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How Much Does It Really Cost to Own a Vehicle over Time?

Most new car owners learn pretty quickly there’s more expense to owning a car than simply buying it. So, how much does it really cost to own a vehicle over time? The exact answer to that question varies depending upon the size of the vehicle, the category within which it falls (luxury, economy, commercial, etc.) and where it was made. With that said, certain expenses will come into play regardless of the nature of the vehicle.

Fuel

This cost will vary depending upon your car’s size and power train. If you have an electric car, you’ll pay much less. Similarly, if you’re driving a gasoline/electric hybrid model your fuel expenses will fall toward the lower end of the spectrum. Diesel-powered models typically return better fuel economy, so even though diesel fuel can cost more than certain grades of gasoline, it usually works out to be more economical. If you’re driving a luxury car or a performance car designed to run on premium fuel you pay more for gasoline and it will likely consume more fuel as well. Mainstream models designed to run on regular gasoline are the most economical in the fossil-fueled category.

Preventive Maintenance

This is another area in which you’ll see a wide disparity of costs, depending upon the type of vehicle. In general, high-strung sports cars cost more to maintain. They go through tires more quickly, as well as brakes, clutches and other components because they’re usually driven more aggressively. A lot of higher-priced new cars come with free maintenance for the first three years of ownership, which can make this expense a bit more palatable. However, these cars usually cost more to maintain than others once the free period has passed.

Insurance

This cost will be tied to the value of the car you drive. It also varies depending upon your age, sex, credit score, driving record and the ZIP code where you reside. Other factors determining the cost of your auto insurance are the types of coverage you choose and the amount of risk you’re willing to assume on your own. The best way to get a handle on this one is to compare car insurance rates for your make, model and circumstances online.

Use Taxes and License Fees

You’ll renew your registration on an annual basis, at which time you’ll pay use taxes and license fees. These are generally a percentage of the value of the car. If you drive an expensive model, you’ll pay more for your registration than people who drive lower-priced cars. If you get a personalized license plate, you’ll pay an additional annual fee for the privilege of showing everyone how clever you are when you drive around every day. Depending upon the state in which you reside, you’ll also pay to have a smog test conducted on your car on a biannual basis to make sure you keep all the auto’s environmental equipment intact.

Depreciation

The average new car loses 30 percent of its value the moment you drive it off the dealer’s lot. After that, depending upon how well you maintain its looks and mechanical condition, you can expect to experience a depreciation rate in the neighborhood of 15 to 18 percent annually. Some cars hold their value better than others, and some colors even do so within the same make and model. The best place to compare the trends is at a site like Kelley Blue Book.

As you can see, when it comes to the question of how much does it really cost to own a vehicle over time, there’s a lot more to it than simply buying it and keeping it fueled. In addition to the line items listed above, you’ll pay for things like car washes and parking, as well as bridge and highway tolls. If you’d like to get a more detailed answer based upon a specific car, a total monthly car cost calculator can put you in the ballpark.