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The Real Cost of Owning a Car

September 6th, 2008 at 05:04 pm



Ever wonder what your car really costs you? Not just the purchase price, but the gas, repairs and maintenance, insurance, license, registration and, if you're lucky like me, car taxes?

I figured it out this morning, just for fun. I had finished reading an article in Kiplinger's about whether hybrids are worth the price, and they mentioned that the Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid are tied for lowest total ownership costs over five years, at $39,780.

So I decided to see how much my '99 Honda Civic HX has cost me since I purchased it. I track all my expenses anyway, so it was easy to do.

Here's the breakdown.

Purchase Price: January 1999: $14,500

Year Tax/Reg Gas Repairs Ins
1999 1175 639 200 813
2000 365 409 235 718
2001 507 516 507 874
2002 325 370 739 894
2003 302 520 466 719
2004 149 393 945 796
2005 214 377 614 655
2006 130 496 1020 393
2007 206 514 1029 388
2008 YTD 89 888 980 378

Totals 3462 5122 6735 6628
10% 15% 20% 20%

Total costs: $36,447
Minus sale of old car: 2,850
Balance: $33,597 divided by 10 years of ownership = $3,360 per year to operate.

Just think how much you'd save if you used your legs, bicycle or public transit to get to work.

A few interesting items to note:

1. Total costs for state taxes and registration, etc. fees was a substantial (10%) part of overall ownership costs.

2. Gas and repairs each accounted for 15% of total costs while insurance counted for 20%.

3. The cost of the car purchase itself represented 35% of overall costs over the 10-year period.

4. Gas, interestingly, didn't show a unilateral upward projectory leading to 2008. In the year I bought it, I spent $639 for gas, which is more than I spent in 2007. 2008 is already the year showing the most spent on gas for the whole time I've owned the car.

5. The cost of repairs has steadily risen each year. Guess that's to be expected.

6. Insurance, happily, has fallen, especially from 2006 on, which is when I dropped the collision/comprehensive on the car, in year 8.

So I spent less money to operate my car for 10 years than the new Prius and Honda hybrids will cost over 5 years. While gas costs for these hybrids will be lower than my costs, I don't think that alone makes up for equally high expenses for registration, insurance and repairs, not to mention the purchase price. Unless, of course, you really need a new car. But otherwise it's clear that coaxing an old car along is a great deal cheaper than buying a new one.

So while I grumbled a bit last week to pay over $650 for repairs to my car's emissions system, it's still a small price to pay compared to new car ownership costs. But you knew that already, didn't you?

6 Responses to “The Real Cost of Owning a Car”

  1. ann link Says:

    My 95 Altima has had four new tires and several oil changes, no repairs. Granted, "I drive to church on Sundays". While the style is dated the means of transportation is the purpose. Let's keep the old timers rolling!

  2. gamecock43 Says:

    holy cow- I know thats not bad spent- but 33k?? Makes me rethink the value of owning a car...sadly, I just bought one...so I guess $33k is in my future too.

  3. katwoman Says:

    Now this is the sort of hard core evidence that's sorely lacking in most personal finance articles. Real numbers from real people who live in the real world!

    Outstanding post.

  4. fern Says:

    Katwoman, you just paid me the supreme compliment...thank you.

  5. monkeymama Says:

    Interesting.

    In my city annual public transport pass is $1020. (Would be $2k for my spouse and I Then).

    Plus it SUCKS. LOL. So I admit I am rather attached to my car. But I do admit I visit cities like NYC and am jealous of the wonderful and cheap public transportation. (NYC sets the bar pretty high though).

    I remember many years we lived by the light rail and my job was by the light rail and I NEVER used it because the monthly pass cost twice as much as my gas for the month. If I sat down and ran all the numbers, I might of come out slightly ahead. Maybe could have lived with one car. I was just caught up on the gas aspect. Of course, during that time dh and I carpooled which was a far cheaper alternative to public transport, I am sure. But we could have thought strongly about living with one car. Then again, there is just so much sprawl and few public routes here in California. Where we live now? PArk and ride - need a car to get to the bus stop. Which is the norm here.

    I would be very curious to run those numbers - I don't have the records really to do so. VERY interesting post.

  6. terri77 Says:

    I think I'm scared to run the actual numbers. I love the ease and freedom of having a car, but I don't want to know what it's costing me!

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