Where Do Americans Spend The Least On Cars? You'll Be Surprised

June 17, 2010
Where do people spend the least on their cars, gasoline, and getting around?

Surprisingly, among major cities, it's Detroit. Those in the Motor City know how to keep automotive costs down; Detroit residents spent a total of $2,124 on average in vehicle-related costs, including gas, topping even mass-transit-frequenting New Yorkers.

Locally, those in Scottsdale, Arizona spent the most on auto-related expenses ($6,682), while considering gasoline Austin topped the list ($10,128). Both Scottsdale and the state of Connecticut are known for having a rather high number of high-end import, classic and collector cars.

Those in Manhattan spent just $940 on gasoline and $1,542 on auto expenses annually.

But no matter where we are, we spend a very large chunk of what we make on cars and getting around. The social money-comparison site Bundle.com just released some very interesting findings that crunch the data locally as part of a series called "How America Spends."

The average U.S. household in 2009 spent $5,477 on combined auto expenses—that's $3,269 on maintenance and other expenses plus $2,208 on gasoline. According to Bundle, that's 14.5 percent of daily spending, and more than the average person spends on groceries or utilities, and well more than things like travel, hobbies, and even clothes.

Oklahoma residents spend the most on gas—indicating that commute distances are long, or vehicles aren't as fuel-efficient—while those in Connecticut spend the most on automotive maintenance.

Driving alone is pricey

Bundle finds a few answers, and it doesn't simply come down to what type of vehicles we drive, by region, or how far we commute. Hawaiians, it says, are second only to New Yorkers in having the lowest percentage of commuters who drive alone—a very effective method of reducing expenses.

Traffic

Traffic

Applying that observation on a national level, the more people drive to work alone, the more automotive-related spending. In Alabama, 83 percent commute alone in their vehicles, and residents of that state shed 16.3 percent of their household budget for auto expenses. As long as commute distances can be in California, 27 percent don't drive to work alone, and that's one of the main reasons why the state isn't among the top states in auto spending.

money

money

There are some exceptions that defy explanation. Those in the New England states of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont spend disproportionately more on vehicle-related costs that Massachusetts or other Northeastern states (perhaps a lack of larger cities and mass transit options?), while those in Wisconsin and Connecticut shovel out higher-than-average amounts on their vehicles.

One surprise: Couples who don't have children spent 21.5 percent more on gas and getting around than those with children. But it wasn't at all surprising that those 18 to 25 put the most—18 percent—of their spending into auto expenses and gas.

Lower income, lower car spending

Overall, the raw numbers are predictable: the less you make, the less you're likely to spend on auto-related expenses. Two states that are particularly low in average income, West Virginia and Mississippi, ranked low on automotive spending.

Digging deeper, there might be more of a story when matching those numbers up to income. Earlier this spring, that point was also made by a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analysis, which crunched the numbers to show that some regions of the country are more vulnerable to others if gasoline prices were to spike. Despite Mississippi's low spending on auto expenses, it would be the most hurt by a price hike, the NRDC predicted, because of its low income levels and low rate of personal income growth.

Bundle's data covers most aspects of auto ownership, but it doesn't cover auto insurance—something that's likely to be a lot more expensive in, say, Manhattan.

To see 50-state rankings on household gasoline and automotive-related spending, along with the methodology, more detail, and the above infographic up close, see Bundle's complete listing.

[Bundle]

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