When shopping for a car, there are usually two things people consider when it comes to cost: upfront price and fuel economy. This is understandable, as when you're buying something the price is the most immediate concern, and fuel is the next most common expense. But in the long run, there are other costs to ownership — insurance, maintenance and many more. AAA decided to look into these costs to determine what kinds of cars are the cheapest to own and operate.
It looked at the average costs for fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, licensing, registration, taxes, depreciation, and financing for 5 years with a 10 percent downpayment (which is arguably becoming less relevant as car loans become longer). These costs were figured up for the most popular cars in each segment, then averaged. Some of the results were predictable, and others were somewhat surprising.
The average annual cost of ownership when driving 15,000 miles per year over all vehicles was $8,469. Five vehicle segments fell below the average cost, including small sedans, small SUVs, hybrids, medium sedans, and electric vehicles. Small sedans were by far the most affordable, at just over $6,350 a year. Small SUVs and hybrids were between $7,600 and $7,700. Electric vehicles were barely below the average at $8,439 per year. The reason for this is depreciation. Although EVs have remarkably low maintenance and fuel costs — the lowest for any segment — they suffer from the highest depreciation of just over $5,700 a year. Of course, as AAA points out, that cost can be mitigated or eliminated by buying a used EV.
Larger vehicles including minivans, large sedans, medium SUVs, and pickup trucks were all above average for annual costs. Pickups topped the list as the only segment to hit five digits with a cost of $10,054 a year. This is a result of higher fuel, maintenance, license/registration/tax, and financing costs, as well as relatively high depreciation. Minivans are the least expensive of this group at $9,146 followed by large sedans and medium SUVs at $9,399 and $9,451 respectively. For a more detailed breakdown of the numbers, check out the results of the study here. There are also tips for maintenance and a formula for calculating your own cost per year, or the cost of a specific vehicle.