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How Much It REALLY Costs To Drive Your Car

August 20, 2010 · 102 comments

in Car/Driving, Personal Finance

I drive a lot, and quite honestly, I take my car for granted.  It has gotten me to Florida, Washington DC, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and countless other places.  I love my car (Taurus X), so of course, Ford decided to not make it anymore.

Until recently, I didn’t really think much about driving, I just hopped in the car and off I went.  However, this week I was thinking about how I could reduce my driving somewhat when I was reading an article written by Little House  over at the  Wise Bread website.  The article mainly focused on using a bike for smaller commutes, and I started wondering how much I could save by riding a bike or walking instead of jumping in the car for every errand.

So I started surfing the internet to try and get a number for how much it costs to drive a car per mile.  I know the IRS pays 50 cents a mile, but I wanted more specific information.  I then visited a AAA website that is based on 2010 data.

The table provided by AAA breaks down the cost by how many miles are driven per year, and the size of the car.  I drive a large sedan, and I drive in excess of 20,000 miles per year, so my per mile rate is estimated at 58.6 cents a mile.  That isn’t bad compared to how much it costs to drive a 4WD SUV for only 10,000 miles a year, as that cost is almost 97 cents a mile.

So, if I rode my bike or walked 5 miles a day instead of driving, I would save approximately $3.00 a day, or $90.00 a month.  However, if I was driving that SUV, I would save almost $150.00 a month.  Not to mention all the health benefits of walking or riding a bike.

I would totally ride my bike a lot more if our city was built to safely ride a bike.  However, some of our streets do not have sidewalks, and there are major roads all over the place.  I get real nervous trying to cross the street while distracted drivers are chatting on their cell phones and turning right on red and such.  However, I think I am going to try to ride my bike more for nearby errands that I can safely get to.

In addition, I have also been using my car less by sitting and waiting for my kid’s sports practice to end instead of rushing back home to take care of this or that.  Instead, I spend that time reading a book or clipping/sorting coupons.  It is my personal downtime, and it is actually quite enjoyable.  I am letting go of the guilt of feeling like I need to be productive every second of the day.  That alone keeps 20 miles off my car a day (approximately).

Are there ways  you could reduce your driving?  Or, do you already drive minimally as it is?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave August 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

I drive a lot in my job, often doing day trips to cities that are 75+ miles away. If I have a meeting in one of those places, I work really hard to get multiple meetings there, so at least I get a lot more production out of a long drive. I know it’s a bit obvious, but if more than one person is going to these locations we always try to car pool.


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:49 am

Dave – Sounds like you need a company car! 🙂


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

I really HATE driving so I do as little as possible. I commute 25 miles roundtrip to work Monday-Friday and try to do any errands like grocery shopping on my way home on those days. Mr. BFS drives us around on most weekends but I end up having to drive to family or friends if he’s busy. My car is 5 years old and has about 45,000 miles on it (I think it may be at 46,000 right now but I haven’t checked)…


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:49 am

BFS – My car has 55,000 miles on it, and it is only 2 years old! Maybe I have a problem… 🙂


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 23, 2010 at 11:39 am

Nah, Mr. BFS agrees that my driving habits are definitely not normal…I have a fear of stupid drivers and since they are everywhere, I hate driving…


Kevin@InvestItWisely August 20, 2010 at 11:14 am

Since you already have the car, some of the costs are fixed, so you pay them whether you drive or not 😉

I also like to ride my bike, though, and as I live next to a subway station, I can take the subway to work. It’s not much cheaper than driving (in fact, it will be more expensive soon), but it is more convenient!

FWIW it’s safer to bike on the street than the sidewalk (on roads where the cars don’t go 50mph+). Cars are a lot more likely to hit you from the side if you’re on the sidewalk, especially if you’re on the left side of the street. Just avoid the really busy streets if you can!


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:48 am

Kevin – Most of the roads where I would ride on the sidewalk (where there is one) are along roads where the speed limit is 45-50. I keep to the streets in my subdivision and such, the street doesn’t bother me there.

You are lucky you have a mass transit system. The Detroit area has basically zero mass transit.


