Transport Theory

The cost of driving a car rises by 3.4 percent in just a year

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Despite lower maintenance and insurance rates, the increasing cost of gas, tire prices, and high depreciation on vehicles, has caused the cost of driving to increase by over 3.4 percent - more than $289 - in just a year.

Are you contemplating buying a car? If you live in a city with access to public transportation or even a well connected bike system, I'd avoid it.

According to a new study by AAA, the increasing cost of gas, tire prices, and high depreciation on vehicles, has caused the cost of driving to increase by over 3.4 percent - more than $289 -  in just a year. And that's despite lower maintenance and insurance rates.

The study "Your Driving Costs" found that the average annual cost to own and operate a sedan that drives 15,000 miles annually, rose 1.9 cents per mile to 58.5 cents per mile, or $8,776.

If you drive an SUV, you're out of luck. Drivers of cars with lower gas mileage saw their average operating costs jump to 74.9 cents per mile for a total of $11,239 annually.

“Both maintenance and insurance costs are down this year compared to last, but other costs are on the rise,” said Cynthia Harris, AAA Northern California spokeswoman, in a statement.

The cost of tires had the largest percentage increase in this year’s study, rising 15.7 percent to an average of 0.96 cents per mile. Fuel costs saw an 8.6 percent increase to an average of 12.34 cents per mile, while average depreciation costs rose 4.9 percent to $3,728 for sedans.

With gas prices approaching an all-time high (the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular is $3.76 currently), those costs are only likely to increase. Fuel costs for the study were based on $2.880 per gallon, so you can only imagine how much that number is going to fluctuate in time.

The good news: if you own a smaller car such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla (which tend to be typically more fuel-efficient), your car depreciated significantly less than its bigger counterparts.

While driving more fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel cars will help lower costs slightly,  part of the solution is going to have to come from cutting our consumption levels -- and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. President Barack Obama pledged in a speech last month that the U.S. would cut its oil imports by a third in the next decade. While that may seem like a lofty goal, it may be necessary.

Seriously, it's time we started leaving our cars at home and walking, taking public transportation or buying a bike!

For the study (which AAA has been publishing since 1950, when it cost 9 cents a mile to drive a car and gas cost only 27 cents a gallon), AAA incorporated standardized criteria designed to model the average AAA member’s use of a vehicle for personal transportation over five years and 75,000 miles of ownership.

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Ami Cholia

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Ami Cholia has written for AltTransport, Inhabitat, The Huffington Post and Sunday Mid Day in India. She holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure