How much does it cost to drive? Driving cost calculators and tools

How much does it cost to drive? Driving cost calculators and tools

My girlfriend recently bought a new car. After 23 years, she sold her 1997 Honda Accord to a guy who's more mechanically inclined than we are. Kim upgraded to a 2016 Toyota RAV4, and she loves it.

One of her primary considerations when searching for a new car was the cost to drive it. In her ideal world, she would have purchased a fully-electric vehicle but it just wasn't in her budget. The RAV4 hybrid was a compromise. According to fueleconomy.gov, it gets an estimated 32 miles per gallon. (And actual users report 34.7 miles per gallon.)

Cost to drive a RAV4 hybrid

Kim's quest for a fuel-efficient car prompted me to revisit apps and online tools that help users track their driving and fuel habits. I've written about these in the past — and, in fact, this is an updated article from 2008! — but haven't looked into them recently.

Here's a quick look at some of my favorite driving cost calculators, tools, and apps.

Cost to Drive

Cost to Drive (stylized Cost2Drive) is an easy-to-use web app that estimates how much you'll spend to drive from point A to point B. Enter your starting point (address, city, state, or zip code) and your destination, enter your vehicle information, then click a button.

Cost to Drive input

That's it. Cost to Drive calculates travel distance, approximate driving time, and an estimate of your fuel costs. Here, for instance, is how much it would cost to drive from Portland to visit Kim's brother in Groveland, California.

Cost to Drive output

This tool is handy for road trips, of course, but it's also useful for extended journeys. Before Kim and I set out on our R.V. trip across the U.S., I used Cost to Drive to estimate how much we'd spend on fuel. (I was way off, but that's not the fault of the tool. I overestimated the fuel economy of our motorhome!)

This isn't the sort of tool that you'll use every day, but it's certainly useful enough to bookmark for later use.

Folks in Europe — and possibly the rest of the world — might want to play with the Via Michelin app, which offers route planning and driving cost calculations.

Fuelly

While we only used the Cost to Drive once for our R.V. trip, we used the Fuelly app every single day. And I still use it today.

Fuelly is primarily a smartphone app with which you can track your vehicle's fuel economy. Whenever you stop to pump gas, you enter mileage and pricing info into the app, and it computes how much it costs to drive.

Here, for instance, are two screencaps from Fuelly showing how it tracked info for our motorhome.

Fuelly cost to drive screenshot  Fuelly cost to drive info

To get more accurate estimates of the cost to drive your vehicle, you can also log maintenance info in Fuelly. And, as you can see, the free version of the app is ad supported. Ad-free premium versions are available, and they include added features.

While the Fuelly website doesn't offer a lot, there's one feature that I think GRS readers will find interesting. If you select the browse vehicles option from the main menu, you, you can get a profile of driving info for all Fuelly users. Here, for instance, is what the app has tracked for other folks who own a 2004 Mini Cooper, like me.

Fuelly individual model info

Fuelly cost to drive info

GasBuddy

A decade ago, GasBuddy was a gas price aggregation tool. It collected fuel price info from across the United States, and served it up so that visitors could find the best prices in their area.

Today, GasBuddy is still that website, but it's a whole lot more. For instance, you can look up a chart of gas price trends over the past couple of years.

Gas price trends

Or you can find local maps and national maps of current gas prices.

Local gas prices

National gas prices

And because it's 2020 now, GasBuddy offers a smartphone app featuring all sorts of tools to help you calculate (and reduce) your fuel costs.

FuelEconomy.gov

FuelEconomy.gov is the official U.S. government source for fuel economy info. Like all U.S. government sites, it's a treasure trove of data and resources.

The site includes a car finder (and comparison) tool (also available for iOS and Android devices), a vehicle power search, a fuel savings calculator, and more. There's even a page exploring extreme MPG!

The site also provides some widgets for site owners (like me!) to share with their audience. Here's

Find a Car Tool

This tool lets you look up official EPA fuel economy ratings for vehicles back to the 1984 model year.

   

Gas Mileage Tips

This tool displays a fuel-saving tips and provides links to additional tips on fueleconomy.gov.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency produce a Fuel Economy Guide to help buyers choose fuel-efficient vehicles. You can find guides from recent years in the Get Rich Slowly file vault, if you're interested: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

If you're into alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles, the U.S. Department of Energy has a bunch of different widgets to play with at their Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Sidenote: Many folks want a new Tesla or Prius in order to minimize their impact on the environment. This isn't as straight-forward as it might seem. The calculations are complicated but the bottom line is this: In many cases, it makes more sense to keep (or buy) an older fuel-efficient vehicle than to buy a new one. That's because the manufacturing process itself is the source of roughly 25% of a car's environmental impact.

