Don’t Sweat The Cost of Gas

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People worried about how much money they spend on gas ought to consider how much they spend on their cars.

Gas is among their smallest expenses – especially vs. the cost of a new car. Even vs. a super-economical new car.

If saving money is the issue – rather than spending money on gas – it’s worth doing some math.

Or at least, looking at some math already done on the subject.

The American Automobile Association put together a Cost to Drive worksheet (see here) which breaks down what people pay, on average, not just for for gas – but for everything else associated with owning and driving a new car.

Emphasis on new – because people are pitched aggressively on the false idea that they will save money if they purchase one. Especially one with all the latest “gas saving” technologies.

Well – as Ronald Reagan used to say – let’s see.

It turns out the thing which costs people the most money isn’t gas but depreciation – the hemorrhagging of value that afflicts new cars particularly.

It runs about 10 percent a year.

AAA pegs the figure at $3,000 annually, on average – which is about twice what the average person spends on gas every year, which is about $1,600 (around $32 per week).

Pu another way: Even if you drive a V8 SUV that gobbles $60 in gas every week, that’s still only about $280 per month and less than the annual cost of depreciation on most new cars.

Some new cars – luxury cars – cost their owners even more in depreciation, because the value of a luxury car is bound up in its newness above everything else. A year-old luxury car is last year’s luxury car – and often worth 20 percent less than it was worth when it was new.

If you bought it for $50,000 last year and it’s worth $40,000 twelve months later, that’s a mighty big hole in your pocket – and the cash that fell through it would have bought a lot of gas.

The highest depreciating cars of all, by the way, are electric cars.

They lose bleed value even faster than luxury cars – $6,000 annually, on average according to AAA – not because of fickle things such as not being the latest things but because of functional things – aging battery packs that can’t hold as much charge as they could when new.

Which means the EV can’t go as far it could when it was new.

And because that wasn’t very far to begin with vs. a non-EV, any significant reduction in battery performance (and so of driving range) can render an EV functionally useless. Or at least, a hassle that most people aren’t interested in putting up with given how long it takes to recharge an EV.

This is why you can find three or four year old Nissan Leafs – which stickered for $30,000 when new – for $10,000 or even less on the used car market.

That is a big hit to “save on gas.”

But people often overlook the cost of depreciation because they don’t pay it in regular installments – as they do for gas. Thus they do not see it – or feel it – until it’s time to sell or trade-in their car.

Uncle uses the same principle of deceit to hide the cost of what he steals; it is called “withholding.”

There are other costs associated with new cars that they will feel long before then, but which aren’t line items on the window sticker – and so people don’t take them into account until after they bought in.

Things like full-coverage insurance and property taxes – either of which alone can amount to as much as the average person spends on fuel every year.

It costs about $1,000 annually to full-cover a new car – the high premium a function of the high cost to fix new cars. A supermarket parking lot fender bender is actually a plastic cracker – and tearer. The exposed front and rear “fascias” of almost all modern cars look sleek but are extremely vulnerable to damage and often throw-aways rather than fix-’ems.

You replace the entire plastic front clip to deal with a rip.

Now you know why it costs you so much to cover the thing – even though you have a perfect driving record and the car has all those saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety features you thought were going to save you money.

Property taxes – in states that apply them – can cost you as much as insurance, too.

Together, they can easily cost you more than gas. Over six or seven years, what you pay in full coverage insurance and property tax could have bought you a good used car – in cash. Which would cost you half or less as much to insure and a third or less in property taxes.

The best way to save money – so you have it, to spend on gas as well as other things, like repairs costs – is to not buy a new car.

If you aren’t spending $300 a month in new car payments  – plus the hidden cost of depreciation on the new car, which is almost equivalent to another $300/month – plus full coverage insurance and rapacious property tax based on the value of a new car – spending even $60 per week to fuel a “gas hog” but paid-for older SUV can save you a fortune.

. . .

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  1. I’m kicking myself really hard right now for selling my 1968 Oldsmobile. Had I known the car business would end up like this, I would have kept it.

