Average Cost of Owning and Operating an Automobile, 1975-2018

Average Cost of Owning and Operating an Automobile, 1975-2018

Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics, Table 3-17. Assumes 15,000 miles of driving per year. Figures are in 2018 dollars.

The costs of using the automobile can be divided in three categories:

  • Internal variable costs. These costs vary according to the amount of travel. They include gasoline, maintenance and tires.
  • Internal fixed costs. Mainly related to the vehicle ownership and parking fees. Also include depreciation, insurance, finance charge, license fee, registration, and taxes.
  • External costs. Not assumed by individual users but by the collectivity (not shown). They mainly involve road provision costs and are estimated to add about 30% to the total costs.

Adjusted to inflation, the costs of owning and operating an automobile have not significantly changed. What has changed is the composition of these costs. While variable costs accounted for 45% of the ownership costs in 1975, this share was 25% in 2015. The main reasons behind this change are higher insurance and registration fees as well as the usage of more financing for the purchase of vehicles. Maintenance costs are higher in part because vehicles are lasting longer and are much more complex mechanically and electronically.