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AAA study finds driving costs get small increase

7:47 AM, Apr 27, 2012   |    comments
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By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY

There's bad news and good news for economically battered drivers in auto club AAA's annual report on the cost of owning and operating a vehicle.

There were sharp increases in the last year in the costs of things such as gasoline and tires. But cars retained much more of their value because Americans held on to their vehicles, increasing the value of used cars.

Overall, the annual average costs to own and operate a sedan in the USA, based on 15,000 miles of driving, rose 1.9%, according to AAA's 2012 "Your Driving Costs" study. The average costs rose 1.1 cents per mile to 59.6 cents per mile, or $8,946 per year.

AAA, which has published the driving costs study since 1950, was surprised that the overall increase in owning and operating an automobile wasn't higher, said Michael Calkins, the auto club's manager of approved auto repair.

"We knew the gas prices had increased from the prior year's study," Calkins said. "What we didn't see coming was that used cars would retain so much of their value. What a lot of people don't think about is that depreciation is the biggest single cost of owning a vehicle."

Calkins said "there's a real shortage of good, quality used cars on the market right now. "Usually, there's a good fleet of 2- to 3-year-old cars. Now, because people didn't buy new cars, they're harder to find. Even 3- and 4-year-old cars are retaining more of their value. If your car was worth $15,000 last year, there's a good chance it's worth $15,000 this year."

That scenario is likely to change soon, though. "Within the next 24 months, we're going to see the residual values start to change," Calkins said. "New car sales have been ramping up over the past nine months or so."

Last year, AAA reported that vehicle ownership costs rose 3.4% over 2010. AAA's annual study is based on purchasing a new vehicle and owning it for five years.

The largest percentage increase from 2011 to 2012 was the cost of fuel, which rose 14.8% to 14.2 cents per mile for sedan owners. Tire costs rose 4.2% because of higher costs for natural rubber and the increased cost of oil used in tire production and shipping, AAA said.

Average insurance costs for sedans - based on a low-risk driver with a clean driving record - rose 3.4% (or $33) to $1,001 annually; maintenance costs showed an increase of 0.7%.

Depreciation costs dropped by 4.9%.

According to AAA, the cost of owning and operating a vehicle breaks down like this: depreciation: 39.6%; gasoline: 23.7%; insurance: 11.2%; finance charges: 9.5%; maintenance: 7.5%; tax, license, registration: 6.8%, and tires: 1.7%.

USA TODAY

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