How much does it cost to drive around?

By Ryan Hurlbert on June 10th, 2010
Auto Insurance

Have you ever estimated what your car costs you every month? Your thoughts may immediately turn to your loan payment, and you might even tack on the cost of your car insurance payment and what you pay for gas. Although these are among the major, and most tangible, costs associated with your vehicle, these expenses do not take into account the total cost of car ownership.

If you aren't sure what your current vehicle costs you, it may be difficult to compare the cost of replacing your current car with a different type of vehicle. For example, have you ever wondered if a minivan is really cheaper to own than an SUV? Can you really save enough with a compact to make it pay for itself over a larger, more luxurious model? Would you walk to the store or the post office to save a dollar? How about five dollars?

Fortunately, the American Automobile Association (AAA) compiles this information for you. The AAA analyzes the operating cost of a sample of vehicles, averages the cost and breaks them down for you on an annual and cost-per-mile basis for easy comparison. While not model-specific, it is valuable information for comparing different classes of cars.

To accurately reflect the true cost of ownership, the AAA considers:

  • Fuel Cost: Based on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy ratings weighted 60 percent city and 40 percent highway driving. The late-2009 U.S. average fuel cost of $2.603 a gallon from the AAA's Fuel Gauge Report was used in the calculations.
  • Maintenance: Cost for all routine maintenance specified by the vehicle's manufacturer--both retail parts and labor rates. A comprehensive extended warranty is included, along with one covered repair with a $100 deductible. Wear-and-tear items that would normally be replaced are included.
  • Tires: The price of replacement tires of the same size, quality, and type as those that came on the vehicle, mounted and balanced with all taxes included.
  • Insurance: Premiums for a married 47-year-old male with a good driving record, living in a small city and commuting three to ten miles a day. The policy limits are 100/300/50 with a $500 collision deductible and a $100 comprehensive deductible.
  • License, Registration, and Taxes: All governmental fees paid at time of purchase and annual renewals, based on a national average.
  • Finance Charges: Cost based on a 5-year loan at 6 percent APR interest, with a 10 percent down payment.
  • Depreciation: The difference between the new car price and the estimated trade-in value after five years.

To determine an average cost per mile for each category, the top-five selling cars in that category were analyzed. This chart shows the data for three sedan categories.

AAA Average Costs Per Mile

miles per year




small sedan

56.4 cents

43.3 cents

36.6 cents

medium sedan

72.9 cents

56.2 cents

47.6 cents

large sedan

92.6 cents

70.2 cents

58.6 cents

composite average*

73.9 cents

56.6 cents

47.6 cents

The AAA also provides cost of ownership and cost of operation for small, medium, and large sedans, 4WD Sport Utility Vehicles, and minivans. There is a handy chart and instructions so you can determine your own vehicle's cost per mile.

See average annual insurance rates for more than 2,000 vehicles

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