How Much It Cost To Own a Used Car For a Year

How much does it really cost to own a used car for a year? I found out by tracking every penny for 12 months.

I like to consider myself a fairly frugal car person. Probably because as any Real Car Person would tell you, I’m not a car person at all. That factor alone helps keep my car costs way down, but I wanted to know: how much does it really cost to own a used car for a year?

Luckily, I’ve got the numbers to provide an accurate answer to that question. So here we go.

The First Step: Tracking My Spending

On a whim last year (and ok, in an attempt to come up with things to write about on the blog) I started tracking my spending as part of a monthly challenge. I kicked things off in September 2015 with a really simple spreadsheet to track my spending, my income, and my savings. It also served as a really great way to see how far I was from hitting my 50% savings goal in real life.

As of this September 1st, 2016, I’ve officially got spreadsheets detailing my spending on everything for an entire year, since I kept the challenge going well past that first month. So I did what any personal finance nerd would do, and tallied up my spending on different things to share with you.

Hopefully, this series will give you useful information about how much it really costs to do things like own a used car or have a dog for an entire year – instead of just best-guesses and feelings.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that what I feel like I spent and what I actually spent are two very different numbers.

A Quick Overview of My Minimum Viable Car

I’ve written about my car, affectionately dubbed Little Car, before, but here’s the basics you need to know to put my car expenses in context.

  • Little Car is a 2010 Toyota Yaris that’s closing in on 100,000KM.
  • I bought Little Car in 2014, and paid in cash.
  • My only requirements of a car were that it gets me from point A to point B, and has air conditioning.

On a month to month basis, I feel like my car expenses are fairly low, thanks in large part to the fact that I don’t have a car payment every month. True story, that decision was less a savvy financial move and more based on the fact that I literally could not have afforded to pay for insurance AND a car payment every month. Wasn’t going to happen, so a cash purchase it was.

But the key point in all of that? My view of my car expenses was, until now, entirely based on feelings.

What Did I Actually Spend?

That’s the thing when you track your spending. You might feel like you don’t spend $200 a month on coffee, but surprise! You do. Or you might feel like you spend $100 a month on your dog, but a more accurate number is around $400, all things considered.

So sure, in the past few months I’ve looked at my car spending and patted myself on the back about how entirely reasonable it is. But that’s not the whole picture.

Over the past year, it has cost me no less than $3067.37 to own, maintain and drive my used car.

Oh Little Car, I had no idea how luxurious you really were.

How Did I Spend That Much?!

There are a few big chunks of money that can be easily accounted for – and a few big sources of savings that I need to mention that skew the number as well.

Costs

Insurance
As I’ve written about a few times, my car insurance used to be stupidly high, because I had no idea how to actually buy car insurance. How high is stupidly high? Let’s put it this way: I was paying the same amount as the single, 20-year old male co-op student in my department.

Since I’m not actually a single male in his early 20s, that seemed high to me. However, I didn’t do anything until more than halfway through the year, so my precious, precious lower rates only kicked in a few months ago.

Adulting Fails
This one time, I got a $458.00 ticket for not renewing my license plate sticker, which – I kid you not – was not a thing I knew I had to do. Where do they teach you these things?! I clearly missed the Adulting 101 class about car ownership.

Anyways, that accounted for a big, massive, disproportionate part of my car expenses this year. An expensive lesson, but trust me: it’s one I will only learn once.

License Plate Renewal(s)
After my horrifyingly large ticket, I promptly paid $108 to renew my license plate, but that fee, which usually covers a year, only took me from November to January, at which point I was back on track to renew my plates again.

Since I never want to drop another $400 on a useless expense, I paid the (second) $108 fee gladly. This year, I’m looking forward to getting a two-year renewal and giving myself two years of not-worrying-about-this-at-all bliss as a birthday present.

Rustproofing
I plan to drive Little Car for as long as I feasibly can, and part of that is making sure parts don’t start falling off the car as I drive to Costco. Rustproofing is part of that own-the-car-long-term strategy, so I gladly invest in it every year.

Savings

Gas
My annual gas bill, ringing in at just under $700, is cheap af.  I know, because I often fill up my tank right behind one of the suburban-standard-issue SUVs in my neighbourhood, and the grand total they pay for a tank of gas makes me want to literally weep.

I’m incredibly lucky that right now, my family consists of The Boyfriend and The Dog, both of whom fit quite comfortably into Little Car, so I don’t need anything bigger. I also have a dreamy commute, so one tank of gas usually lasts me a few weeks. Both of those things add up to a happy, happy gas budget full of savings.

Maintenance
I can take literally zero credit for savings in this area, but I do need to acknowledge that I am the unbelievably lucky recipient of free routine maintenance and tire changes from The Boyfriend and his dad. His dad, no joke, builds cars for fun, so I couldn’t even pay for that level of experience if I wanted to. (Confidential to The Boyfriend’s dad: you are the best ever, and thank you again.)

So there you have it: even with the savings on gas, and maintenance, and the incredible luxury of not having a car payment, it cost me $3067.37 over the past year to own my used car.

Honestly, given the amount of convenience my car provides, and how much time it saves me every day on my commute, I think that’s a reasonable amount to have spent on it, even if I’m not a “car person.” It’s probably also slightly more than I’ll end up spending this year, barring any other fun adulting surprises or major maintenance expenses.

Which, I mean, now I’ve entirely jinxed it.

So stay tuned.

The real deal behind how much a (used) car costs to own per year.

Do you know how much you spent on your car last year? Or how much you spend on gas? Let me know in the comments – my example is just one data point, and hearing from other people in different situations would be so helpful!

PS. Next up is everyone’s favourite topic with the best selection of photos: how much it cost me to have The Dog for an entire year. Come back next Wednesday to get all the gory details!