  2. I’m at a point in my life where I really don’t care about mpg’s or depreciation. At 65, grown kids, no mortgage or car payments al I care about is making myself happy so I am spending my kid’s inheritance, not that they care, they don’t need the money.
    I could not be happier with my Cayenne Diesel. Even after the “fix” it does well north of 30mpg, but that I don’t care about so much as the 800-900 range. On a full tank. Jacksonville FL Atlanta and back with fuel left over. It’s nice in that diesel price on the highway vary a lot, if I need fuel say at 1/4 tank I can afford to look for the best prices even if I have to go 150 miles to find it.

    Next up, I have the serious hots for an Audi Q8. Not TDI version in the US (they have them in Europe) that would be perfect.

    The Porsche lost a lot the first year, but since that time it’s been reasonably flat maybe even less than average depreciation. I don’t necessarily go my KBB or Edmunds, but the Audi dealer is giving me nice chunk on the Cayenne.

    Life is for living.

  3. Eric! Glad to finally see someone saying what many of us have figured out decades ago.

    Like everything else in the modern dying Western world, people have bought into the “fuel economy” BS whole-hog, without thinking about it; because we are constantly bombarded with propaganda that tells us we should be concerned with it.

    But of course, when one bothers to do even the most elementary math….

    I’ve been privileged to drive many vehicles that I otherwise would not have been able to afford, only because their previous owners wanted to get rid of what they owned free and clear, for a car payment…so they could save $50 a month on gas….. Their former “gas hogs” would always serve me well for at least another 10 years- ten years of debt-free driving and money in the bank, instead of pissed away.

    Most vehicles I’ve owned have only gotten around 10MPG (A few got 15-16. My old Town Car got 23MPG- but wasn’t too practical)- To save money on gas…I drive less. I’m flabbergasted by how much some of my neighbors spend on gas- even with relatively fuel-efficient vehicles. They run to town 17 miles away any time they need something; they’re always involved in some activity for which they have to go to town (Go to church; be in a play; Nose-pickers Anonymous meetings…) -Maybe they should just live closer to where they spend the majority of their time?

    And even though this is a low-cost-of-living rural area….ya still have a lot of people commuting an hour or more every day to go to work…..

    In a way, fuel-efficient vehicles have “backfired” on the greenies…in that they just seem to encourage people to drive more often and further. When ya only get 10MPG, even when gas is cheap, you THINK about what you’re doing. (For me, just a big- nay, a bigger concern, is the time I’d waste going to town a zillion times a week and running the roads, like many of my neighbors do!)

    I kinda liked it when gas was up around $4 a gallon. It only cost me a few hunnert bucks a year more…but the roads were nice and quiet. It was worth it. Now that gas is cheap….the road live on, which used to see maybe 4 or 5 cars an hours, is seeing about 4 or 5 cars a MINUTE!

    • We can’t all be a backwards hillbilly like you Nunz, working on the farm and mowing the lawn all the time. Or whatever it is slave owners do. Some of us are important and are needed elsewhere at multiple times. To support the system. So what if I drive 17 miles to town? I need a new iphone charging cable because they keep breaking. And if I want to make a run to Starbucks every morning for my $8 beverage, who are you to criticize me? This is a free country. You pollute the earth with your fossil fuel burning vehicle and cause pollution, climate change, and global warming. Why won’t you think of the icebergs, polar bears, and children? My new electric car and fuel efficient turbo 4 don’t cause these problems. There should be a law that forces people like you to pay higher taxes to offset your burden on society. How do you sleep at night?

      Also, Nunz, I always thought traffic was more a consequence of population than gas prices. My area has really grown so I wonder if higher gas prices would really change anything. During the great recession it was very nice to drive. I recall, driving on a particular nice road, that you would pass maybe 2 cars going the other way on the whole 5 mile journey. Today, though, you’ll get 15 in each direction, the ones in front drive slower than you, and the ones behind you ride your ass.

      • CCCChhhhildren?! N’oh, Mr. Jin, the blasphemy! Don’t you know that children fart, and consume resources, and for some reason require huge yellow vehicles to chauffeur them to some government institution for at least 13 years of their lives, thus guaranteeing the extinction of the dung beetle and the cockroach and poison ivy?!

        Haha, my area has stayed the same since I’ve lived here- even lost a few people…but it’s gotten so I can tell ya the price of gas by the frequency of cars on my road. The small town 10 miles from me, which is the county seat (They call ’em that so ya know where to kick them!) has become a ghost town the last few years. It’s main st. used to be bustling…no, half the bidnesses are empty, and there’s no traffic….so the gas price/frequency thing don’t work on that road!

      • The backwards hillbillies around here think I’m a backwards hillbilly.

        We got to town maybe once or twice a month, unless there’s a special need like having my cataract surgery a couple months ago. Then it was a year’s worth of trips (seems like to me) in a few weeks.

        And we don’t plow our snow, except that I shovel right in front of the garage so it won’t build up to the point where the jeep roof hits the top of the doorway getting in and out. I won’t even let the neighbor plow it for me with his tractor and the blade that I perma-loaned to him, because then if it drifts we are really in a mess. Better to just beat it down. That’s why we have 4 wheel drive.

        But yeah, I suppose I use more fossil fools NOT driving my 4×4’s than others use driving their Lesbarus to town all the time – LOL

        • Hi Dread,

          Being a “hick” is where it’s at! Me too. I love the lifestyle; am worried about my area becoming populated beyond a critical mass density and things like stop lights and zoning laws cropping up. We have one stop light in the county at the moment – and no zoning.

          It is a whiff of what America used to be.

          • There’s a flashing red/yellow in the county seat, and a flashing yellow at the highway junction in the next county (the way we go to the city), but aside from Yellowstone/Billings there are many counties around here with nary an actual red/green stoplight. It’s eight miles from our place to the nearest rough blacktop, which was just highway resurfacing waste dumped and spread on the existing unimproved dirt/gravel.

            Our county is pretty much the “West Virginia” of the West.

        • “others use driving their Lesbarus ” Ahahahaha! That’s pretty damn funny, lol!
          Of course, that name could could cover about a dozen or more vehicles that I can think of right off the bat, so yeah, that works! That should be on a billboard in the next “future dystopia” film that comes out, like the SUX6000 in Robocop.

        • I may’ve come from the city, but I’m more country than most of the country folks around here these days (Except I despise “country” music!).

          What I don’t understand, is why, if people are going to spend most of their waking hours in town- whether it be for indentured servitude, or shopping, or social activities….why they don’t just live in town, instead of constantly driving back and forth?! Never mind the gas- just the time they waste!

          Some of my neighbors pay me to disk/bush-hog/etc. their land; hire Mexicans to pick their tobacky, etc. while they’re spending all day in town. They fancy themselves as farmers…which apparently just means being in massive debt for equipment, and receiving white-people welfare (farm subsidies).

          Cost of living where I am is among the lowest in the country- you can live nicely on peanuts- and yet everyone around me in-debts themselves, and wastes all of their time constatnly trying to make more money, so they can buy more crap…..

          It’s sad that this mentality has spread to even the most rural of country folks who have been here for generations. They watch TV/videos, and adopt the mentality of the people who are portrayed in the media…which ultimately will kill the few pockets of what is left of this way of life.

          • I was born/raised in the city but couldn’t wait to leave and have spent most of my life living/working in rural, sometimes very remote locations. Maybe it is in the DNA or maybe there really is something to this past life business?

            And I love the old classic country music and even more so western music. Happy trails!

            • Now the OLD country music- some of that I can even deal with!

              Hey, Not Left (I AM left-handed… 😀 ) did you maybe get a taste of rural style things when you were a kid?

              My grandparents came here from It-lee (Italy) and settled in NYC, and most of my relatives stayed in that area (within 60 miles) for three or four generations now- my mother grew up in the heart of NYC (a few blocks from Times Square) but was always more of a country-type person.

              When I was a kid, we lived on Long Island, which at the time was a nice mix of suburban and almost rural- so I spent my childhood riding my bike all over, and walking in the woods for many miles, and fishing, etc. and just generally having free range and a great time out in the wild doing what I wanted- so when I grew up, and those things disappeared from LI, I was like a fish out of water- that, and the fact that I had an interest in liberty since I was in my single digits (Compulsory edumacation caused me to figure that out!), and it was easy to see, that the more nature is replaced with man’s infrastructure, the less free we are.

