Driving costs more this year — for many reasons, study says

It's getting more expensive to drive a car.

Drivers pay an average of 58.5 cents a mile to drive a sedan, according to an annual vehicle operating cost study by the American Automobile Assn.

That's up 1.9 cents from a year earlier and amounts to $8,776 a year, based on 15,000 miles of annual driving.

The cost for driving a typical passenger car is 45.1 cents a mile for a small car, 57.3 cents for a mid-size sedan and 73.2 cents for a large sedan.

The most expensive is a four-wheel-drive SUV, at 74.9 cents a mile or $11,239 a year. A minivan sets the driver back 63.3 cents a mile, or $9,489 for the year.

"The 2011 rise in costs is due to relatively large increases in fuel, tire and depreciation costs as well as more moderate increases in other areas," said John Nielsen, AAA national director of auto repair, buying and consumer programs.

The rising cost of tires was also an important reason behind higher vehicle operating expenses. Tire prices rose 15.7% to 0.96 cents a mile on average for sedan owners. Rising costs for raw materials, energy and transportation have led to notable tire price increases in recent years. Also contributing to higher average tire costs is a trend among automakers to equip their sedans with premium-grade tires as original equipment.

Although several vehicles included in the organization's cost study had increases in fuel economy, that was not enough to offset the rise in gasoline prices. Average fuel costs increased 8.6% to 12.34 cents a mile for sedans.

Because of the timing of the study, the current role of gasoline prices in vehicle operating expenses is not fully represented. AAA said its study began in December 2010 and calculated fuel costs when the national average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $2.88 a gallon. It is now $3.77, according to AAA — a 31% increase.

"The study is meant to provide an overview of the yearly costs involved in owning and operating a vehicle. Some of those costs can fluctuate greatly at different points during the year; however these figures can still be used to compare categories of vehicles," Nielsen said.


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