- there are plenty of hidden costs involved in buying and driving a new vehicle, from depreciation to maintenance. if you add them all up, the national average cost hit $9666 this year, according to aaa. (find out your own cost with aaa's interactive tool.)
- different vehicle segments stand out in different ways, with electric vehicles having low per-mile charges but high depreciation, while half-ton pickups have the highest overall driving costs.
- changes in methodology mean it's not easy to directly compare annual average costs through the years, but aaa does point out that when it did its first your driving costs study, in 1950, gas was 27 cents a gallon and the average car cost nine cents a mile to run.
calculating out the exact dollar amount someone pays for transportation each year can be futile. each person has their own situation, and some people pay more for track tires each year than others pay for 12 months of bus tickets. still, there's something to be learned from general trends—like the fact that the overall average cost to own and operate a new car in 2021 was $9666.
that's the headline number from the american automobile association's (aaa) latest "your driving costs" study, which is the group's annual attempt to figure out how much americans spend buying and driving their cars. using a proprietary formula, aaa has been figuring out what it costs the average driver to operate their car through these studies since 1950 and, while the methodology has been adjusted through the years, the mission remains the same: take the most popular models on the market and "[break] down the cost of owning a new car including depreciation, finance, fuel, insurance, license/registration/ taxes and maintenance/repair/tires."
depreciation is listed first there, and that might be because that is unsurprisingly where new cars end up costing owners the most money. for 2021, new cars cost their owners $3,900 in annual lost value, based on the difference between the purchase price and its estimated trade-in value after five years. insurance was another $1342 a year, while financing adds $712. taxes and fees came to $669, and then there are the running costs of 10.7 cents a mile for fuel and 9.6 cents a mile for maintenance, repair, and tires. aaa's "average" costs are based on driving 15,000 miles a year.
while these average costs are interesting, differences between vehicle types and powertrains mean certain figures will stand out depending on which vehicle category you're looking at. for example, electric vehicles have lower per-mile fuel and maintenance costs, but they suffer from high depreciation rates (which can make buying a used ev tempting for those interested in such a vehicle). the vehicle segment with the highest overall driving costs is half-ton pickups, which cost an average of 77.3 cents per mile. the lowest? small sedans, at only 48.2 cents per mile. subcompact suvs benefit from low depreciation rates, but medium suvs are the segment that is second-most expensive to own and operate.
2021's annual average cost of $9666 is up from $9561 in 2020 and $9282 in 2019 but aaa says that it changed its methodology for this year's calculations, so the overall cost through the years can't be directly compared. still, given the group's historical bent, it does point out that when it published the first driving cost study in 1950, "driving a car 10,000 miles cost nine cents a mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon."
if you want to run your own calculations, aaa provides an interactive tool for just that purpose.