Calculating the Cost of Car Ownership

31 Jan

Every couple of months when I fill my car with gas I’m reminded how much money I save by riding my bicycles around town instead of driving my car. While it’s nice to save money on gas, what I appreciate more is not having to take my car in for service so often. Last week my car hit the 5,000 mile mark since its last oil change, so I took it in for service for the first time in years. Two years to be exact.

I hate taking my car in for service because they always recommend fixing something beyond the simple oil change or rotating tires. My 45,000 mile intermediate service only cost $233, but a leaking battery, worn front brakes and a little grease around CV boots brought the estimate up to $843. Ouch.

If I were driving the typical 15,000 miles a year, I’d be doing this intermediate service annually. Just one of the factors that makes car ownership so expensive. According to a calculator from Edmunds owning a Subaru Outback like mine in my area costs $50,000 to operate for five years after adding maintenance, repairs, insurance, financing and gas costs to the cost of the vehicle. That’s $10,000 per year. Double ouch.

Suddenly the $200 I spent last week on a pro tune-up, new brake pads and chain for Zella, my errand bike, seems really cheap. I don’t know her mileage, but I’ve had her almost 20 years and this is her first service beyond her replacing her tires and brake pads at the 10 year mark. Bikes are simpler than cars, that’s for sure.

The good news is that at my current rate of 1200 miles per year (what typical drivers do in a month, incidentally) I won’t hit the 60,000 mile major service for over 10 years. Now that makes me smile.

Do you track how much you spend on your car each year? What do you think costs the most: insurance, gas or maintenance and repairs? (Check out Edmunds calculator for your car to see what they estimate)

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure


5 responses to “Calculating the Cost of Car Ownership

  1. Will Goldsmith

    February 1, 2012 at 4:07 am

    I have two cars, a 7 year old civic and a 2 year old CRV. Over the last year the pair cost $2000 on gas, $1000 on mx upkeep, and roughly $1500 on insurance. The pair see about 24k a year (combined), but that includes multiple trips to Baton Rouge (airfare not needed), a few weekend vacations and monthly runs to the nearest shopping center. The average replacement cycle for me is 10 years a car.

    What are the numbers for your bikes?

    • ladyfleur

      February 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

      Will, I don’t even keep track of miles on my bikes anymore. But I know I rode my Trek 5200 for 6 years and put about 14,000 miles on it. I had one pro tune-up and one regular tune-up, so that’s about $280 of scheduled maintenance. I think I went through two sets of tires too.

      Before I started riding for transportation, I was putting in about 7,000 miles a year on the car. Estimated costs were $1225 for gas, $1000 for insurance and probably $850 for maintenance. Not nearly as much as Edmunds estimates because my commute was only 5 miles. We also tended to use Dick’s more efficient Mazda 3 for the long trips unless we were taking bikes with us. In the past two years we’ve taken almost of our long trips on rental motorcycles or airplanes.

      It sounds like you guys don’t really drive so much. You must live near the base.

  2. Matt the rat

    February 1, 2012 at 6:01 am

    It seems that over here (where labor is expensive) people are over the top about getting their cars serviced on the recommended interval and stamping their maintenance books. They like to parade the book around when it comes time to sell. Oil changes here are $120 and gas is $6 a gallon.

    I say buy a Honda and skip the recommended services until about 60 or 70 k miles; By then you need a timing belt and at least one side CV joint. I did always change the oil on time. Also, change the air filter (yourself) on 20 or 30k intervals.

    Overall, I drive about 4 days a month and cycle a good bit, so I think I’m doing ok.

    • ladyfleur

      February 1, 2012 at 9:16 am

      Matt, part of my problem with maintenance/repair is it’s hard to know if what they recommend is really needed. I’m not a mechanical engineer. 🙂 In this case, I deferred the brake replacement and the CV repair since I think they’ll be fine for another 6-12 months given my usage rate. So I only paid $433 of the recommended $843.

      If you only drive 4 days a month you must not be putting much mileage on your car. Do they offer car share services in your area? In San Francisco a lot of people are using Zipcar.

  3. Will Goldsmith

    February 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Aunt Janet,

    We drive often, just not very far. The other side of town is 15 minutes and 5 miles away; base is 13. I have considered riding there, but the shoulder isn’t safe enough.


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