By on December 13, 2016

Iowa (Don Graham/Flickr)

If it wasn’t for the blissful autonomy and convenience that comes with car ownership, how many people would want to shoulder the ever-growing cost? Insurers lie in wait to squeeze you, law enforcement waits to punish you, environmental groups demonize your lifestyle, and governments at all levels salivate at the thought of making it more expensive to own a personal vehicle.

Meanwhile, you dance to the tune set by oil companies and geopolitics, weathering financial blows when pump prices rise. If only there was a place where those worries fell away — where the act of owning and driving a car wasn’t as stressful.

As it turns out, this place exists. And it’s just west of the Mississippi.

According to a study by Bankrate.com, the easiest place to own a car sits smack in the center of the union. Frustrated drivers, get thee to the Hawkeye State.

The financial services company has declared Iowa as the least-expensive, least-dangerous state in which to own a vehicle, based on average insurance premiums, gas prices, commute times, car repair costs, vehicle theft rate, and road fatalities. It’s like heaven for vehicles, only with miles and miles of corn.

To make its ranking, Bankrate tapped data from the census, FBI, CarMD, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By a not-too-small degree, Iowa won. Out of a possible 60 points, the state landed a score of 48, far above the national average of 34.6.

Drivers in Iowa commute an average of 19 minutes, and spend a low $648 each year on insurance coverage. An average repair sets an Iowan back $358. While several states spend less on gas and have lower theft rates — as well as slightly lower roadway deaths — it all averaged out in the state’s favor. That sound you hear is contentment emanating from Davenport to Des Moines.

Rounding out the top five states are Ohio, Maine, Wisconsin and Vermont. Naturally, California ranks dead last at 21 points, but few residents would trade the higher average costs and longer commutes for the weather “enjoyed” by the top-ranked states. New Mexico came in second last, while Nevada, Louisiana and Wyoming filled out the bottom five.

It’s true that the study’s methodology paints an inaccurate for many car owners. With its higher median income and greater proportion of luxury vehicles, an average repair in California would naturally ring in higher than one a less populous, less prosperous state. As well, we all know that Californian cities are magnets for car thieves. With a carefully chosen lifestyle and some luck, a driver can escape much of the pain that comes from living in a low-ranked state. (But not the weather.)

[Image: Don Graham/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

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65 Comments on “Looking for Cheap, Low-stress Car Ownership? Head to the Cornfields...”


  • avatar
    scdjng

    As someone who moved from Iowa to Michigan recently, I about lost it when I went from paying $80/month for car insurance to $190/month.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    I like cars enough to base where I live at least partially on whether there are fun twisty roads with elevation changes and interesting things to look at.

    So basically everything between Chattanooga and Denver isn’t going to work for me.

    Iowa may be low stress but it’s also a tic-tac-toe grid in a cornfield.

    Yeah, I know about the Ozarks. They’re better than nothing but not a reasonable alternative to real mountains for driving and riding.

    • 0 avatar
      Thorshammer_gp

      They probably fall under your last statement as much as anything, but the Loess Hills in western Iowa have a surprising number of twisty roads given their location. Of course, as a former resident of Nebraska, which has no such roads, that might not mean much. As you say, though, it’s better than nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      1998redwagon

      most picturesque portion of iowa i have ever been to is in the northeast portion of the state. combination of twisties and straits that make both fun. rolling hills draining to the mississippi river means you get to do some elevation too. get off the state highways and watch out for small town cops and county sheriffs, otherwise have fun.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Southeast Iowa is quite nice and hilly as well.

        And Pella is the world’s cleanest municipality. You could probably do open heart surgery on the main drag. They don’t call ’em “scrubby Dutch” for nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      focus-ed

      I would not totally discount these areas. Once I took rural roads from Brown County IN, via Dan Boon NF KY until BRNP up north in NC. Somewhere on the way I almost stalled my car while trying to negotiate a hairpin on a narrow road. Just stay off the major highways and you’ll find great scenery and challenging roads.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        IN-135 through Brown County is a really fun drive, just a total roller coaster of a ride. Did two rides down there on my Bandit 1200 with some buddies on true sports bikes (600RR, Panigale). I’d never owned a bike that powerful before, and having that Bandit want to lob its front wheel in the air coming out of a corner when cresting hills was a new experience for me. I learned to simply upshift and keep the engine out of its powerband for my own sake. I honestly think I could have zipped through there a lot quicker on my old KLR650, much easier/less scary to take that bike to 8/10s and burn off the chicken strips.

  • avatar

    Out of all of the places that I’ve lived (DFW, Vegas, Portland), as far as driving around goes, I much prefer Vegas. Nice, wide smooth streets that are laid out on a grid that allows me to get around easily.

