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We can all agree that there is practically never a good place or time for your car to break down. But surely there are some places where dealing with a break down is less of a nightmare than others? For instance, if you’re located in a city with particularly low-quality mechanics, you’re definitely going to be in for a worse time than in a city full of high-quality mechanics. The same goes for the average price of each city’s mechanics.
There are other factors to consider on top of these. Breaking down in the depths of a city riddled with crime is going to be a far more worrying experience than breaking down somewhere comparatively safe.
You also need to consider the potential costs that will be built up while your vehicle is in the shop. If you need to use public transport to get to work during the period in which your car is gone, you’ll find yourself spending far more in some cities than in others. We decided to compare the USA’s thirty largest cities based on all these factors (as well as others) to find out which ones are the worst to break down in. Where do you think your city will rank? Read on to find out…
We began by compiling the average Yelp review ratings of the most-reviewed auto mechanic shops in each city. We then combined these ratings to discover every city’s percentage of 1-star reviews and percentage of 5-star reviews. These results were then compared and normalized (using minmax normalization) to give these cities overall scores with which we could rate them.
The city with the lowest score in this factor was Louisville, Kentucky. Although it didn’t have the lowest percentage of 5-star reviews (a dubious accolade held by Nashville), it made up for this by having a particularly high percentage of 1-star reviews. At the other end of the table, Los Angeles came in first. It had a minuscule percentage of 1-star reviews, as well as the third highest percentage of 5-star reviews.
Next, we called back to a previous study of ours (‘What is the Most Expensive State for Car Owners?’), and added data from CarMD’s State Repair Cost Rankings to find out each city’s average repair cost.
We took each city’s state repair cost average (based on the cost required to get an engine light checked) and compared them against one another. The city with the highest repair costs turned out to be Washington DC. This isn’t that surprising – various studies have found DC’s cost of living to be particularly high, such as World Population Review’s August 2019 report. Meanwhile, Columbus, Ohio was the cheapest, at nearly $60 less than DC.
Public Transport Costs
Our next step was to compare each city by their respective public transport costs, in order to illustrate how much you might have to spend in different cities while your car is in the shop.
Our rankings are based on the proportion of income required for a thirty day unlimited public transport pass versus the median commuter income of each city. Los Angeles proved to be the most expensive city – it simultaneously managed to have the costliest thirty day pass while also having one of the lowest median commuter incomes. Washington DC fared far better in this factor compared to the previous one. It finished with the lowest proportion of income spent on commuting. This result is somewhat predictable considering the fact that the city has the highest median commuter income on the table. However, it was also helped by its relatively low-cost public transport pass.
Dealing with a break down is also going to be dealt with more quickly in some places than in others. If you’re stuck in a city with bad road congestion, you’re liable to be waiting for help to arrive a lot longer than in a city with less busy roads. Therefore, we delved into TomTom’s data to discover which cities had the worst levels of congestion in 2018.
Once again, Los Angeles finds itself at the top of the list – understandable considering its position as the USA’s 2nd-most populated city. Even less surprising is the fact that 2nd place goes to New York, the most heavily-populated city in America. Something of a trend is appearing here… Meanwhile, Oklahoma City is the least-congested city on the list.
Finally, we compared each city by their crime rates. Breaking down in a city where crime is commonplace is going to be a lot more dangerous than breaking down in a city where crime levels are low.
The city with the highest crime rate is Las Vegas, while the lowest crime rate goes to New York. This latter result is fitting, considering what we discovered in our previous study, ‘America’s Car Theft Problem’: New York once had a particularly high rate of crime but, over the course of the last fifty years, the city has worked hard at reducing reported crime numbers. It’s even more impressive because the city has by far the largest population in the US, estimated at 8.4 million in 2018.
After studying each factor, we compared the data points against one other to create an overarching score for each city. We standardized them all using minmax normalization to get a score out of ten for each one. The exact formula is:
Result = (x-min(x))/(max(x)-min(x))
The scores were then added together and ordered to give us a final ranking.
Based on our data, the worst city in which to have your car break down is Nashville. The capital of Tennessee had particularly low mechanic ratings and particularly high public transport costs. In fact, the only data point in which Nashville achieved over half of the points available was for its crime rate, in which it had only the thirteenth highest rate.
The second and third worst cities in which to break down are Portland and Las Vegas, respectively. The former had consistently low scores across the board (although none that were incredibly low) while the latter had slightly higher scores for most of the factors. The main exception to this is its crime rate where, as previously mentioned, Las Vegas had the lowest score out of all thirty cities.
At the other end of the rankings, Phoenix has turned out to be the best city in which to have your car break down. Although it didn’t score very highly for its mechanic costs or public transport costs, the city had the second-best average mechanic ratings as well as the sixth-lowest congestion level.
Philadelphia is the second-best city in which to break down. Much like Phoenix, it scored well for its average mechanic ratings. However, it did less well in terms of its congestion level, being the 12th-most congested city.
Third place belongs to New York. While it does have the 2nd-worst congestion level, the city makes up for this with its particularly low crime rate, as well as its fairly high mechanic ratings. Its total combined score wasn’t quite enough to overtake Phoenix or Philadelphia, but the point differences were very small – New York could still be able to overtake them both in the future.
In this study, we delved into the factors that we thought were most relevant to the subject. If you’re interested in seeing our sources as well as the data in full, click here.
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