              Most kids today will never have the opportunity to figure this out, ’cause even many of the rural kids are now living like city kids.

              • Not too much. There was a woodlot across the street from my grandpa’s house but we were only there once every year or two and I wasn’t allowed to go off alone anyway. We did go fishing/camping at my pleading, but mostly I think that I was just born out of place and out of time.

                BTW, ya’ll really not getting the Princess Bride thing ????

                • Hi Decent,

                  I love cheese (as in TV/movie cheese) and especially ’80s cheese… but I am not hip to Princess Bride. It sounds like a Chick Flick… in which case, Eject! Eject! Eject!

                  One of the perks of being divorced is that I no longer have to suffer such. Instead, I can binge watch Star Trek and The Punisher!

                  • A chick flick ???

                    Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles …

                  • Hi Eric,

                    The Princess Bride is incredible. It is one of those very rare movies that manages to be charming and hilariously funny at the same time. It is a “chick flick” in the sense that most chicks will enjoy it. But, you won’t need to suffer through scmhaltzy, romantic bilge just to get a little time on the sofa.

                    Also, it will explain not left’s moniker.


  4. I swore I’d never buy a new car. Then I got a deal on a Pontiac Grand Am that was the last GM vehicle on the lot when the dealer switched to BMW and Kia. I like to remember that it was this and an Aztec, but I’m pretty sure I’m making that part up. It was cheap. It was 0% financed. I needed a new vehicle since the oil leak on the Lumina would cost more than it was worth to fix and the dealer traded it for $2000, which I figure was about $1500 more than it was worth…

    I drove that for 10 years with very few problems. Then all at once a ton of things went wrong. I had the money so I bought the Audi. Ordered from the factory, they saw me coming. But I figured I’d keep it for at least 10 years, no financing and this was around the time we were all going to have to get used to $4/gal fuel so a TDI made sense. Great vehicle, although more teutonic than luxurious. When the unpleasantness with Uncle happened, I was looking for something with a little more room anyway, and they bought it back for $10,000 less than I paid, so I could expand my search a little.

    Now I’m in the Cherokee, which I also bought new. This time because of the issues with the earlier models’ software problems. I figured even if the ECM was flashed with the newest upgrade the damage was probably already done and I really didn’t want to have to get into a pissing match with FCA or the dealer over who pays for repairs. Besides, I know a guy at FCA who was able to get me the friends and family discount which was significant.

    So the only bad deal in the bunch was probably the Audi, but I went into that with eyes open. It is worth noting that I originally was looking at a Jetta TDI and found that the new models were selling for less than the year or two old used. Turned out VW had made significant changes in 2012, like rear leaf springs instead of struts all around, and downgraded brakes. The sweet spot for a Jetta TDI was probably the 2011 Cup Edition, which had I bought one I’d probably still be driving today.

    • Hmm, I had a 2014 Jetta TDI that got bought back. 2.0/6 spd manual. I had no complaints. My first tank after break in returned 53 mpg! I take that back, I only had one complaint, compared to my 98 Jetta the visibility sucked. It was like I was sitting lower, or the doors were higher. I had no braking issues, and it was a smooth ride. I think you’re mistaken on this. Those years around 2010 – 13 were suspect for fuel pump failures – a very expensive repair.

  5. I drive a lot of freeway miles for work. When I first started years ago I purchased a used Lincoln Mark 8 for $5000, it was comfy and powerful but only avg’d 27mpg. I was still greedy so after 2 years I sold that and got my Current ride – a Jetta TDI for $4000 which avg 48 mpg for me.

    Back when I did the math, I calculated savings in the area of $450yr I took a $2500 depreciation hit on the Lincoln. I’ve been driving the VW for 16 yrs now, so I’ve just recently covered the depreciation plus cost of the VW.

    Really not worth it on the used side either. Plus I gave up v8 power and air ride.

    • Hi Bin,


      And the Jetta’s depreciation will be much less horrific than the Lincoln’s. Those Mark VIIIs sold for around $45,000 when new. After about eight years, you could pick them up for around $10k or less… holy mackerel!

    • Reasons to buy new are:
      1) optioned the way you want it (factory order)
      2) no previous owner issues.
      3) much less time needed.
      4) no need to individually evaluate cars for condition.
      I could go on…

      • 5) Bugs worked out.

        I could have saved a good bit by buying a 2014 Cherokee, which is the same as the current model. But everything I read said to avoid it like the plague because they had software issues that could cause the transmission to destroy itself. Many accounts of being left on the side of the road for no apparent reason, having to “limp home” to the dealer, etc.

        The early Audi R-8s had a structural weakness around the front struts that could/would cause the frame to bend and in some cases the metal would tear away. This meant totaling the vehicle, although I did see a youtube video where a body guy was able to straighten out the frame and weld in some bracing. I believe they did recall the vehicles, or at least issued a service bulletin, but if the damage was already done, the cost to fix would exceed the value unless you can DIY.

        At work they bought a bunch of the aluminum V6 F-150s. For the first six months or so just about all of them ended up at the dealer for a time while mechanics figured out why they wouldn’t start. The company switched to GMCs, after running Fords for the last 20 years at least.

        While getting a new car won’t necessarily mean no lemons, if the design has been around for a while the manufacturer will have a history of defects and time to tweak the design to get the bugs worked out.

    • I got 16mpg on my 93 Chevy one ton 4WD, ext, cab long bed with much larger than stock tires and wheels. I’m still looking for another.

      • Only thing I don’t really like about the IFS 4×4 is the HUGE turning circle. I dunno if they fixed that in the newer versions ???

        My old squarebody solid axle suburban will practically turn in its own length compared to the GMT400.

        • Having had both kinds, the ISP was heads and tails above the solid axles. My 93 Chevy would turn circles around my 82 with a straight axle. Speaking of which, no other manufacturer ever made as good CV or U joints as GM.

          It’s a matter of the specs the manufacturer has and the produced units they’ll accept. I had to drive 4WD Ford pickups back in the early 80’s. Not only did they eat up the surface they were on but would eat the tires too. I’d swear my 93 ext cab long bed 4×4 one ton would turn a tighter circle than my grandfather’s 62 Fairlane that took an acre to make a u-turn.

  6. Unless the difference between the engines is Aftermarket support vs none, I always opt for the bigger engine

    Remember Jack Baruth said in a guide about resale, always get Manual and the bigger engine (, plus (from experience), no one ever regrets getting a V8 over a V6 or Turbo 4.

    Way I see it, you’re gonna pay for gas anyway, why not get what you want vs what seems economical

  7. Depreciation is a means in business accounting to amortize the purchase cost of an asset over its useful life. It’s not really relevant to an individual, versus actual cash expenditures. You can’t count payments PLUS depreciation because they are the same expenditure. (well, payment includes interest which just adds to the cost).

    But as I pointed out in the comment that apparently triggered this article, we found that just the increased insurance and registration costs for a nearly new FREE* car were at least equal to the gas savings for the amount of miles that we drove per year. But now the same car is old enough to have permanent plates and very low marginal cost of liability insurance only, so in the long run its worked out okay.

    * well, I had a few hundred dollars expense to rent a car one way and go pick it up 1000 miles away.

    • From an individual cash flow perspective, perhaps it would appear that getting a newer vehicle with a fixed monthly payment, multiyear year warranty, and lower fuel costs would be easier on a budget; however, this is a quick fix that ultimately reduces the real measure financial security, net worth. Recently I was telling a coworker how I switched auto insurers as my insurance company for at least a decade increased my premium by 20% for no reason other than, “we increased rates.” Her only question was how much did my monthly payment increase. I had to explain that, at least with my policies, the increase in premium by paying monthly was the equivalent of a hefty credit card like interest rate, and that paying the premium up front was far less expensive. Consequently this has a far less deleterious effect on net worth. After explaining she nodded her head and went back to work. I am sure she still didn’t understand, as someone who also buys sofas, cell phones, online master’s degrees, etc. all on credit.

      At the end of the day, no matter how you look at it, taking on $35,000 in debt in exchange for an asset that is essentially worthless in a few years time, only eats away net worth, no matter how much fuel it “saves.”*

      *One caveat, I did support my father’s recent decision to retire his 280,000 mile plus Chevy Tahoe which gets, on a good day, 17 MPG. He travels tens of thousands of miles a year, and having a vehicle that won’t leave him stranded in south Florida, while also burning less fuel makes some sense. He ended up getting an Atlas, which coincidentally, Eric reviewed not too long ago.

      • One way to get around the debt problem is to borrow against a 401(k). Most plans will allow for borrowing up to 50% of the vested assets or an upper limit that would probably cover the cost of a decent used vehicle. The good part is that you’re paying back the interest into the 401(k) account, not handing it over to some bank. Oh for sure that money might not get the same gain as what it might get in the Wall Street casino, but the interest you pay doesn’t just go to a bank, it goes back to you. At 5% or whatever interest paid out to a bank that money sitting in a mutual fund would have to earn at least that much just for you to break even.

        The other option would be borrowing against a whole life insurance policy, or just living an austere life and saving up the cash…

        • What my wife does is make car payments to herself into a special account for the purpose of buying a car. Once she has enough she goes out and buys it.
          She doesn’t do badly Navy Federal has a 5.25% CD right now

          • Alex, how does that work if she misses a payment? Does she repo the car she doesn’t yet own? (Hey, that could be a REAL money-saver!).

            Where on earth did you find a woman like that?! She didn’t used to be a dude or anything, right? 😉 I mean, most women try and spend themselves/their husbands into bankruptcy…or else leave.

            • She grew up very poor in the Philippines. She knows how to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo craps.
              Ha, the problem is when she’s ready she finds it hard to part with the cash, so the last time she bought the car on a 3 year loan, made 3 payments then paid it off because she hates being in debt.
              the great thing is she can drive a killer deal, negotiate like no one I have ever seen. When you finance they always give you a better deal because the lender kicks back a fee to the dealership.
              The only thing is she loves Benz’s, so we don’t buy often, MB’s depreciate like nothing I have ever seen before.

              • Daaaang! Alex! She sounds just like me!

                My older sister’s husband is half Jew, and I’m better with money than he is! (He’s O-K, but he’s spent his life in debt…)

                Shame about the Benzes, eh? Decades ago, a MB would hold it’s value better than just about any other car. Now they make over-priced techno-gadget status sysmbols that fall apart before the old ones would even lose 10% of their value! (O-K, your wife is definitely a woman- she likes expensive things! 😀 Gotta finish off that edumacatrion at Cheap Jew U. and teach her T’is wise to buy old depreciated assets, instead new expensive depreciating ones! Then again, I guess she has to have something to remind her that she ain’t po’ no mo’…. 😉 )

                • She is frugal in most things but her car, but I did get her a used Tiguan for her birthday. Her MB is a Cabrio with a mini back seat, I got the the Tig to haul her friends around. She’s put more miles on her Tig in the past 3 months that she’s put on the Benz all of last year.
                  The Tig was a CPO car with a great warranty, but it’s rock solid reliable and fun as heck to drive.

                  I have kicked around the MB;s depreciation rates trying to figure out why. I notice many MB people lease and replace every 2-3 years, which creates a glut of used ones, or maybe people are scared to have an MB without a warranty, an engine light costs a grand no matter what it is.

                  • Yeah, that’s it, Alex- All of these new cars, once they’re out of warranty, cost a fortune to repair- but the luxury cars especially. The more crapola they have on ’em; the more there is to go wrong, the more the repair bill is- and since most people these days who buy cars like Benzes and BMWs new don’t keep ’em very long, ’cause doing so defeats one of the main reasons many buy them- status- they’re no longer made to last.

                    I guess I’m kinda the same as your wife with the vehicle thing, too. I don’t drive late-model or new ‘uns, but I do drive big thirsty things, which would horrify most otherwise-frugal people! Damn the mPGs and the cost of big beefy truck parts….driving what I enjoy driving is one of the few guilty pleasures I take.


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