The Bottom Line

It's important to note that even the best driving cost calculator has limitations. Most of these tools track only fuel costs, which are a small portion of the overall cost to drive your car.

Your true cost of car ownership includes the purchase price,insurance, maintenance, and more. According to the American Automobile Association, the average new vehicle costs 62 cents per mile to drive. AAA figures the average driver spends $9,282 per year on her automobile.

To truly determine how much you're spending to get around, you need to take matters into your own hands. Find a cheap notebook or pad of paper. Grab a pen or pencil. Whenever you make a trip – even if it’s just down the street – log the time and the distance. Write down how much you spend on fuel and maintenance. Tally your car and insurance payments.

Do this long enough and you'll begin to get a picture of your personal driving costs. At any point, you can simply divide the amount you've spent on your vehicle by the number of miles you've driven to learn how much it costs to drive.

What you do with this info is up to you!

Note: This is an updated article from the GRS archives. The original version from 03 December 2008 was woefully out of date. Some older comments have been retained.

More about...Transportation, Apps

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Ivan
Ivan
3 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Congrats on the car!
I know it was a thoughtful decision.
Also this looks different, keep it going. I would say many people enjoy your posts. I do. 🙂
Thanks!

Martin
Martin
11 years ago

Be wary: It doesn’t do tolls. It gave me a cost of ~$7 from Philadelphia to New York, when it would actually cost ~$28 after factoring in tolls.

The Tim
The Tim
11 years ago

Nice tool. My only real beef with it is that I have to select my model of car rather than allowing me to input my MPG. The way you drive has a lot to do with your fuel efficiency, and while the government says my ’01 Saturn SL2 gets 34mpg highway, in reality I get closer to 38mpg. I do like how it actually finds gas stations at logical points on your trip and bases the calculation on the actual cost at those stations though. That’s pretty cool. I’m actually heading down to San Francisco in just a couple weeks,… Read more »

Caroll
Caroll
11 years ago

I am a pencil and paper person, though I would give it a try next I travel by car. I needed to go to Spokane (WA) for a quick weekend this past summer. I figured out the gas mileage and time to travel, using the pencil method. It was actually cheaper to fly one-way and take a taxi to the airport then to drive and pay for gas. I saved time driving (10 hours round-trip) and carpooled back to Seattle with a friend.

BD
BD
11 years ago

I just wanted to point out that Google maps will compare the cost of driving to the cost of public transportation, for trips short enough to have a public transport option.

For instance, driving from downtown San Francisco to the airport will cost $8.56 but public transit is $5.35. The site gives you the “IRS cost” of driving, so it doesn’t reflect regional gas prices or tolls. An example: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&saddr=94111&daddr=SFO&hl=en&geocode=&mra=cc&dirflg=r&sll=37.706505,-122.397575&sspn=0.338438,0.53833&ie=UTF8&z=11

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

I’m not sure how much I’d trust their results. I plugged in the info for a trip from San Diego, CA to Cincinnati, OH (about 2400 miles) and checked the cost using our Honda Civic Hybrid. They calculated a cost of $91 – which isn’t far from my figures (2400 [email protected]=55 gallons, at a little less than $2/gallon, somewhere in the ballpark of $100) Then I tried with my Delorean. Since it wasn’t in their database, they let me enter the values for it. I put in 18mpg, and they calculated a cost of $114 for the same trip. When… Read more »

leigh
leigh
11 years ago

it calculates assuming you will fill up when your gas tank runs empty. we always fill up at half a tank, driving through mountains and middle of nowhere on our way home. we also know where the cheaper areas to buy gas are and prefer a different route.

last time we drove up, it cost about $250 round trip. now they’re saying $75 (our preferred route is a little longer, though). amazing how that adds up.

