A little deeper, if you own an SUV.
Most consumers think the cost of owning a car is simply the amount of their monthly payment to the lending institution. But AAA says that's only part of what it takes to operate a vehicle.
In its annual study on nationwide vehicle costs, AAA found that motorists spend an average of 64.2 cents a mile, or $6,420 a year, for 10,000 miles of motoring in a 2003 model car, up from 62.3 cents a mile, or $6,230 a year, for an '02.
On average, drivers in the U.S. put about 15,000 miles a year on their vehicles, even in freeway-filled Southern California.
According to the study, in 2003 it will cost you 55.3 cents a mile for a compact car, 62.1 cents for a mid-size car and 75.2 cents for a full-size 2003. That's up from 53.4 cents, 60 cents and 73.6 cents, respectively.
Although an increase of a few cents a mile doesn't seem like much, consider that over 10,000 miles of driving, that's $5,530 in '03, up $190 from $5,340 in '02, just to operate a compact car such as a Chevrolet Cavalier.
The cost to operate a mid-size car such as a Ford Taurus rose to 62.1 cents a mile, or $6,210 a year, for '03, from 60 cents a mile, or $6,000 a year, for 2002, a $210 increase.
The cost to operate a full-size car such as a Mercury Grand Marquis rose to 75.2 cents a mile, or $7,520 a year, from 73.6 cents a mile, or $7,360 a year, a $160 increase.
The costs were actually higher because the AAA study was done when gasoline averaged $1.46 a gallon in '03 and $1.19 a gallon in '02.
As for those who switched to sport utility vehicles, according to the study a mid-size SUV, such as a Chevy TrailBlazer, cost 65.4 cents a mile, or $6,540 a year, to operate in '03, up from 63.5 cents a mile, or $6,350 a year, for a 2002 model, a $190 increase.
The study calculated the cost for a two-wheel-drive vehicle, not a less fuel-efficient four-wheel-drive model.
The cost to operate a mid-size SUV is $330 more than for a mid-size car, but $980 less than for a full-size car. The AAA study surveyed costs for just a mid-size SUV, so Lee Czarapata, vice president of business vehicle services for Runzheimer International, the management consulting firm that conducts the AAA survey, was asked to calculate the cost for a full-size sport ute. He did so for a GMC Yukon with a V-8 engine. The result: 78.64 cents a mile, or $7,864 a year, to own a 2003 model.
As for vans such as a Dodge Caravan, the cost is 59.7 cents a mile, or $5,970 a year for '03, up from 57.6 cents, or $5,760 a year, for '02, a $210 increase.
Costs take into account gas, oil, maintenance and tires as well as insurance, depreciation, finance charges, title, registration and license plates. However, tolls and parking fees, two major daily expenses, are not taken into account.
Although gas prices were higher last year, interest rates declined and that reduced financing charges.
For example, in 2002 the finance charge on a four-year loan at 8.5% on a Taurus was $842, but in '03 the charge was $751 on the same loan at 7.5%. And those who took advantage of zero-percent financing saved even more.
But the savings on financing were wiped out by higher insurance costs, which reflect the increase in new-car prices for '03 from '02. On that Taurus, for example, comprehensive coverage rose to $191 annually from $144, collision rose to $386 from $321 and bodily injury/property damage increased to $498 from $484.
AAA has conducted a vehicle ownership cost study each year since 1950, when the national average for all vehicles regardless of size was 9 cents a mile, or $900 a year, and the average price of gasoline was 27 cents a gallon.