Average cost of owning car tops $7,800 annually

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Here’s an item you may have left out of your personal budget: The average cost of driving a car is now $7,834.

AAA released its annual survey Tuesday about the average costs of owning passenger cars that are driven 15,000 miles a year.

The average driving cost – a mix of expenses for small, medium and large passenger cars – works out to $150 a week. And that’s not just because the price of gasoline is hovering around $2.50 in the nation. The AAA survey factors in gasoline at 9.5 cents a mile based on a $2.40 a gallon average price nationwide at the end of 2005. Then, it adds other out-of-pocket costs like tires, insurance, maintenance, licenses and financing.

The biggest cost, however, is one many drivers don’t actually see: depreciation, or how much less your car is worth every year. Maintenance runs $735, tires are $105 and insurance averages $926 a year. The AAA survey pegs license fees, taxes and registration at $535, finance charges at $716 and depreciation at $3,392.

Gasoline added $1,425 to the total.

AAA has been conducting the costs of driving surveys since 1950.

Because the group vastly overhauled its methods last year, it’s impossible to say whether the costs of driving went up or down in the most recent survey. (Even though you know the price of gas went up.)

In 2005, AAA looked at driving costs for three American-made cars. In 2006, it averaged the operating costs for five top-selling cars in the small, middle and large categories. The best-sellers were both American and foreign models, along with SUVs and minivans.

Your personal costs of driving will vary greatly, depending upon which model you choose, says Michael Calkins, AAA’s manager for approved auto repairs.

“SUVs are far and away the most expensive to operate,” he said. The per-mile costs to operate a 4-wheel drive SUV is 20.1 cents, compared with 15.5 cents for a medium-sized sedan such as a Honda Accord, or 17 cents for a minivan.

To be sure, driving costs will continue to go up, because that’s where gasoline is headed.

Consumers are headed into the summer driving season, which begins to kick in when Daylight Savings Time begins, this year on Sunday. And Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer, is just one month away.

“I think we’ll see gas prices rise earlier than usual and faster,” said Mark Vitner, Wachovia Securities senior economist.

The economy is strong, demand for gasoline is robust and supplies are still tight. Almost 23 percent of the production capacity in the Gulf of Mexico region remains shut down, due to Hurricane Katrina.

Storm season this year will determine where gasoline prices head after their usual spring jump, Vitner said.

“Let’s just hope that hurricanes steer clear of the Gulf and steer clear of your area this season,” he said.

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