    Plus I can take the highway to get to places quicker. If I want windy roads, I can go through Red Rock or a bit further outside of the city.

    Conversely, Portland is the worst…unless you go to the other side of North Portland. There’s some nice backroads in there.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    They include rust belt/cold states in the top part of the rankings. It may cost less to own the vehicle in Wisconsin where I live, but the salt and the cold does a number on vehicles that leads to a shorter lifespan.

    Tennessee or Oregon (just picking two) may cost more to own, but that vehicle is not getting messed up by the extreme cold and the expose to salt.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      Ha! My car lived its first 80 thousand miles pampered in Tennessee. It has not complained at all despite the additional 60 thousand sitting outside in real winter climates.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    “It’s like heaven for vehicles, only with miles and miles of corn.”

    If your vehicle likes salt.

    The top 10 list looks like the top 10 road saltiest states.

    California may be a mess in every other metric they’re using, but you’re not going to see shiny Datsun 510s and 80s Toyota pickup trucks on the road in Iowa.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      There’s maybe a dozen cars old enough to be called Datsuns in the whole Upper Midwest. That was not a time when you bought anything not made by the Big 3, except maybe a compact pickup. And like you said, there’s maybe one in IA that’s not rusted to bits.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        Depends where in the upper Midwest I would imagine.

        I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis and there were a lot of imports running around in the 80s. My parents had an 82 Corolla hatchback, then a Volvo and there were Hondas, a Subaru, and a Volvo on our street.

        My brother lived in Sacramento, and I’d ride his bike around to look at cars. The number of 80s Japanese cars still around in CA always amazes me. I saw a lady dusting off an early 80s Corolla in her driveway and it looked mint. That is so cool. These cars haven’t existed here in Mpls for at least a decade.

        I think if road salt were a factor, this ranking would look a lot different.

    • 0 avatar
      Tandoor

      My first car was a Datsun 200SX. Old, high-mileage but still ran great. Until the engine literally fell out leaving large holes where the mounts used to be. Back then there were 280Zs everywhere. Don’t even see them in salvage yards anymore.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Iowa’s actually a pretty nice place for all kinds of things besides car ownership. Des Moines is a terrific city, as long as awful winters don’t bother you.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    I don’t live in Mississippi, but I do live in relatively rural western Kentucky, and I must say, owning a car here is a lot less stressful than in bigger cities and more populated areas. We don’t have safety/emissions inspections, which one can argue for and against, and our taxes are generally relatively low. Not to mention, cars themselves are cheaper here.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    The downside of the Upper Midwest (besides rust) is that seeing the same mid-’90s cars solely from American makes gets boring.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      It’s really a tribute to American cars’ unsung quality improvements; rust always wins but it now takes longer than ever.

      But what once were Luminas are now Equinoxzez.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        It was more an observation about how even into the early ’00s, a great many Midwesterners would sooner buy a plastic-fantastic Grand Am or Taurus that they got a “heckuva deal” on before even considering an Accord or Camry, or God forbid, some European car.

        • 0 avatar
          OldManPants

          No, no, no… ain’t gonna let you take cheap, classist shots at my homies!

          You’d hate yourself in the morning when your native egalitarianism reasserted itself.

          You’re welcome!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    There’s a reason that uncrowded places are uncrowded — i.e., fewer people want to be there.

    My cars exist to serve me, not the other way around. And I’d rather live in a place where there are high-paying specialized jobs, real scenery, places to go where I’m *not* a slave to the car, and restaurants beyond chain steak and seafood. So parking is way harder and insurance is a bit more expensive ($140/mo for my three cars). I’ll deal with it. And I save quite a bit of money by *not* using the cars for commuting.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      I have to take you to task on the “real scenery” thing. Isn’t all scenery real? Yeah, there’s “nothing” on I-80 west of Lincoln, or I-90 west of Mitchell, but it’s “magnificent desolation,” as Aldrin would put it.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Granted, that was overinclusive and pretty rude, and there is spectacular beauty in many rural places But you’re not finding much scenery in most of the metro areas in Iowa or Wisconsin. By contrast I can look out the living room window of my central-city house and see jagged hills, water (with an amazingly lit bridge crossing it), forest, and a 14,000-foot volcano.

        I recently had a relative from Houston in town for an extended stay, and she would not shut up about the scenery from the first minute of her stay until the last.

      • 0 avatar
        mason

        Some people prefer scenery in the form of high rises and endless bumper to bumper traffic, others prefer scenery in the form of sparsely populated countryside where the wildlife inhabitants outnumber people. Some are financially driven, others demand a certain quality of life for themselves and family over any wage (which just so happens to align with cost of living btw).

        Different strokes for different folks. I’m just happy to be in the minority here.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I like how one of the first things people claim is awesome about cities is “restaurants.” Don’t people *cook* anymore? when I want something different like Indian I’d rather go get a recipe online and make it myself for pennies per serving than pay a ton more at Listeria’s House of Curry.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Well, I can’t cook some of the stuff you find in restaurants any more than I, as a rudimentary DIY practitioner, could build a car from scratch in my garage.

        And good restaurants aren’t just about the food. There is no place better than a restaurant for my wife and I to actually chat and catch up on the (maybe) one night a month when someone else watches the kids. It’s also a great place for 6-8 friends to gather and chat. The atmosphere and the good wine encourage conversation, and the people-watching is fun too.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          see, I think this is the disconnect. I don’t get “people watching” at all. what’s the appeal? I’m the type who would much rather spend my free time by myself. if it wasn’t for my need to work, I’d happily live out in the sticks.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            You sound like my dad. But I’m pretty sure he’s got mild agoraphobia–he thinks Lincoln, NE is crowded.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Different things make everyone happy; do whatever makes you happy. I, personally, find people watching hilarious when it’s in good settings. The very best was when I lived in DC, and my now-wife and I would sit outside at one of the crappy overpriced restaurants along the Georgetown pier and watch all of the drunk fratboy boaters embarrass themselves while trying to tie up. It was a good enough way to spend an afternoon to make the $16 mediocre fish and chips and $7 beer worth it.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Dal about what year was that?

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “$16 mediocre fish and chips and $7 beer worth it.”

            your money. waste it on garbage if you want to.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            28, that would have been the summers of 2010 and 2011. I met my now-wife at a New Year’s Eve party 2009/10, and moved back to Seattle in spring 2012.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Awww, you met her on NYE?

            Thx. I asked because in Geneva the cheapest beer was 7.75 CHF and now here I have noticed beers are $7.00 outside of happy hour in some places which I find a tad redonkiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      nels0300

      “There’s a reason that uncrowded places are uncrowded — i.e., fewer people want to be there.”

      Yup.

      Everything about Southern California is great, that’s why 23 million people live there and 3 million people live in Iowa.

      Arguably, the fact that 23 million people live in SoCal kinda ruins it.

      What I don’t understand is how Chicago has 10 million people. It’s big, crowded, dirty, crappy weather, and flat as hell. That Minneapolis has 3.5 million blows my mind as well, the weather here is literally deadly. Actually, why does anyone live in any city in the midwest?

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “Actually, why does anyone live in any city in the midwest?”

        because it’s as far away from SoCal as possible while not being near NYC either.

        “Everything about Southern California is great,”

        except for the people, and the lack of water, and the traffic, and the fact that most of our useless airhead “celebrities” live there. I’ve spent enough time in Torrance, Anaheim, and the surrounding areas. You can have it.

        • 0 avatar
          nels0300

          Well, yeah, there is all of that.

          What I like is the weather, the mountains, the palm trees, the ocean, pretty much everything that Minnesota doesn’t have. I like being outside and I like the sun.

          If I could put all of the cool MN people and family in a box and ship them to CA, I’d do it, and I’d deal with the traffic and all of that.

          If California were settled by the Europeans first, instead of New England, the settlers would’ve tried exploring the East, saw the Midwest, and turned around and left.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “If I could put all of the cool MN people and family in a box and ship them to CA, I’d do it,”

            and they’d hate you for it. not everyone wants to live in that sh!thole.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            Well, that one guy from Minnesota in the VW ad seemed to have enjoyed Jamaica, mon.

            LA isn’t really much worse than Kingston.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        I’m not sure if you’re looking for a legitimate answer, but for most people, it’s where they were born. For others, it’s career opportunities.

        FWIW, I love visiting the Twin Cities, but I’d never wanna live there.

        • 0 avatar
          nels0300

          Me too, I’d love visiting the Twin Cities, and I don’t want to live here.

          But, I was born here, have family and career here.

          • 0 avatar
            Mathias

            It’s all about perspective. Let me introduce you to two cities with a high number of year-round cycle commuters:

            – Minneapolis, MN
            – Madison, WI

            Riding in the snow with proper equipment (clothing, studded tires) is a great way to commute.

            I’m doing it myself — only 5 mi roundtrip — but lose interest when it’s much below 20 F. Here in mid-MI it isn’t quite as bad as Minnesota, though.

            Madison actually does a fantastic job plowing its bike paths.

            FWIW, I feel about SoCal the same way as you guys do wrt Minn/StP — love to visist, don’t want to live there.

