Lower gas prices drive down cost of car ownership

Lower gas prices drive down cost of car ownership
Lower gas prices and low interest rates sparked a small decline in the annual cost of driving a vehicle, according to a AAA study on the cost of driving. (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times)

The expense of owning and operating a car dipped nearly 2% last year because of falling gas prices and low interest rates, the American Automobile Assn. said in its annual driving cost study Tuesday.

The driver of an average sedan can expect to spend 58 cents a mile, or about $725 a month, on car expenses, the auto club said. That adds up to $8,698 annually. The numbers are based on a motorist driving 15,000 miles annually.


“Fortunately, reduced gasoline and finance costs more than offset rising costs in other areas,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair. “As a result, car owners can look forward to saving approximately $178 this year.”

AAA said the cost of driving is certain to be higher in Southern California, and it plans to issue a report for the region next month.

Here is how the expenses break down nationally.

The price of fuel fell almost 14% to 11.2 cents a mile. That amounts to $1,681.50 a year, saving $268.50 from gas expenses in the prior year.

Lower interest rates means the cost of financing the purchase of a car fell 21% to $669 a year, a savings of $178. However, rates vary widely with borrower credit scores.

A decline in the value of used cars, however, pushed up the depreciation expense that goes into vehicle ownership. Cars lost their value at a 4% faster rate than a year ago, adding about $144 to the tally.

AAA said that depreciation is the single largest ownership expense. It rose because robust new car sales in recent years have created an influx of used and off-lease vehicles entering the marketplace. That has lowered the value of used cars, driving up the depreciation expense.

Insurance premiums rose almost 9% last year to $1,115, adding $92 to the annual cost of car ownership.

Maintenance expenses rose 1% to $766.50 annually, adding an extra $7.50 to the total.

License, registration and taxes also went up nearly 4% in total to $665 a year.

AAA also looked at minivans and sport utility vehicles. The cost of operating both fell 4% to $9,372 and $10,624 respectively. This also was attributed to lower gas prices and finance rates.

This year's study was conducted in the first quarter and, with the exception of gas prices and interest rates, compared expenses with the same period in 2014. Fuel price and interest expenses were taken at the end of last year and compared with 2013.

AAA has published its Your Driving Costs since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles a year cost 9 cents a mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents a gallon.

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