Study: Average Annual Vehicle Ownership Cost Nearly $10,000

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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study average annual vehicle ownership cost nearly 10 000

The average cost of owning a vehicle is now $9,666 per year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). While the sum is up substantially over the 2019 average of $9,282, 2020 was sitting at a much tighter $9,561.

Of course, none of this means anything to you unless you happen to drive the most typical vehicle in the most likely manner imaginable. The problem with coming up with a representative figure is that it doesn’t actually represent any one driver or automobile. But AAA was good enough to provide some basic calculation tools to help determine where you fall on the spectrum and some pointers on how to bring those rates down. Though the biggest factor remains which hunk of metal happens to be occupying your driveway.

Running a half-ton pickup with a monstrous motor? AAA has some bad, albeit predictable, news for you relating to your decision to own something from a segment boasting the highest overall driving costs at 77.3 cents a mile.

If that seems a little steep, maybe it’s time to get back into sedans. While not nearly as popular as they once were, they remain a solid value and are typically much more engaging to drive than crossovers. The smaller ones also happen to be the most affordable segment at 48.2 cents per mile. But if we’re sticking with averages, we should probably be talking about crossovers that will run you near 56.3 cents per mile.

But this is assuming you’re averaging 15,000 miles each year. Drive a little more and you’re likely to be saving more. Drive a little less and you’re basically paying to have the car take up space for a few more cents per day. But there is a myriad of factors AAA had to consider before it could reach a determination for any one segment. The main ones are obvious — expensive vehicles that guzzle fuel and need a lot of extra maintenance aren’t going to be a blessing to your bank account.

Though there’s plenty more to consider, including the average insurance rates, the kind of financing rates each segment is likely to get, registration fees, and the dreaded deprecation rate. Some of those can be a game-changer. For example, you might think electric vehicles would have to be cheaper to own than just about anything. But AAA has them at 61.9 cents per day due to their comparatively high level of deprecation. Hybrids weren’t much better at 60 cents per mile, despite the similar focus on efficiency, and both segments tend to yield MSRPs notably steeper their a similarly sized vehicle that’s entirely dependent upon liquid fuel. That said, there will be exceptions to the rules in literally every segment.

The only sweeping generalization able to be made is that size of a car can heavily influence how much you’re spending to own it each year. Opting for a big car is typically more expensive than a smaller one, something that’s likely to be true upon the initial purchase and will remain true well into the unit’s lifespan. This likewise goes for how you treat it. A heavily modified vehicle subjected to routine abuse on a racetrack isn’t a business venture, just a fun way to lose money.

[Image: New Africa/Shutterstock.com]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • Petey Petey on Sep 04, 2021

    Dont forget about the x-factor on used cars. Its when something breaks on it, lets say the transmission gives up the ghost. Well, most people will have to think long and hard over whether to have it fixed or to have it towed away. And in the latter case, that would be a complete loss of a car for you. So if your car was valued at 3k, well, it won't be worth anything in the junkyard. You just added 3k to your yearly average. Got to factor risk into the equation.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Sep 04, 2021

    I have calculated this for nearly 40 years. As for much of that time I used a vehicle/vehicles for business purposes so had to track all of the costs. Currently two vehicles in the driveway, down from the five that I had just under two years ago. 1. Leased. $302 per month tax in (just over $3,600 per year). Zero down. Maintenance costs are only oil/filter changes, etc. Negotiated a set of rims and winter tires. Do not expect to have to purchase new tires (mileage and age) or any unexpected maintenance (warranty) during the term of the lease. That cost allows me to drive a vehicle that is never more than 4 years old, has the latest 'safety' gadgets and gets better mileage. 2. Now in its 12th year. Has outlasted 5 other vehicles intended to be its replacement. Purchase cost/price amortized comes to about $2,000 per year. Have had to buy multiple sets of tires. Rustproofing (Krown) every year. Battery replaced twice. We no longer use it for long trips. Maintenance includes brake jobs, fluid changes, etc. Insurance on the older vehicle is about $300 less per year. The older vehicle despite being lighter uses more fuel per mile. Which makes better sense financially? Which makes better sense regarding peace of mind?

  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh Dear whiny people .. keep a small number of diesel busses. replace the rest .. my god people like sticking poles in their own bike spokes...
  • Canam23 I moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and the air was barely breathable. Thanks to the mandating of pollution controls and the work of the Air Quality Management District, it's 100% better today. When the first pollution targets were set in the 70's, Detroit moaned that it would be impossible to achieve, meanwhile the Japanese sat down and figured out how to do it. As a result of the constant strengthening of the anti pollution laws, our air is much less dangerous for our children. Furthermore, engineering has now created very clean, powerful and efficient engines. So Stellantis, I'm not buying it.
  • Random1 So several of the interboro crossings are cheap: Brooklyn bridge, Manhattan bridge, Madison Ave, Willis/3rd Ave. One or two others I think.$18 is weirdly cheap, but "early bird" all-day parking is easily under $25 at many, if not most, places. That garage is actually on 62nd St, so I might be able to still drive in post-congestion, but I can't imagine they won't jack up that rate when the time comes, they're gonna be over run.
  • FreedMike Right, the fact that Jeep sales are down this year has nothing to do with it...nope. See FlyersFan's post above for the figures. They're ugly. Now, you'd think that a fact like this might be in this story, but a headline like "Jeep announces layoffs because its' sales are down" just doesn't have enought red meat to toss out. But toss "California" into the mix and voila! Political food fight. And given the political proclivities of a large bloc of Stellantis' U.S. customers, why not blame the big bad gubmint? And by the way, if Jeep has a beef with California, what's with this ad?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VegskIOcU7Y
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Drove a rental Renegade in Florida. Tigershark engine vibrated like crazy at stoplights. Someone had bumped the plastic cladding and parts were ready to fly off at speed. If you could pick one up on the cheap, you would give to your kid for college or trade school. Once they were earning a steady paycheck, it would be traded in a flash!!🚗🚗🚗
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