What is involved in the cost of owning a car?

The price on your new car's window sticker is important; however, that's just the beginning of your automotive expenses.
The price on your new car's window sticker is important; however, that's just the beginning of your automotive expenses.

So, you think you know how much a car costs? Sure, the price you pay at the dealership is a big part of what it costs to own a car. But, unless you're going to take your new car home and let it sit in a vault, there are plenty of other costs associated with owning a car.

The first, and probably the most obvious, cost of owning a car is actually paying for the car. When you purchase a new car, you and the dealer agree on a price. If you pay cash for the car (something only about 11 percent of new car buyers do), then the price you and the dealer agree on is the price you pay. However, if you finance a car, you'll end up paying the agreed-upon price, plus interest.


Once you've either paid cash or secured a loan for the car, your expenses are just beginning. The next expense you have is car insurance. Car insurance is a key component of owning a car because it helps cover your expenses if you get into an accident. Car insurance rates vary depending on where you live, what kind of car you have, what kind of driver you are and how much driving you do.

Gas is another major portion of the cost of owning a car. Estimating your annual fuel cost is actually pretty easy. The EPA actually estimates this amount for you, and gives you a ballpark amount of money you'll spend on fuel right on a new car's window sticker. You can also go to fueleconomy.gov to look up the estimated fuel costs of the various cars you're considering and see which ones fit your budget best.

Of course, if you're driving a car, you need to properly maintain it to keep it from breaking down -- and repair it when it inevitably does leave you stranded. If you buy a new car, for the first few years, maintenance costs can be fairly low, especially if the car comes with a long and comprehensive warranty. If you buy a used car, you may get a warranty, but it won't offer the same type of coverage as you could get with a new car. Even with new cars, some repairs aren't covered. So if you're calculating how much you'll spend on a car (new and used) over the long term, you should always include maintenance and repairs, too. Web sites like intellichoice.com give estimated yearly repair costs for new and used cars, in order to help you make an informed decision.

Finally, one hidden cost of owning a car is depreciation. Depreciation is the decline in a car's value as a result of age and use. Depreciation is a bigger factor in new cars than used cars. As soon as you drive your new car off the dealer lot, it loses some of its value. This is one cost you won't notice right away, but when you're ready to sell your car, it means you won't be able to get as much money for it as you could if it was brand new. You can minimize this hidden cost by researching and buying a car that doesn't depreciate as fast as others.

For more information about the cost of car ownership, follow the links on the next page.


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Related Articles

  • Motavali, Jim. "The Costs of Owning a Car." The New York Times. March 18, 2009. (July 20, 2010) http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/the-costs-of-owning-a-car/
  • Reed, Phillip. "True Costs to Own." Edmunds.com. (July 20, 2010) http://www.edmunds.com/advice/buying/articles/59897/article.html
  • Smith, Lisa. "The True Cost of Owning a Car." Investopedia. (July 20, 2010) http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/cost-car-ownership.asp