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

I like this site as a estimate, but would not “swear” by it…i mean, like the above poster said, this site runs on some assumptions that cannot be played out in reality. A few other things that a person needs to expect to change fuel economy: -are you running with proper tire pressure? -are you driving with a full load of passenger or just yourself? -is the trunk full or luggage or empty? -are you driving with a/c (summer) or defrost (winter)? -are you driving against the wind? -are you driving at a constant speed or not? -are you using… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
11 years ago

I’m driving from Seattle to San Diego in January in my ’95 Volvo 850 wagon. The cost of gas this site gave me was $97.22 for 53.8 gallons. However, it assumes that I use regular gas, and that I will be buying the cheapest gas available–ARCO, unbranded gas, Costco–averaging $1.78/gallon. So the fact that my car takes premium, and that I use a higher-quality detergent gasoline (such as Chevron), is not taken into consideration. By my own pencil-and-paper calculations, it would take me just under 50 gallons of gas* to get me to my destination in northern San Diego county… Read more »

Jason B
Jason B
11 years ago

Fun stuff. I went on Fuelly.com and imported all of my spreadsheets for cars ranging from my 83 Cavalier to my 99 Tahoe and my 07 Fit!

I checked the trip site for my recent trip to Outer Banks from PA. It’s not too far off though it didn’t give me round trip figures which I thought was odd. OK backup is running… I’m running to bed!

Jim
Jim
11 years ago

Jim here, one of the founders of Cost2Drive.com. Thanks for the nice blog post. We’ve taken note of all the comments above, and are constantly working to improve the site so please keep the feedback coming.

Happy Driving!

Daniel
Daniel
11 years ago

I actually find the site remarkably irrelevant. It only takes into account the cost of gas, which I know the price of better than the site. The $1.56/gallon it quoted for me in Portland is silly. It’s closer to $2 in the places convenient to fill up. Here’s a quick way to do the same thing, while practicing your math skills: # of miles / mpg * price per gallon. All of which you should have a pretty good idea of if you’re concerned about the cost of driving. And it ignores the wear and tear on the car, which… Read more »

Jim
Jim
11 years ago

Jim here again from Cost2Drive. We agree with Daniel that there are many costs associated with driving, and wear and tear can be a significant one, so we are actively working on providing this information in future versions of our site.

Regarding plane tickets – we do provide that information for routes over 200 miles. We display the cheapest fare found on kayak.com for the route specified. And we’d love to add Amtrak as well.

Thanks for the feedback.

Jim

Jason
Jason
3 months ago

How about a calculator comparing driving your car, with the cost including depreciation and maintenance, as compared to renting from a rental agency for a road trip? I’ve scored some pretty amazing rental car deals ($5/day) that surely saved as compared to racking up the miles on my personal vehicle.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
3 months ago

I no longer own a car, but in the late stages of ownership, after an engine replacement and other fun repair experiences, I learned my lesson and ceased to look for cheap gas. Cheap gas is not worth the pennies that are negated by dirty injectors or the repair of a clogged fuel pump of the kind that requires you to drop the gas tank. Or knock sensors going off and a mechanic telling you that they have to do a whole number to replace them. Or your car running on adjusted timing or worse, limp mode, because you ignored… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
3 months ago

Doesn’t work for my electric car. You’re gonna need to update it again in the relatively near future as these cars get more popular. 🙂

Adam
Adam
3 months ago

“In many cases, it makes more sense to keep (or buy) an older fuel-efficient vehicle than to buy a new one.” Hear, hear! We had a brief scare last September with my wife’s car so we flirted with an eGolf or a Bolt, but the fix turned out to be pretty inexpensive… whew. Her ’05 Mazda hasn’t even reached 100k yet. My ’04 Hyundai hatchback is about to hit 151k. Frankly I hope these are the last cars we need to own. They have great visibility (due to more lenient federal rollover standards), engine bays that I can understand, widely-available… Read more »

Alex
Alex
3 months ago

That kind of terribly inaccurate estimate probably explains how so many SUVs are sold in the US. $82 to go 700 miles? Try $300, at least, each way. Even a cheap car at high MPG will be $0.30 per mile. And it’s almost entirely a per mile cost; depreciation, wear and tear, almost everything about a car that costs money is a per mile cost. The US government doesn’t reimburse and let you deduct at $0.58/mile just for the fun of it, that is the real average cost of operating a car. So a good rule of thumb I go… Read more »

Rebecca
Rebecca
2 months ago

I’m just curious to know if Kim considered a Chevy Spark EV as an option for an all electric vehicle? It’s on my short list as a replacement for my ’05 Mini Cooper S, partly because I can find them for sale for $6000-$10,000, although the range is only around 85 miles.

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