car which moved that cost to $50 for 6 months. The out the door cost was $740. This had the advantage of allowing me to travel and not pay while I was gone. Additionally most rentals have unlimited miles. I found a monthly deal with Thrifty.
However, by the summer the monthly rate was $1750 and no longer economical.
Small Rental Brands
My current rental is slightly more than the spring prices with Thrifty but dramatically cheaper than the current prices. I knew there were luxury and specialty rental car services that weren't on aggregator sites like Kayak or Google travel. I Google Maps searched for rental cars and started calling them up. One in my neighborhood rented for the month at $695 and this avoids many of the large brand and airport fees. Out the door it's $842 a month. The car is also an almost new VW Jetta with Apple Carplay which has been better than the three previous cars I rented.
I priced out Turo but rental car insurance doesn't cover privately owned cars. You need to buy separate insurance through Turo which cost $15 a day or more. This made it consistently more expensive that the small rental brands even with Turo's monthly rates.
Ride the Bus
One fun experiment I did was living for two weeks without a car. I rode the bus and took Ubers. Riding the bus was oddly easy with a pickup one block from my apartment and on the same line a drop-off one block from my gym. This was a 7 mile journey and I would read on it. The hits were inconsistent bus schedules and no night service.
Other than the gym this caused errands to take much longer. Even with apps sometimes the bus routes were confusing and I was stuck far from my destination. It's possible but I wouldn't use this if possible.
During covid, Uber prices have soared so this 7 mile trip to the gym could swing from $12 to $65 in the early afternoons.