ORLANDO, Fla. — Declines in gas prices and finance charges related to auto loans helped drive a nearly 2% decline in the annual cost to own and operate a vehicle, which, according to AAA’s 2015 Your Driving Costs report, came in at $8,698.
This study examined the cost of fuel, maintenance, tires, insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges associated with driving a typical sedan 15,000 miles annually. The study noted that drivers can expect to spend 58 cents for each mile driven, or nearly $725 per month, to cover the fixed and variable costs associated with owning and operating a car in 2015.
“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.”
Fuel prices fell 13.77% to 11.2 cents per mile, which equates to $1,681 per year —a $286.50 decline from a year ago. And compared to last year’s study, the average cost of regular unleaded fuel fell nearly 13% to $2.855 per gallon.
This decline, coupled with improvements in vehicle fuel economy, resulted in an average fuel cost of 11.21 cents per mile. The decrease, the study noted, made owning a sport utility vehicle slightly less expensive than owning a large sedan.
Car owners also benefited from lower finance charges related to their auto loans. They fell 21.02%, or $178, to $669 per year.
And with rising car sales and stiff competition among dealers, many manufacturers are offering low finance rates to attract buyers. In 2015, average vehicle finance rates dropped 21%, AAA found. That equates to approximately $15 per month in saving on a typical five-year loan.
The study also noted that vehicles are also losing value at a faster clip, with vehicle depreciation rising 4.10% to $3,654 this year due to increasing new-car sales and the influx of used and off-lease vehicle entering the marketplace. This increased supply has resulted in lower values and selling prices for used vehicles.
Insurance costs are also on the rise, increasing 8.99%, or $92, to $1,115 per year. AAA’s calculations are based on low-risk drivers with excellent driving records. “While premium calculations are confidential, this modest increase of $7.67 per month may be due in part to high-cost modern vehicle features such as infotainment systems, advanced safety features and lightweight materials that can be more expensive to repair and, therefore, insure,” AAA stated in its press release.
Maintenance costs also increased 0.99% to 5.11 cents per mile or $766.50 per year (+$7.50). Annual maintenance, including labor time and repair part costs associated with factory-recommended maintenance, was factored into the 2015 survey along with average costs of an extended warranty, the study noted.
Maintenance costs varied widely by vehicle type, but, on average, were up slightly from 5.06 cents to 5.11 cents per mile. “A recent survey of AAA-Approved Auto Repair shops found that the majority of drivers are behind schedule in routine maintenance, including oil changes, tire maintenance and battery inspection/testing,” AAA noted.
Costs related to license, registration and taxes also increased 3.74%, or $24, to $665 per year. Vehicle prices rose modestly in 2014, the study noted, contributing to an overall increase in state and local tax costs. Additionally, some states increased fees related to vehicle purchasing, titling, registration and licensing.
Tire costs are also up, rising 1.03% to .98 cents per mile, or $147 per year (+$1.50). “Due to the competitive and dynamic nature of the tire market, tire costs in 2015 remain relatively unchanged, rising by just .01 cents per mile,” AAA noted.
AAA’s study also discovered that going small doesn’t always keep more money in a vehicle owner’s pocket. The firm noted that owners of minivans and sport utility vehicles will benefit from the 4% decline in annual driving costs due to lower gas prices and finance rates, the study putting the total cost to operate such vehicles at $9,372 and $10,624, respectively.
“When shopping for a vehicle, smaller isn’t always cheaper,” cautioned Nielsen. “A minivan, for example, can carry up to 7 passengers, yet costs $100 less to own and operate each month compared to a large sedan.”
AAA has published Your Driving Costs since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles per year cost 9 cents per mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon.