From the Blog

What A Car Costs (Even When Paid Off)

I love to drive, and I love my car. The majority of our explorations in and around Oregon have been in my car. I have a whole page devoted to road trips. Sometimes when I drive to work, instead of turning into the office, I fantasize about driving past, and going someplace else far, far away. Just keep driving. Far, far away. In my car. Doesn’t that sound nice? Wouldn’t that be so much better than working?

Driving is sort of genetic in my family. Pretty much everyone on my dad’s side of the family have either fixed or sold cars for a living. They all love to drive. Even my 92 year old grandpa. Currently, my dad drives over 80 miles a day in southern California traffic. He leaves at 5:30 in the morning to get to work on time. You know what he does to relax on weekends? He takes out his 38 year old hobby car and drives it up mountains.

Okay? I’m my father’s daughter. I love to drive. I love my car. However. I also have a brain, and I know I’m not driving around on an island all by myself, where my actions only effect me. I know that driving lots of miles, and burning lots of fossil fuels is not a faultless activity. I would like to use the car less. I live in Portland, and this city makes it pretty easy to go carfree. Perfectly sensible people do it all the time. I know that not everyone can go without a car and I’m not making a black and white political case. I’m not ready to completely give up my car, but I want to go for a lighter shade of gray.

I paid off my car earlier this year. With the end of that financial obligation, I also became completely debt free. Pretty awesome. I’m using Mint and other little tools to track my finances and my expenses. Now paying attention to my money is sort of a fun game, like climbing out of a dark forest into a sunny meadow, with frolicking bunnies and deer and other gentle woodland creatures. If you are working to pay down debt, I promise this is how it feels on the other side.

By no means has paying off my car been an end to my actual car expenses. Using Mint, I can see all the other costs associated with owning a car. Parking, gas, fees, maintenance, detailing and everything else. Then I have an app on my phone called Road Trip. (Our phones are another little money suck: over $1183.17 so far this year for our two phones, just the service, not the actual phones, not counting money spent on apps.) I started with the free version and liked it so much, I bought the full app. I’m not getting paid to do an endorsement. This app is a match made in heaven for numbers dorks who like to drive. I made my dad buy it. And my uncle too.

First, I just plug in my miles when I buy gas. And I add how many gallons I bought, and how much it cost. With that, it tells me my average miles per day is 24.5, the cost of gas per day is $3.78, and my MPG, which is awful at 21.5 per gallon. I have gotten as high as 29.5 per gallon on the freeway. But my average for my 15.9 gallon tank is 341.3 miles. All wheel drive is fun, but it’s a killer on gas mileage. And contrary to what you might think, I don’t drive like a nut. I don’t. Quiet, you!

Okay. So, $3.78 per day just for gas. That’s $113.40 per month. Not great, but better than some people. My drive to work is 5.5 miles away. So a lot of the miles averaged in are “recreation” miles. Our honeymoon alone was 1,108 miles in a week. Even then, my yearly average is 8,950 miles, if I keep going at our current rate. Less than the average American, who drives 12,000 miles a year. I don’t know where they get that number, but insurance companies seem to know.

Isn’t this fun? Gas is not my only expense. I pay $75 a month for parking at my apartment. Then I probably pay about $10 to $15 a month for parking around town. My insurance is about $67 a month. I had to get my windshield replaced after aforementioned honeymoon trip, when we got socked with a rock kicked up by an 18 wheeler. That was $195. I also had to register my car and get my stickers. That was $145. My oil changes are pretty cheap at $25 or so. I had to get a new tire earlier this year after a camping trip, when I got a nail in my tire while driving over Mt Hood. That was $109. Wiper blades were $17. I got a stupidly expensive detail after I paid off my car, to you know, celebrate. I’m not going to tell you how much that was because it was embarrassing how expensive it was, and they didn’t even really do that great a job. I kicked myself after.

You get the idea. I add all of these charges to the Road Trip app. So all told, all the gas, insurance, expenses and services for my car factored in, the grand total, per day is $11.35. PER DAY. That’s $340.51 per month. This is for a car that is PAID OFF. $4,086.12 per year.

I don’t even want to tell you what percentage of my yearly income that is. But I’ll tell you it’s a lot. I love to drive, and I love my car. It’s a big part of our lives, and we’ve seen a lot of this beautiful part of the country from behind the wheel.

We plan on moving downtown pretty soon, where we could leave the car parked for weeks at a time. We’ll be able to walk to more places and take any TriMet bus anywhere. This should reduce my daily cost to own the car, but won’t eliminate it.

I’m not ready just yet, but if I didn’t have the car, I might be able to stop fantasizing about driving past the office, and actually stop going to work completely.

Comments

  1. I sold my (also beloved) car a couple years ago after realizing that i could never afford to buy a house if I didn’t sell it. Most of the time it sat in the garage anyway because I’d been a full-time commuting cyclist for about three years; I figured I was sufficiently hardened to the weather/darkness/occasional total pain in the ass that is getting around by bike.

    This last winter was hard on me, I admit it. The nine months of rain was enough to make me miss the hell out of my car. I did end up buying a house, so I have zero available budget for a car, but I still find myself longing for the ability to get around without getting soaking wet/freezing cold.

    This post made me feel a bit better. It’s okay to miss my car and even to use one once in a while (Zipcar), but as you found out, having a car is a luxury. And at the end of the day, I do feel better not contributing to the noise, pollution, traffic and overall danger of traveling by car.

  2. I’m not a numbers nut, but even to me that Road Trip app sounds awesome!

  3. My car’s (theoretically) going away this week, after five years of saying I was going to go carfree.

    It’s hard to let go. Especially, you know, RIGHT BEFORE WINTER.

    And Zipcar moved the only one near my house, it’s now half a mile in any direction for me to get one. Grrr.

  4. Quite the thought-provoking post. I’ve wondered this before, how much my car costs me. It’s so nice to see real numbers!

    My wife and I have 1.5 cars. We knew that a second vehicle would be most beneficial, but didn’t want to pay for one. Instead, we opted to get a motorcycle for me. We were able to pay cash for a used one, the insurance is super cheap, it gets better gas mileage than a car does, and is much easier to park. It is still a luxury, but it’s less of one than a second car would be.

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