The true cost of car ownership

The American Automobile Association (AAA) says that, on average, it costs 52.2 cents to drive one mile. To drive a Ford Focus like mine 20,000 miles per year, the average cost is 37.6 cents per mile.

How close are the AAA estimates? I ran some numbers.

Based on the purchase price of my vehicle ($16,500), the interest paid ($1,300), and the number of miles on the odometer (81,762 in 66 months), I calculated that for the past year my average cost per mile is $0.2170 over 20,274 miles. But that’s only for the car itself. I’ve also accumulated the following operating expenses:

  • Fuel: $1,646.37 ($0.0812 per mile)
  • Insurance: $762.93 ($0.0376 per mile)
  • Service: $507.07 ($0.0250 per mile)

My total cost-of-ownership per mile is 36.1 cents, which is not far from the AAA estimate of 37.6 cents. My total cost to run the Focus for the past year was $7,514, which is about 5% less than the national $7,967 annual average cost-of-ownership.

I encourage you to run numbers for your car. It’s easy and enlightening. After calculating your current automobile costs, you can explore “what if?” scenarios. For example, how much do rising gas prices affect your costs?

My Ford Focus gets roughly 310 miles on eleven gallons of fuel, for an average of 28.2 mpg. If fuel is at $3.00/gallon instead of $2.00/gallon, I’m paying 10.3% more — $725/year — to run my car.

How much does it affect your cost-per-mile to choose a luxury car instead of something practical? I recently found myself fighting the new car itch. I wanted a new BMW or Audi. A commenter wrote:

In The Millionaire Next Door, one of the best-performing groups in terms of net worth was what the authors called something like “used car prone”. This class of person buys a car that is 3 to 5 years old, and drives it for many years. The authors spend a lot of time discussing this class because it is statistically most likely to have a very high net worth compared to annual income.

If I were driving a new BMW 325i, my total cost of operation would be 60.1 cents per mile, a 68.8% increase over the cost with my Ford Focus.

Examine your driving habits in relation to how much it costs to run your vehicle. For example, driving seven miles into Portland and seven miles home costs me about five bucks. Now the trip to my favorite cheap taco place doesn’t seem so cheap any more.

If I drive 38.6 miles to work and back every day, I spend one hour and $13.93 for the privilege. (When I lived closer to work, my 11.4 mile round-trip cost me twenty minutes and $4.11.) My wife and I plan to drive from Portland to San Francisco for a week-long vacation this summer. We will log about 1200 miles, which will cost me $425. (According to Travelocity, round-trip airfare for two would run $442, so this is basically a wash.)

For more information on the cost of automobile ownership, read the AAA driving cost study for 2006.

More about...Transportation

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