Do You Need a Car In Washington DC?

Many of Washington D.C.’s major sights can be accessed by metro or walking, but a car could still come in handy for visitors and locals alike.
Written by Zachary Morgan
Reviewed by Pat Roache
If you’re going to visit Washington DC sometime soon, you can see the sights with the help of the city’s fantastic Metro and bus system. If you plan on leaving the confines of the National Mall, though, you might be better off getting a rental car.
On the fence about whether or not to rent a car for your big trip to the nation’s capital? Don't worry because
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Where to get a rental car in Washington DC

Suppose you’re taking a trip to Washington DC and plan on traveling outside the confines of the National Mall. In that case, chances are you’ll want a rental car—especially if your accommodations are outside the city center or across the bridge.
Luckily, DC is chock full of places to rent a car, including five locations directly adjacent to the National Mall. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that both of DC’s major airports—prime places to find rental car locations—are outside of the city limits.
If you’re a sucker for a rewards program and good customer service, then your best bet would be to go with
Enterprise Rent-A-Car
,
Hertz
, or
National
. If you’re more inclined towards unlimited mileage and
competitive discounts
, then
Budget
,
Alamo
, or
Avis
would do the trick.
When choosing your vehicle, try to go as small as possible. Don’t take the bait and rent a big, bulky SUV or anything like that, because both
driving and parking
in DC can be headache-inducing. When it’s time to squeeze into a spot or make a light, you’ll be happy you went with a smaller, more nimble vehicle.
It’s also cheaper to rent smaller cars, which will come in handy since the average weekly price for a rental car in DC is usually between $550 to $600. You could save even more money by waiting to rent your car until the last minute. That one might seem like a head-scratcher, but drivers who book their cars way in advance could end up paying as much as 13% extra for their rental compared to people who wait until the week before they travel.

Do you need rental car insurance?

So, what about this rental car insurance the salesperson keeps telling you about? Do you actually need it?
If you have your own full coverage car insurance policy, you’re already protected and can skip the rental car insurance. Your existing
collision
and
comprehensive coverage
will extend to your rental vehicle. You may even have free rental car insurance via your credit card provider.
If you’re only carrying
basic liability insurance
or less, you should probably accept the collision damage waiver (CDW). The CDW is an umbrella coverage offered by the rental company that covers much more than collision damage (towing fees, vandalism, theft, etc.)

Do you need a car in Washington DC?

Now that we’ve covered how and where to get a rental car in our nation’s capital, the question remains—do you legitimately need one?
Well, the answer depends on where your trip is going to take you. If you’re visiting DC as a tourist and want to see all the cool museums, memorials, and buildings, then you would be much better off walking and using public transportation.
If you’re going to be traveling to the outer reaches of the city or elsewhere in the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia) area, it’s still a toss-up! That’s because the DC Metro train system has a very impressive reach—both within the city and into the surrounding area.

Where public transportation can take you

The most well-known and commonly used form of public transportation in DC has got to be the
Metro
, which services not only the city itself but the surrounding area, as well. There is no flat fee to ride the metro, but a comprehensive fare and pass chart can be accessed
here
. To pay, you can either use the
SmarTrip
app or use one of the machines found in metro stations.
The Metro can take you to most major points of interest in DC, including:
  • The White House
  • US Capitol Building
  • Smithsonian Museums
  • Newseum
  • Federal Triangle
  • Chinatown
  • Verizon Center
  • National Archives
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • Washington Monument
You can find
maps of the Metro lines and bus routes
on the WMATA website, along with resources to help plan your trip and devise a plan for getting from place to place.
Of course, there are alternatives to public transportation, as well. Uber, Lyft, and taxi services are well-established in DC and can help cover the blind spots in public transportation at a little extra cost.

Where public transportation can’t take you

DC might not be the biggest city in the world, but its public transportation system can keep up with the best of them. Thanks to its broad reach, there aren’t many places you can’t go within the immediate DMV area when using the Metro transit system of railways and buses.
Seriously, the Metro stretches well beyond the bounds of DC proper and into surrounding Maryland and Virginia—part of the reason thousands of commuters forgo sitting in traffic and ride the Metro to work every day.
Looking at a map, it seems like the only place the DC Metro can’t take you is Baltimore! 
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How to save on car insurance in Washington DC

If you plan on hitting the road in our nation’s capital, you’re going to want a good car insurance policy. A lot of people simply don’t bother shopping for car insurance because it’s too confusing and time-consuming.
Jerry
is a car insurance expert that’s here to change that.
Sign-up is easy and free—all you have to do is download the app and enter your information. In less than a minute, Jerry will show you a personalized list of quotes from 50+ top-rated insurance providers. If you find one you like, our team of experts will help you finalize your new policy and can even help cancel your old one.
Oh, and before we forget, the average Jerry user saves over $800 a year on their car insurance!
Jerry
had a super simple app that was easy to navigate. And their terrific customer service made everything even easier. Plus I saved $700 in a single year.” —Lucia M.
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