Considering the Cost of Car Ownership (With Calculator)


Thankfully, not actually my car

I bought a beater of a car back in August 2010. It’s a 1997 Nissan Maxima, so it’s 14 years old now. While it runs fine, for the most part, it has the standard array of old-car problems: it’s loud (for unknown reasons), it doesn’t look very nice, and it’s not exactly a joy to drive. I went with the ultra-cheap option because I thought it would make owning a car cheap. But I think the $1,000 price tag may have fooled me a bit, since I’ve already put in another $1,400 in repairs in. After all the extras I pay for, it made me wonder: how much does it really cost to own my car?

While I’ve only had the car for 10 months, I’m not exactly sure what it has cost me so far and what it costs me in total each month. I don’t think most people are aware, either, so I figured this would be an interesting experiment for all of us to find out. Below I’ve added up all the actual costs I’ve incurred and broken them down into appropriate categories. Here’s what the car has cost me so far:

One-time fees

Purchase = $1,000

Car stereo (was missing when I bought the car) = $118

Sales Tax = $2,000 value (double than what I actually paid, woohoo!) x 6% = $120

Temporary registration fee (I needed this so I could drive it to an inspection) = $20

Title fee  (I needed a new title produced for the car) = $25

Licensing (required for registration in CT) = $66

Total one-time fees =$1,424

Irregular costs

Repairs and maintenance #1 = $425

Repairs and maintenance #2 = $625

Repairs and maintenance #3 = $350

Total irregular costs = $1,400

Regularly-recurring costs

Monthly payment = $0 (I paid cash)

Registration = $75 = $3.13/month

Emissions test fee (every 2 years) = $20 = $0.83/month

Insurance = $62/month (I have bare-bones insurance with no collision)

Spending on gas a month (average) = $60/month (I only drive about 500 miles a month)

Parking (average) = $15/month

Other maintenance (light bulbs, oil, washes, etc – average) = $15/month

Taxes (variable, yearly) = $84 for 2010 = $7/month

Monthly price of regularly-recurring costs (ongoing) = $162.96

Total paid (through 10 months of ownership) = $4,454 or $445 per month

Assuming yearly repairs of $1,000 (it’s an oldddd car) = $83.33/month

Realistic ongoing costs (including estimated repairs) = $247.21/month


For ongoing monthly costs, $243 seems manageable, but it’s nothing to scoff at, either. It’s about what I expected, too, so no surprises here.

I’ve estimated yearly repairs at $1,000, although I’m not sure I’d put that much money into this car at this point.

$243 is probably about what I what spend a month if I was going to ditch the car and rely on Zipcar, Amtrak trains, and buses to get aroind. I enjoy relaxing while someone else drives my bus or train, but it’s still more convenient in a lot of cases to own a car.



While I know it’s all sunk costs at this point, it sucks to think that I’ve paid $445 a month so far to drive my crappy car. If I could take that back and forgo buying a car altogether, I probably would.

I’m also a bit alarmed that it still costs this much, and I don’t make monthly car payments (I don’t have to pay Wells Fargo auto loans anymore). Anyone that has an auto loan can expect to see their monthly costs increase by several hundred dollars.  That’s before insurance, which I’m sure will be higher than my $62 monthly payment. If I were to finance a new car, my monthly costs could easily triple.

I’ve also merely estimated the yearly repairs cost for a car. Repair costs have the potential to be a lot higher, which is alarming to think about. I don’t like this uncertainty when owning a car, and that’s another reason I’d consider living without one.


Car Ownership Calculator

I calculated all of this manually, but you can also try my car ownership calculator that I created in Google Docs. To calculate your car ownership costs, make a copy of the spreadsheet and fill in the yellow cells with costs for your car. The spreadsheet will calculate your total and monthly costs (on average) that you’ve paid so far for your current car, as well as your monthly costs going forward.

Click here to access the car ownership calculator

What does your car cost you? Have you considered giving up a car altogether?

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photo by: mindfrieze


  1. haha ive never thought about including my gas, insurance, and registration as a monthly expense.  man when i add all that up in my head it really depresses me!!!

  2. Cars really suck. There’s no other asset that depreciates quite like it, and charges you extras for the experience. I honestly wish we were living in a city that was easily accessible by public mass transit, like a quality metro system. It’s so hard to get off the auto cycle of debt in America, everything is built for the car.

    • Yea, the depreciation is horrible. I didn’t factor that into that calculator, but there’s certainly a huge loss of money there since you usually can’t resell for anything near what you purchased for.

  3. There seems to be a price point where by going any lower
    you’re actually going to pay more in maintenance than if you had just bought a
    more expensive, reliable car. When I sold my 2007 Honda Civic, the nicest,
    newest car I had ever owned, I had gotten so used to it that I was nervous
    looking at anything older because of the potential mechanical issues that could
    crop up. I had to just suck it up eventually, but it helped that I was
    ultra-paranoid and took 3 months looking for the best vehicle for my money.

    • That’s true. I think it’s tough to say where the “sweet spot” is when deciding what price or age of car to buy. Although my car has sucked, it’s probably still a good deal cheaper to operate than most, even though random breakdowns is always a pain.

  4. Anonymous says

    I haven’t had any major problems with my car, but I would love to not have to rely on it every day. I’m moving to a city where I can use public transportation to go to work, but I’d love to live in NY or DC where you don’t really need your car for anything.

  5. Gutted Feeling says

    Tried saving money on the outlay of a Vehicle myself, got sick of looking, relying on one person in particular to run me around to view vehicles, brought an old Van, I said earlier I wouldn’t, I didn’t do my sums, it has cost me another $1,500 to get it as I want with its ‘Hidden cost’ and it’s still an old van, I could have spent less and got a much newer model. OMG, I haven’t been able to stopped kicking myself no matter what I have told myself, it was just plain stupid.
    So good on you for trying to help others bro, I am going to attempt to make a simple ‘Actual vehicle value’ calculator spread sheet or ‘AVV’,  ha! I made an acronym.
    See if I can put it on ‘Trade me’ New Zealand for free or somewhere?
    From something ‘Bad’ something good will come, the trick is looking for the good, still felt stink for a good week or so, it’s also what I could have done with that money that sucks, I will try and help others avoid those feelings altogether.

  6. This is why I eventually gave up on buying cheap, crappy cars. I only look for low mileage, older vehicles that have been kept up pretty well now. They cost more up front, but are worth it because you aren’t constantly dumping money into them when the next thing breaks. You also don’t have to worry about the looks you get from driving a crappy car or the rude comments people make. Women don’t want to be seen riding around in a crappy car, either. It doesn’t matter how good you look or how much money you have, no woman wants to be seen stepping in or out of an old jalopy outside a fancy restaurant or in front of her friends. If you’re in an emergency situation where you need a car right now and don’t have a lot of money, then it can work out in the short term but long term it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Make saving for a better car a priority and get rid of that old clunker as soon as you can afford something better before something major goes on it. I wouldn’t even make major repairs to a crappy car. I’d just call the salvage man to come put it on a hook and tow it away and buy another car with whatever money I have saved up.

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