MADISON, Wis. (4/21/10)--Sure, you may be shelling out $40 to $50 to fill your car’s gas tank, but don’t let prices at the pump blind you to what that hunk of metal in your driveway really costs. Gasoline is perhaps only one-fifth or so of the overall expense to own and operate your car. For a more complete picture, the American Automobile Association (AAA
, “Your Driving Costs,” April 8), tallies all ownership and operational expenses, including insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation, finance charges, fuel, maintenance, and tires. All things considered, depending on its size, your sedan will cost between $6,496 and $10,530 this year. And for 2010 you can expect to pay $9,301 for your minivan and more than $11,000 for your 4WD SUV. Here’s what you can do to better manage the total expense of being a motorist, according to AAA and CUNA’s Center for Personal Finance editors:
* Drive smart. Make sure your car is operating at peak efficiency with regular tune-ups, repairs, and tire pressure checks to achieve the best possible mileage. Avoid quick starts and stops, and realize that there’s a significant surcharge for driving faster than 60 miles per hour—the equivalent of 20 cents more per gallon of gas for every five mph increase. Combine driving errands and, if you have more than one car, use the more fuel-efficient vehicle for city driving. Finally, lighten your load by removing unnecessary cargo. * Check your policy. If it’s been awhile since you re-evaluated your auto insurance coverage, shop around for competing bids. Even if you stay with your current insurer, make sure that you’re taking advantage of every discount you’re eligible for. * Do the numbers. At the AAA-estimated 70 cents per mile cost to drive the typical SUV, public transportation can be a real bargain for some trips. But don’t assume that the math always works against driving. Even a spike of $1 per gallon would add only $40 to the cost of a 1,000-mile trip in a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon. That means a sudden jump in gas prices is no reason to call off a much-anticipated family trip, especially when you can offset the added expense by eating a few meals in your motel room instead of a restaurant.