Monday, July 07, 2008

The Cost of Car Ownership - Redux

Ever wonder why real people just don't seem to get the economics of owning a car the way we talk about it? One possibility is because the AAA calculated numbers don't always correspond to reality.

As regular readers may remember, I've been skeptical of the 50¢ per mile number that regularly gets quoted from the AAA calcuations. What got me going this time was an article citing an analysis by Edmunds, which publishes new and used car pricing guides in print and on the internet, that the Chevy Aveo had the best cost ownership numbers.

I've long appreciated cost of ownership numbers since they helped carshare's identify the most cost-effective models to lease. So I was glad to see that Edmunds had started offering a convenient cost of ownership calculator. But put something on the internet and someone else will have an opinion.

In this case, the bloggers responded with a little dose of reality at Edmund's CarSpace discussion site. "Habitat1" presented his costs (why do I think it's a he?) of his 1995 Nissan Maxima for 7 years and came up with a number almost half the current AAA cost of ownership. He writes:

Edmunds predicts:

$13,428 Depreciation
$5,269 Financing
$7,821 Insurance
$1,871 Taxes and Fees
$4,604 Fuel
$1,644 Maintenance
$558 Repairs
$35,195 Total = $0.46 per mile over 5 years & 75,000 miles

My Actual:
$13,700 Depreciation ($20,700 purchase price - $7,000 estimated resale value today)
$0 Financing (paid cash)
$5,240 Insurance (multiple car discount)
$2,050 Taxes & Registration (includes 6% initial sales tax)
$7,358 Fuel (averaged 23.98 mpg since new)
$4,688 Maintenance (routine, nothing unusual)
$1,015 Repairs (including $600+"Dent Wizard" ding removals)
$34,051 Total = $0.2724 per mile over 125,004 miles, 7 years & 7 months as of 5/1/02

That's $7,039 per year calculated compared to $4800 per year actual. Of course, these numbers are calculated over 7 years, rather than the 5 years Edmund's uses, which might result in a somewhat lower cost per mile than Edmund's came up with - but probably not half as much. And, it's instructive to see where the discrepancies are: Habitat1 didn't finance the car so saved 15% of his total cost right there. But his fuel and routine maintenance was a LOT more than Edmunds calculations!

So, what's my point? As the disclaimer's say, "Warning, your cost may vary!" But even with gas at $4/gallon, for a lot of people the actual breakeven point for carsharing is somewhat lot lower than the AAA new car ownership numbers would suggest.