Wednesday, April 8, 2009

AAA figures out the cost of an auto per year

AAA has compiled and released their computations on the cost of owning a vehicle. I think a whole lot can be learned from this... though probably not what they intended. Before I rant on... let's look at their statistics.
They have computed costs both on a cost per mile basis and on a cost per year basis (assuming some average cost per mile). I first looked at the easy road and looked at the cost per year... Hmmm, looks like by their data I spend more than $22,000 on vehicles every year. No so fast there Bub. Something is wrong here. Comparing that data to my automagically generated charts on yearly expenses (and yes, I do that), my cars are about 70% of my yearly expenses. Not.
So I'd better go with their cost per mile...

Cost per Mile

I'll focus on what I have... and to be totally honest, I have way more cars than I need. For 2 adult drivers that mostly hang together we have 4 vehicles. That is probably about 2.5 times more vehicles than we can justify -- especially for bums that don't have a productive job. Mind you: I am using their data here... I am being ultra conservative with their numbers. The lowest cost per mile they list is for 10,000 miles/year. Our cars do half of that right now, so in using their numbers, I am way underestimating.
  1. Medium sedan (serious underestimate for a Mustang). The article has 71.9 cents/mile for 10K. According to my handy-dandy, homebuilt maintenance database mileage report, this car did 4700 miles last year, for a cost of $3379.
  2. SUV. 91.0 cents per mile for 10K miles. This car did 5089 miles in the last year for a cost of $4630.99
  3. SUV (best match for a POS pickup truck). 91.0 cents/mile. Sally did 551 miles, for a total of $501.41
  4. small sedan (hmm, there is no category for aging, rusty British antique). 55.1 cents per mile is probably a vast underestimate... but since the odometer is broken I will have to wild ass guess 750 miles for a total of $413.25.
Now, as I mentioned, these are serious underestimates. The low low yearly mileage on the cars means my cost per mile should be lots higher. And the almost non-driving cars have a huge cost per mile. But lets total it up. We get $8923.66.

Actual cost

Now I have only had the entire 4 car corral for about 2.3 years. So I am averaging costs across that amount of time. It would be better if I could go back further and do extrapolations, but -- you know me -- that sounds like work.
  • license/fees: 778.75 for 2.33 years = 334.23 (for 4 autos... which is waaaay under their costs. I must live somewhere cheap by comparison.)
  • insurance: $3560.85 for 2.5 years = 1424 (again for 4 autos... my cost for 4 cars is about what they estimate for one. More on that later...)
  • gas: $4839 for 2.33 years = 2077 (again for 4 autos)
  • repair/maintenance: $2029 for 2.33 years = 871 (for 4)
for a grand total of (drum roll) $4706 per year ... or 42 cents per mile. That's about half of their ultraconservative numbers. Remember: their numbers should be higher due to the low yearly mileage. But I get 42 cents per mile for 4 gas guzzling cars. There is not one efficient car on my used car lot. How in the hell can I do that when the cheapest (and most fuel efficient) car in the AAA data is 55 cents per mile? (And remember: 55 cents per mile is for a 10k mile/year car. Mine do half that and would have much larger cost/mile.)
Am I saying the AAA data is a bunch of bull? No, I am not. In fact, I suspect it is purely empirical data. And I suspect that there are lots of folks like me that drag the averages down. In other words: there are a whole slew of folks that have costs vastly above the AAA data. And I think this says a whole lot more than "how shiny is your car?"

How'd you do that?

It's should be bloody obvious, but the trick is: the newest car is 10 years old. The oldest car is 34 years old. The average age is 21.5 years. But, using their formula:
  • fuel: I used actual costs
  • maintenance: I used actual costs. Don't even talk about how old cars are maintenance nightmares. My 1990's vintage Fords have had surprisingly little go wrong (even if I have bitched about the freaking blend door a few times.)
  • tires: who doesn't include the cost of tires in the cost of maintenance? Oh, I might add the tire thing in AAA's data is BS. It looks like they figure you buy one set a year per car. My figures show one set of tires out of 4 cars in 2.3 years. That was what was actually replaced. I suspect I get more like 5 years per set -- and got probably 20 years out of the last set on the Triumph. (Not recommended... they do age and deteriorate.)
  • insurance: their costs are based on full coverage. Guess who needs full coverage? People with new cars. If you have a 21 year old average, you do not need it. I might mention I live in a state that has one of the highest insurance rates around... yet my cost is way lower than the AAA average.
  • license, registration, taxes: I think I might get off easy due to the state I live in.
  • depreciation: aaaah. Here's your problem. Okay, first off let me give you a little lesson on depreciation. Depreciation is actuary gymnastics. It's a means to justify something you cannot afford. You decide "I need a new car every 4 years." and poof! You have a 4 year depreciation schedule. Well, let me let you in on a little secret: If you keep your car on an open ended schedule -- until the wheels fall off -- you approach an infinitesimal depreciation. It's only when you plan on replacement that you can depreciate. I assure you, by any schedule you can find, my depreciation expenses are nil.
  • finance: here's an easy lesson for you: If you are financing something that is approaching zero value, you're not doing it right. Buy what you can afford. If you can afford a Maserati -- plunk down the cash. If not, I hear you can get a rusty pickup truck for about $25 (cash or pizza trade).

Abstract Obtuse Conclusion

I am sure if you've read more than one entry here, you can see this coming a mile away... This isn't about cars. This is about spending and expectations. If you bought more car than you can afford, I am guessing you might have more house than you can afford. And if too many of you have more house than you can afford, well, then that means the bank gave out more loans than it could afford. And if the government is going to fix it all ... they are buying more than they can afford as well. There is just an entire generation of folks that are looking for an angle on how to have what they cannot afford. And there's nothing wrong with wanting it. It's the having it that is the problem. Wanting it is incentive. Having it, when you cannot afford it, sets you up for failure. AAA now welcomes you to your recession. Fasten your seat belt.


Og Make Blog said...

License and registration... plus the ungodly $100 new registration tax puts Texas at the top for more/most expensive state. The average used by AAA reflects the ad valorem states, where you are taxed each year according to the assumed value of the vehicle... those states don't charge sales tax on the initial sale, however. Those ad valorem states make a bundle on new cars ... and the first couple of years are equivalent to the sales taxes charged in states like TX. Those states usually have lower property taxes, though.

I must say, the cheapest states for car registration/inspection have been NY and NJ.... about 40% of the per annum TX cost. Insurance was about the same (amongst the highest in the country.) BTW, NJ costs about $48 per year, free inspection required every two years. NY, $48 for 2 years registration... annual inspection required... $24 if emission. I never paid a 'new resident' tax of $100 in any other state.... what a ripoff ... shame on you, TX.

I should add up my per mile cost at 50 mpg... shouldn't be much more than about $0.14/mile (high est.) though.

Spork In the Eye said...

Not sure what $100 registration you refer to... Just registered 2 of them. Total was approx $100.

Dallas County does (or did) ad valorem for the county. I used to live on the county line and got to choose which county I was in. My understanding is that it is unconstitutional per the state constitution, but I never researched it. AOPA fought the airplane side of it and (I think) won. To my knowledge, no one did the same for autos/boats. Personally, I just said I lived in Collin Co and I was done.

Og Make Blog said...

When was the last time you moved into the state? Now they charge $100 for each vehicle as a 'new resident' tax. Shameful. That is in addition to the usual title transfer fee and registration, of course.

Spork In the Eye said...

Ah, a one-time fee. I get it now. Too small of a moving target tax base to complain. Welcome home!

I think other states have us on inspections (though the smog counties ain't chicken feed). For some its like a damn airplane annual.

Og Make Blog said...

None I've been in. Texas is more expensive. However, I think VA and MD are at the top of list recently. I think I remember some nearing $50 per annum for the emissions inpections... although a quick search would yield the answer. I'm just glad I am exempt.

Spork In the Eye said...

The registration fee comparison is easy to find by state:

Inspection... not so easy. In fact, it cannot be found. There is no such comparison that is googleable. [just watch. This usually works.]

Og Make Blog said...

Not working.

Kari said...

I tried. I can find which states require safety inspections, but not a list of how much each one charges. I'm a failure at googling. sigh