Kevin@InvestItWisely August 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm

45-50… yeah, I probably wouldn’t stay on the street, either. Still, watch out for those cars coming from the side! They are the most dangerous… On the other hand, where I live, there are some roads where the limit is 30 but the cars go 50 or even faster, due to road design. Since they are “supposed” to be 30, they don’t have wide lanes, so if a bus comes up behind you… woah! I just don’t go on those roads at all 😉

Is there a way to bike in a straight line without having to take major roads? Some 70s-80s suburban areas around here are pretty bad for that, but where I live is more like a 40s-50s suburban area, and everything’s laid out in a nice grid! I can take one of those streets, or I can even take one of the busier streets cause the traffic is about 30 which isn’t too bad. Most of the through traffic’s on the highway, so that keeps things pretty bike-friendly!


Kevin@InvestItWisely August 21, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Oh, about the mass transit… it pretty much sucks here, too, except for the subway. The subway is less of a fail, but that’s only because I live near downtown and work downtown.

I remember the days when I didn’t have a car and I was *forced* to bike everywhere, including 45-50mph streets (again, limits are 30 everywhere but the cars don’t care ;)). I also remember taking 2-hour bus and subway rides to do what would take 15-20 minutes by car. A car is really expensive, but I’d rather pay than have to go back to 2+ hour bus rides to go to certain places. Mass transit only works when your trips happen to match up well with where it goes!


The Wealth Artisan August 20, 2010 at 11:49 am

Hi Kris,

We’ve kind of handicapped ourselves in some respects because we moved so far away from everything, but the flipside is that we moved into an undeveloped area at a great price. Now, a shopping plaza is being built not more than 7 minutes away (by car) which will allow us to use our bicycles and increase our land value :).

Additionally, it looks like a plaza is being built across the street from our subdivision, although we don’t know what is going in to it. Right now, we’ve got no choice to drive, but I think that will all change in just a few short months!



Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:46 am

Timothy – Your situation may likely improve as the area gets built up, that is great. Our city is pretty saturated. We do have some shops nearby, but I really hate dealing with the super-busy intersections. Maybe as I get more used to riding my bike I will feel better about it. Now I need to find a way to carry all my purchases!


Little House August 20, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Thanks for including my link! As for riding safely, even in busy areas without sidewalks:

1. See if you can find an online map of the bike paths/lanes in your area. You might be surprised that some roads are more “bike friendly” than others.
2. Check out side streets, the ones parallel to the busy ones, and see if they are a bit safer; less traffic, slower moving traffic, etc.
3. If you’re riding to a specific destination, is there a park or college campus you can ride through? There would be less traffic in those areas.
4. Make sure you wear a helmet, have bike lights, and are just very wary of drivers. Always make eye contact, especially with cars at intersections and ones making right and left turns.


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:45 am

Little House – Great suggestions. Unfortunately, our city is very behind the times and was built for driving and not pedestrians/cyclists. No bike lanes, and many busy roads have some sidewalk, and then the sidewalk just ends.

Thanks for sharing.


Steph August 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I live in a high pedestrian area, so bike riding on the sidewalk is a really bad idea. And illegal.
We only have one car, which my husband takes to work.(Where it often then sits all day.)
I run errands on foot with a stroller in tow. It means I can never do big grocery runs and I have to do alot of planning, but the hassle isn’t too bad. If we had a second car and all the payments and insurance, we would never get out of this apartment.
I hate driving so I don’t miss having one. I never want to live in a neighborhood that makes a car a must.


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:44 am

Steph- The areas where I ride on the sidewalk have virtually no pedestrians as it is on main roads. However, on many of the main roads here,the sidewalk just suddenly ends and you are forced to ride on a busy street, which I refuse to do. I am envious you live in an area where you don’t need a car. However, a lot of my driving is to my kid’s sporting events that are quite often far away, so a car is an absolute must if I want to watch their games.


Rob Ward August 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Just a note that if you do decide to ride your bike more in the future you really shouldn’t ride on the sidewalks even they are there. Sidewalks are meant for pedestrians, roads are for cars and bikes. And I’m saying this as a bicyclist myself (although not for my commute).


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:42 am

Rob – I ride in the street in my neighborhood, but if I do ride on the main roads, I want to be on a sidewalk. I am just way too nervous to bike on busy roads. Believe me, the busy roads I live near are not made for bicyclists. No bike lane, and some roads are incredibly narrow.


Nicole August 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm

One thing I really miss about living in a city (even a car-culture like LA!) is the lack of sidewalks and anything walkable. The only things we can walk to in our neighborhood are a dentist, an ENT clinic and a Catholic church. Everything else is miles away on the highway without sidewalks (or bike lanes). AND, we specifically paid extra to live in a neighborhood with sidewalks (we’ve also got very short disconnected bike lanes that go nowhere in parts of the HOA). I would be so much skinner if there were an ice cream shop in our neighborhood. It’s also been in the triple digits all month so even walking from the car to work is killing me.

