Juan Acevedo Vargas, 46, repairs a car at his shop, Juan's Auto Repair, in Wilmington, Del. / Eileen Blass, USAT
It might not seem like it right now, but it's actually a bit cheaper to own and operate a car in the USA.
The average cost to own and operate a sedan decreased 2.7% last year compared to the previous year, dropping 1.64 cents to 59.2 cents per mile, or $8,876 a year, based on 15,000 miles of annual driving.
That's according to AAA's annual "Your Driving Costs" study, which the auto club has published each year since 1950.
"The cost of ownership went down, which it had not done for several years," says Michael Calkins, AAA's manager of technical services. "That's due almost entirely to fuel cost decreases."
In the study, the average cost of a gallon of regular gas fell 5.96%, from $3.49 to $3.28. That meant a 10% decrease to 13 cents per mile in the fuel cost of operating a car.
AAA uses gas price data from the last three months of the previous year for "Your Driving Costs."
But Calkins notes that gas prices began rising late last year and peaked earlier this year before starting to fall in recent weeks. The national average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.66 Thursday, according to AAA.
"If you go to the pump right now, you're going to say, 'It doesn't feel like a decrease to me,'" Calkins says. "But we use gas prices from that time period for consistency in the results."
Also contributing to the lower cost of vehicle ownership: The improved average fuel economy of the sedans used in the study because of vehicle redesigns and improved power train technologies that take into account higher federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFĂ?) standards.
"Because of these standards, vehicles are getting much better fuel economy compared to where they were 10 years ago," Calkins said.
In addition, after several years of rising costs, tire prices for operating a vehicle dropped 3% to 0.97 cents per mile. Reasons for lower tire costs: Some redesigned sedans now come equipped with less expensive tires, and some tire prices have fallen.
Average insurance costs were virtually unchanged, going from $1,029 in the previous report to $1,023. AAA notes that insurance rates vary widely by driver and driving record, issuing insurer and geographical region.
AAA's "Your Driving Costs" is meant to help people understand the true cost of vehicle ownership. "One reason AAA has been doing this for so long is that people continually underestimate the cost of owning and operating a vehicle," Calkins says. "Most people think that when they make the car purchase, pay for insurance and put gas in the car, that's it. In fact, the number-one cost of owning and operating any vehicle is depreciation."
Over the first five years of ownership, the average cost of depreciation for a new car is $3,510 per year, Calkins says. He says car buyers should carefully research depreciation costs of vehicles they're considering through sources such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, or NADA, and Kelley Blue Book.
In the new "Your Driving Costs," depreciation costs fell 1.71% to $3,510 per year. AAA says the depreciation numbers improved in all three sedan categories, but were particularly strong in the medium-size sedan area, where several redesigned models have been introduced.
On the other hand, maintenance costs increased nearly 2% to 5.06 cents per mile, on average, for sedan owners. AAA's estimates are based on the cost to maintain a vehicle and perform needed repairs for five years and 75,000 miles, including labor expenses, replacement part prices and the purchase of an extended warranty policy.
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