Activism | Healthy is sexy: bike! | What driving costs | AAA Auto cost wrong | Consumer reports pushes consumption | Why "Free Trade" is Not GreenMenstrual product education | Action alert format You are here: Home > Activism > What Does Driving Really Cost?


What Does Driving Really Cost?

[Note: logic still painfully valid. These are 2002 numbers...all of this is even more extreme now. In 2019 the AAA estimates that the average driver will spend more than $9000 on thier car.]

What does it cost for you to drive your most common round trip? If your answer is close to the cost of gas, you're being taken for a ride. When I carpool the 20 mile round trip from our house to town, people are stunned when I offer them the ten bucks I saved by not driving my own car. Most people think the cost of driving is the cost of gas.

What a boon to the auto industry! People think their product costs them 85% less to use than it does! (gas = 7.7¢ a mile, driving costs 52.3¢ per mile, or $5500-$7000 per year according to the AAA).

Do you think people would drive less if they knew what it really cost them? We certainly do.

Between my wife and I, by driving less than half as much as the average American, use of carpooling, public transport, and bicycles, and not owning cars until later in life we saved approximately $180,000 by 2002.

This is almost exactly what it cost to buy and completely pay off our 1st house in Santa Barbara ($140,000 in 1992 plus ten years interest). If we'd both got expensive cars instead of average (not unusual in this town) we'd have spent a quarter of a million dollars between us in our combined 48 driving years [2019 update: we're well into $300,000 savings now; own one car for four drivers, and are in escrow for our third SB house, as savings and rental income snowball].

Can't believe it? Check the calcs and references below.

If this were the end of the story, that would be bad enough.


However, the direct out of pocket costs are just the tip of a still greater iceberg:


The external environmental and societal costs of driving in the United States include:

graphic courtesy DCAT

More info on external costs from Victoria Transport Policy Institute


Average American's car costs  
$5,500 per year
21 Years I could've owned a car (I refused my parent's offer of a gift of their Pinto station wagon at sixteen)
$115,500 What the average American would've spent in my shoes.

My car costs  
$2,000 My actual annual costs (approximate)
13 Years I've owned a car (I've owned one car, a 1978 Toyota pickup which I bought for $2000 when I was 24)
$89,500 Savings

Note: my 1978 truck was "totaled" by my wife-to-be twelve years ago. The insurance company gave me $1500 for it. The darn thing still is in great mechanical condition and I've had multiple offers to buy it out from underneath me for $500. Thus, In 13 years of car ownership, I've spent ZERO on depreciation. Following consumer reports recommendations to average buying behavior, I would've lost almost $60,000 in depreciation.

Lynn's car costs  
$148,500 If she spent the average amount per year
$54,000 What she did spend
$94,500 What she saved
$184,000 Total household savings thus far
$256,000 Savings compared to moderately expensive cars ($7000 instead of $5500 a year)

Average costs taken from American Automobile Association and Victoria Transport Policy Institute, our costs extrapolated from what records we have.



How Low-Carbon Can You Go: The Transportation Emissions Ranking

by the Sightline Insitute



See also: