My Lifetime Costs of Car Ownership

Have you ever thought about how much it costs to own and operate a vehicle? Sure, we budget for insurance, gas and maintenance, but have you ever really crunched the numbers and added up the total amount you’ve paid for it all in your lifetime? My post about Vancouver’s gas prices this weekend inspired me to do just that and the numbers aren’t pretty.

When I first started driving in 2001, I think gas was around $0.75/litre. At 16, I bombed around Victoria in my mom’s 1991 Hyundai Excel. Her name was Roxy and I loved her. With a small tank, it usually only cost me $30 to fill her up, and the insurance was less than $110/month (this was considered expensive but I was a new driver with no insurance discounts). I obviously didn’t track my spending back then, but let’s assume it cost me $200/month to drive that car around in 2001.

I drove Roxy for 6 years. If we assume my gas costs went up but my insurance costs went down, let’s just “guesstimate” that it cost me an average of $225/month to drive her. Multiply that by 72 months and the number nearly tenfolds: it cost me $15,840 just to drive around Victoria for 6 years. Add the $1,700 repair shop bill I was hit with at age 17, plus a few other small repairs, tows and oil changes, as well as parking fares, tickets and the one speeding ticket under my belt, and there’s no doubt this is closer to $20,000.

And that only takes me to the age of 22.

Roxy “died” in 2007. I went without a car for two years, until 2009, when I apparently felt I’d been given a license to spend. In the span of just a few months, I moved into my own place (with no boyfriend or roommate), put $2,000 of new furniture on my credit card and, big surprise, decided I could afford to finance a brand new vehicle. I was sold on the “low” bi-weekly payment amounts: $117.42 felt like pennies. But the final price including all interest and taxes was $17,764.60.

By the age of 24, it had already cost me $37,764.60 to own two cars.

For the first 3.5 years I owned my new car, Bandit, I was still living in Victoria. By the end of it, my car insurance was dirt cheap – I’m talking $78/month, but let’s use $85 as the median for that time period. I drove a lot when I lived in that city and have done the math before: I spent an average of $150/month on gas in Victoria. Together, that’s $235/month x approx. 42 months = $9,870. Add a few oil changes + regular maintenance at the dealership and let’s round it up $10,500.

By the age of 27, it had cost me $48,264.60 to own two cars.

I didn’t drive Bandit for 8 months or so, while I was living in Toronto. When I moved to Greater Vancouver, however, I had sticker shock at the cost of insuring a vehicle in the “big” city. My monthly car insurance went from $78/month in Victoria to $148/month in Port Moody. Yikes. However, I drive less here and spend an average of $125/month on gas. In the 14 months I’ve lived over here, that adds up to $3,822. But I’ve also spent at least $1,000 on parking fees and oil changes, so let’s make it an even $4,000.

In the 13 years I’ve been driving, it has cost me more than $52,000 to own two cars.

That’s a freaking down payment.

Of course, that averages out to $4,000/year or $333/month, which doesn’t sound quite as big or scary. But no matter how you look at it, the numbers don’t lie: owning and operating a vehicle is not cheap.

Looking back, though, I don’t know that I’d change any of my decisions around this (not even the fact that I bought brand new, because my plan has always been to keep Bandit for 15-20 years). When I was young, having a car gave me a responsibility. “If you want to drive, you have to work,” my dad would always say, whenever I ranted about hating my part-time job. A car also gives you a lot of freedom. But the decision to continue to pay for a vehicle may need to result in a decision to cut back more elsewhere, because I’d love to start setting aside $4,000/year for a down payment, and not owning a car isn’t in the cards for me.

Are you ready to estimate your lifetime costs of car ownership?

  • Grrr! I typed out my whole comment (AGAIN) and forgot to put my name. WAH!!!

    I had it all broken down with details of all my cars and gas and insurance, and now it’s all gone!! :(

    Anyway, I gotta get back to work, but I will share that my grand total, age 16 to 30 was $95000!

    Have a good day!

    • Sorry, Dayle! And going “back” doesn’t work? Sometimes that works for me. A long time ago, I learned to start writing lengthier responses in a text doc and then copying/pasting them in, because blogs are always so finnicky. Sorry again!

      • Yes, I really need to start doing that! “Back” gave me a blank box… don’t be sorry, my own silly fault! :-)

  • Gas prices are crazy these days, but I agree with your thoughts on other voices that the extra $4-5 per tank won’t kill my budget. I’ve never broken down the cost of my car but I’m sure it’s close to your numbers, which is crazy when you think about it. Hopefully Monique (that’s her name) will last for a good few years :)

      • Monique is just over 4 years old and I did get her new so she should last me a long time!! She’s a 2010 Mazada 3 and for the first 3 years I had her I was able to walk to work so she doesn’t have to many kms!

  • Until I was 21 I drove my parents car, and I was on their insurance as an extra driver so I don’t know what my insurance costs were then. So I’ll just do for the lifetime of this car because I know everything I’ve paid for for nearly 8 years.

    Original cost of the car: $28,000 (yeesh!)
    Insurance for 8 years: $9,200 (high was $1,400, low is now $900, so averaged x 8)
    Gas: $21,600 (averaged 2 fill-ups/month now with 4 when I was in school at $75 a pop)
    Maintenance/Registration: $7,200 ($75/month)

    So over 8 years my car has cost me $66,000, or $687 per month.

    I think I win (in a losing kind of way)… my 8 years of easier calculations cost more than your 13! That being said, my early years (16 – 21) would not have been so bad cost-wise because they don’t have the price of buying a car averaged in there since it was my parents.

    • Yea, I didn’t have to buy Roxy – she was my mom’s car for 10 years, then she gifted her to me. So those first 6 years were literally just gas, insurance and maintenance. Goodbye $20,000 – thanks for getting me around! haha

  • Ugh, cars can be such a money drain. I definitely hope to ditch my car for a bike in the future. Until then, my trusty Toyota Corolla has been relatively inexpensive. It almost never needs repairs and doesn’t eat as much gas as some other vehicles.

    • Yea, I think the only way I’ll save on car costs now is if I move somewhere (again) where insurance is a lot cheaper. $150/month is so ridiculous.

  • Well Cait, I doubt if I can estimate the cost of owning and maintaining all the cars that I’ve driven over the years but it’s probably significant. I do remember my first car. When I first met my (future) wife at EXPO 67 in Montreal, I was driving a brand new Mercury Cougar sports car and she was driving a fancy Ford Tbird V8 (with power everything – door windows, seats, etc etc). Although driving cars like those were great for attracting guys/gals, after we started seriously dating we sold both of our cars (since we both couldn’t really afford to drive them and save any money) and instead took the bus! :-)

    That all said, however, the way I look at it is if a car is required to go to work and/or serve other individual needs in one’s life then why not spend the money, just so long as it’s affordable and within one’s means, otherwise the money saved would just be spent on other lifestyle choices. It’s all a matter of one’s priorities.

    • Sorry, I’m a little behind on replying to comments this week – but yours made me laugh and smile, Rob! How cute is it that you both sold your cars after you got together? I love that.

  • I’ve spend something like $27,000 in the past three years to own my car (including the cost to buy it). All I can think of when I look at that amount of money is what a waste that is. I’d so much rather commute by bike, on foot or by public transportation but it’s just not an option around here.

    • I hear that. Even if I lived in Downtown Vancouver, I’d still keep my car insured, though. There’s only so much city living I can do – gotta getaway to the mountains, beaches, etc. too!

  • I have no idea what I’ve spent and I don’t even want to think about it :( The numbers shared by you and other commenters are scary and eye-opening! Unfortunately, living in a small town (but not small enough to commute by bike or foot), there’s no public transit so a car is a necessity for me to get to my job and side gigs.

    • Totally. And I don’t think anyone needs to justify why they drive a car. I just think adding up even an estimate of what it really costs us can be an eye-opening exercise!

  • Great post, three years ago I sat down to do the same, as a family of 5, we had two cars like the norm, after crunching just the cost on the 5 year spend, I sold our second vehicle and commute to work on day’s I’m not at home via the bus, and bought bikes for everyone to get around when Edmonton isn’t crusted over in snow.

    We’ve tossed the idea of going 100% car-less but it’s not that feasible right now.

    • Wow, good for you guys! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping one car, so long as it fits in your budget and helps your lifestyle. Honestly, being a one-car family is something we could all aspire to.

  • I’ve been MIA for a bit (work has been extremely chaotic) but I’ve read all your posts. This post? Who needs to review those minutes – work can wait for 5-10 minutes. :o)

    HOLY &*$@ – I think I’m glad I didn’t add up my vehicle expenses when I still had my car. I got rid of my car (Simon) two years ago. He was ancient (a 95 Plymouth Colt) and parts were imp0ssible to find and he was going to need a ton of work. At the time parking was costing me $50 a month, insurance was around $90 – $100 ( I can’t remember). Gas was really cheap – maybe $30 every couple of months – I barely drove him but when I did he got great gas mileage. I bus to work so the only time I need a car is on the weekend and that meant Simon went to the scrap yard.

    Still I figured out at just over $150 a month I could bus to work, take the odd taxi and rent a car on a weekend if I really needed it and still come out ahead. I had been trying to see if I should crunch my budget for a car. This post just convinced me I don’t really need one.

  • Ooof! Can I just stick my head in the sand and say “lalalalalala I don’t wanna”?

    I started out with a propane truck, which I paid between $0.40-$0.65 a liter for (cheaper than gas at the time), but it also used more fuel. I also used to drive 4 hours every other weekend to visit my boyfriend in Alberta until I moved in with him. I didn’t drive at all in Edmonton while I was in University, but the Smart Car I bought after graduating was not nearly fuel efficient enough to warrant buying it. I’ve never lived anywhere near my work, so I always commute. I’ve tried looking up ways to get to work via public transit, but there are no options available for the times I work :s

    I suppose that’s one of the ways you can make yourself feel a little better. Calculate how much you would have spent on public transit (including cabs on nights out), if you hadn’t owned a car. It won’t be anywhere near what the cost of owning a vehicle is, but it would be foolish gawk at the total dollar value without considering the fact that your other option wasn’t $0.

    • Yep, and that’s a great point. If we say, between the three cities I’ve lived, that the average bus pass would’ve cost $100/m, I would’ve spent $15,600 on transportation in those 13 years instead. Sure, that’s only 30% of the cost, but it’s not $0.

      • It’ll actually be above 30%. A bus pass covers your day to day transit, but not short trips to see people. You’ve done several trips to Victoria this year alone, and without the car you’d be taking the bus to make that happen. Adding in bus trips, cab rides, and additional delivery fees you’re probably well over 40%.

  • Holy moly! This is super eye-opening and makes me incredibly grateful that my parents were kind enough to provide me with a new car when I left for college — and that I hung on to it and still drive that same car. Even still, I know I’ve spent thousands just on maintenance, a few minor repairs, new tires, insurance, and gas. It definitely costs an incredible amount just to keep a car even when it’s paid off, gets good gas mileage, and is reliable!

    I’m with some of the others who have commented — I wish I could commute more often by bike or just walking, but for many trips I need to make it’s not really an option in the area we live. I am glad that my car costs have dropped a bit since I work full-time from home now; with a more flexible schedule it’s much easier to make time to walk to the store, and of course with no daily commute to work that’s a huge savings on gas and wear and tear.

    • Working from home is a huge reason why I can pay $125 or less each month in gas. And great point about saving on wear and tear!

  • Well, its pretty easy for me to calculate my car costs … $0 … I’ve never owned a car and I don’t have my license. Living in Toronto, I never really felt the need to have one. Now that we live in the suburbs I have been giving thought to getting my license but I want to have the amount saved to buy a car first.

    I agree with Rob that I probably spent the money I saved on transportation on other lifestyle choices – some wiser and some more foolish than owning a car but I want to have the room in my budget first.

    • But I’m sure you’ve spent money on public transit then – TTC tokens, passes, etc.? So car ownership may = $0, but what about public transit costs?

  • Sooo I’m used to seeing posts about the expenses of driving – and I’ve had to deal with that myself in the past – but holy cow seeing the number years later like this is insane. I’ve literally never thought about totaling it up like that. Yikes! Definitely an eye opener. I’m lucky enough to not need a car, but if I did these numbers would definitely convince me to buy used and keep the car for as long as humanly possible!

    • Oh yea – I plan on keeping Bandit until I’m at least 40. That’s so weird to think about, but it’s the only way for car ownership to be *somewhat* affordable.

  • This made my PF heart hurt!!

    I haven’t owned a car in 10 years.. I bet my lifetime ownership cost is below $5,000 (had a car briefly until I was 21)

  • Yeah owning a car can be quite expensive, I bought my first car brand new for $23,000 which was probably a mistake. My perspective has change now and if I ever do buy a car it will definitely be used. I don’t own a car no more since I work oversea I donated to my brother so haven’t need one for 3 years now. I still pay attention to gas prices sometimes and it’s getting more expensive and I’m glad I’m not paying any gas at the moment.

  • As long as I stay in this city, there is no way that I/we can survive without a car. Public transportation is so awful that if my fiance was to take the bus to work, he’d have to spend the night at the downtown bus depot in order to get to work on time (which is 9am – not anything absurd!).

    I know my car costs me a lot – like $500+ a month right now between the loan payment, insurance and gas. Add to that the winter tires, installing a car started for those -40 degree winter days, and now a cracked windshield… that’s easily another $750 per year.

    I am hoping that my car will last me a long time. It does have low mileage, so as long as I keep up the maintenance, it should last another 10 years? (I hope.)

    • It should, yep! Roxy is actually still “alive”. My dad/cousin ended up fixing her up, but she lives up island now and isn’t driven much. But that still means she lived to see 23! lol

  • Oh MAN. Adding it up like that is crazy eh?!

    I grew up in the Valley (Abbotsford) where like you say, not having a car is NOT an option.

    My first car was a Mazda protégé handed down to me from my parents. When I was in high school they paid my insurance and gas (I know, I was SO LUCKY!).

    Then I decided I “needed” to have a LeBaron convertible. So I bought a ’92 for about $3500 I think. With student loans. Even though there was nothing wrong with my Mazda (my brother ended up inheriting it). The LeBaron was a money pit. I spent thousands replacing the transmission and having it towed around here and there when it would break down. Eventually sold it for only $900.

    Then I bought a brand new Mazda 3. Sticker price roughly $22,000 I think. 100% financed, of course. Planned to keep it till it died, but ended up moving in with my boyfriend in Gastown. Eventually sold it at a huge loss….but…I LOVE NOT HAVING A CAR. Granted, I live and work downtown and love walking, so I never feel inconvenienced. People ask me all the time “but what if you want to drive to the states or whistler spontaneously?” and my answer is that those thoughts never even cross my mind because it’s not an option for me. We have memberships with car2go, modo, and use the books of tickets since we wouldn’t make full use of a monthly pass.

    I’ve gone from $23,000 of debt (this number has fluctuated) down to $5,400 and I know I’d never have made it this far with a car.

    • I’m sure taking the hit on selling that car was tough, but it sounds like it was still the right choice for you! How much are memberships to Car2Go, Modo, etc.?

      • My boyfriend has the modo membership, and I can’t remember how much it is. Whenever we use modo we’re together so there’s no reason for me to get my own.

        I think registration for car2go is $35 but they often are set up around the city with promos where you can join for free! So that’s what we did. Then they’ll have ‘spinny wheel’ things where you can win free minutes too.

        We use modo if we are using the car for a long amount of time, as the hourly rate is less than car2go. But the only hitch is that you have to put the car back where you got it from.

        If we’re going out for dinner or to massage appointments we use a car2go because we know we’ll be only 10 or 15 minutes driving and we can ditch the car at that point. Then we figure out how to get home when we’re done!

  • Ugh, I’m not sure I want to calculate the total. Living in an area where everything is so spread out and not all easily accessible by our public transit system, a car is a necessary evil. And a lot of my family and friends live out of town… Plus I just love the freedom of vehicle ownership.


    I take small steps to bring the costs down though – I bought used and paid it off quickly, I still walk to work almost every day, and I try to stay on top of regular maintenance (which reminds me that I have an oil change coming up). It’s still expensive (my partner and I just had to fork over $800 for an unexpected repair!) but at least there are a few ways to help things from getting too out of control.

    All this said, I can totally see why some people (who are able to) choose to go without!

  • I am too scared to figure out what car ownership is costing me in my life.
    I paid for gas in high school.
    I had a bus pass for 6 years.
    We were a one car household for another 6 and now are a 2 car household (in the last 15 years have had 6 different cars – long story on why). For work I drive a lot (like 50 000 km a year a lot), so my car isn’t going to last me long! I keep it in tip top shape as it is my office. I also pay for a road side safety package (a must with all the driving I do, especially in rural areas) and treat myself to satellite radio (to keep me company all those km!).
    If I lived where I could walk and if my career path hadn’t led to a life in the car, I would still just have a bus pass!

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