      • 0 avatar
        mason

        “Everything about Southern California is great”

        Except the hot airid climate. And lack of trees. And lack of English. And the 23 million part really boggles my brain beyond comprehension, but then again the closest town to me is closer to 2300 people.

        Nothing like being able to shoot a few hundred rounds from the back deck or have a bonfire without having to worry about some retarded city ordinance stating you can’t discharge a firearm and you can’t have a bonfire.

        That’s just craziness.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Chicago has neat aspects, but it’s not surprising that it’s shrinking. I find it a bit “generic big city” in the wealthier parts and of course its poorer parts are some of the worst in the nation. There are places out there with better weather, a better approach to poverty, and no real disadvantages relative to Chicago.

        The Twin Cities have a real feeling of local culture to them, a uniqueness that I think Chicago lacks. I wouldn’t want to live there because of the weather but I can imagine why someone used to the weather would want to stay there.

        Other than my hometown of Seattle (which is very different than it was even a decade ago, much more San Francisco Junior with both the good and bad that implies), the big cities where I think I’d most want to live are DC (despite the horrid summers), Denver, and Boston (despite the winters). Visiting almost any US city is fun. Well, maybe except Dallas and Orlando.

        • 0 avatar
          nels0300

          Chicago is like a big east coast city in the midwest. It has an old and gritty feel. It was a huge city when only a guy and his dog lived in most western cities.

          I need to check out Denver, it checks a lot of boxes for me.

          But I love SoCal. It’s the car culture capital of the US. So many sweet cars. Classics, Euro exotics, ordinary 80s survivors, etc.

          I could realistically own a RWD car year round in SoCal. No swapping out and storing winter tires and driving around with sponge tires and ugly rims for half the year.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            I heartily encourage your move to SoCal.

          • 0 avatar
            nels0300

            Thanks OldMan, your encouragement might be just what I need to take the plunge.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            Oh, it’ll be a plunge alright.

          • 0 avatar
            nels0300

            Ha ha.

            My body is ready.

            It’s been killing me, I can’t decide between living under a bridge in San Diego and owning an LS Miata, or staying here in MN where the degrees are negative and the climate kills people and cars.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Sometimes I like old and gritty — that describes the best parts of both New York and Philly — but somehow Chicago has old and gritty without the same character.

            I’m not a huge fan of SoCal. Too smoggy, too hard to walk anywhere, and everyone is so intensely image-conscious. The weather’s nice and I love visiting Santa Barbara, away from the smog. The Northwest has the better parts of the car culture (fewer exotics, more weird cars and survivors) without the smog and the freeway slogs, although of course the weather isn’t nearly as nice.

  • avatar
    raph

    Hah – car thefts per 100k in Nevada and New Mexico is as far as I know a farce. Mu brother lived for about a decade in New Mexico and bitched about the insurance. He found out the most expedient way to get rid of an unwanted vehicle payment without wrecking your credit is/was to dump the car off in the desert, set it on fire and claim it was stolen.

    While I cannot back that up in Nevada on several visits there for a Michelin sponsored marketing class which ended up driving several vehicles shod with Michelin and BF Goodrich products I saw several hulks slowly being ground down by the sand and sun.

    At the time I just figured Nevada was the country’s largest open junkyard with residents dumping their trash out in the desert as a matter of convenience. Now I realize all those abandoned cars probably were out there for the same reason – an inconvenient car payment.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Why is New Mexico expensive for owning a car?

  • avatar
    April S

    The only problem with Iowa is it’s Iowa.

    Try the fish…

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      What, the walleye in Okoboji? Yeah, dey’re pretty good, ya know. A guy could sit down at the fish fry and drink Grain Belt and eat walleye and play euchre all night, ya know.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Yeah, I get it. However, I live in Iowa City and it is pretty great, especially in the summer when the students leave. Plenty of culture and no hassles living here. I lived in Seattle for about 3 years and the traffic, hassles of city living, and expense wore on me. I loved Seattle but there is a lot to like about the stress free living of Iowa.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    When I moved from Iowa to California the first couple quotes I got for the Cobra replica was $2100 per 6 months and I was not in a major city. I was paying 308 per year in Iowa for similar coverage. Finally talked Wawanesa into covering it. They were pretty good.

    Now I am back in the midwest.

    Ubermensch, you also have U of I hospitals. They have helped our daughter a great deal. Worth the drive from across the river.

  • avatar
    ericb91

    Yep, it’s cheap. I live in rural NW Illinois, 40 mins from the Quad Cities (two of which are in Iowa, two in Illinois). My commute is 2.6 miles round-trip. Nothin’ quite like these agricultural small towns!

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