Still, my 5 year old accent only has 15,000 miles on it (DH says that is small, if I remember the number correctly) and that includes a cross-country one-way trip to get out here. So I must not drive much. I used to commute with DH before our kid was born, but on any day either one of us may be called to pick up a sick child from daycare and our offices are a couple of miles apart and the bus takes up to 45 min to go between (there’s a long wait at the student center in between).

You wouldn’t hit anyone biking on our sidewalks, btw.


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

Nicole – You really don’t drive much, 15k is an amazingly low number! Impressive. It is unfortunate that you really don’t have many nearby places to shop, unless you want to shop at the dentist…


Money Reasons August 20, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I like to drive one short route and accomplish multiple things during that one trip. So I double, triple or more the effectiveness of the 1 driving trip.

I try to avoid driving when possible. I know it takes some of the fun out of things, but with gas prices so high, I’m more willing to work at it!


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

Money Reasons – I like to get all my errands done at once too and plan my route accordingly. But I do forget things at times, and I will try and hop on my bike to pick things up that can be bought close by instead of driving.


Young Mogul August 20, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I really need to reduce my driving, but like you, I don’t live in a city where this is feasible at all. Additionally, I live in a city that is very hilly, so unless you’re an Olympic athlete, good luck trying to ride uphill. However, I do plan to relocate soon and I will definitely try to live in an area that is within walking distance to most things/shops I will need frequently.


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

Young Mogul -The hills can be killer! I rode my bike to my mom’s house the other day and I saw this giant hill I never noticed before because I was always driving. I made it up the hill, but I did need to rest. The ride home was nice though. 🙂


finallygettingtoeven.com August 20, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I am very good about being a ‘minimal’ driver. I try to have days where I don’t drive at all and plan all my trips together in a route that makes sense and I have no backtracking.

Car ownership is very expensive and it would be wonderful if we did not have to rely on them as much as we do.


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:34 am

Finally- I try to be a minimal driver, but my kids need to be in too many places. I hate looking at my credit card statement and seeing how much I spend on gas. The environment probably hates me.


The Biz of Life August 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

Telecommute are magic words to me and my car.


Kris August 21, 2010 at 11:14 am

Biz – When I did work, it was from home, and that was great! All my driving is not work related, which is pretty scary considering I drive about 28k miles a year.


Financial Samurai August 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

I WISH I could just bike to work and everywhere, but gosh darnit, it’s HILLY here in SF! 🙂

Even though I have no car payments, the insurance, gas, and maintenance probably runs me 3K/yr. Not cheap at all!


Kris August 21, 2010 at 10:54 am

Financial Samurai – I don’t have a car payment either, but gas just kills me. I average 28,000 miles a year. But, we take my car on all vacations, and we tend to drive far, and my kids are in a lot of far away activities. So, I just have to accept some of it, but try to change what I can.

I cannot imagine trying to ride a bike in San Francisco. Actually, I think you should try it on Lombard Street…


Suba@Wealth Informatics August 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm

The insurance, maintenance and gas costs me $5k I drive a lot! My “commute” is 150 miles one way (I do it only 1-2 days a week) So I drive atleast 300-600 miles every week just to get to/from work. For most other things I try to walk/bike. LA county and San Diego county have those free bike maps, it is really nice to know what alternative route are there to get to places. The public transport is pretty bad if I want to go somewhere on time.

We take quite a few camping/road trips an year, so the miles adds up pretty fast. But I do love my car a Honda Fit.


Kris August 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Suba – You do have quite the commute! That must take up a lot of your time on those days you do drive. But, as I said, some driving you just can’t help, so you can only change what you have control of.


auto transport June 30, 2011 at 11:25 am

Another great post Kris! In my country (which I live on Indonesia), lot of people prefer to ride their cars or motorcycle rather than take a long mile riding a bike! Lot of people assume that riding a bike not an efficient method and you will lose your precious time on the street and would be a risky things to drive a bike on the main street, so keep to drive a car even with high prices of gas would be the best option. I hope someday my country would have enough resource for people to ride their bike as most of street here not have a sidewalk for the bike riders.


Kris July 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I wish I could ride my bike more too. I really need a rack on the back of my bike that could carry packages. Or, maybe I need a giant basket on the front?


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