Owning a car is a major financial responsibility. Apart from paying for it -- which often includes negotiating a loan, adding hundreds or thousands of dollars to the purchase price -- the ongoing expense of insurance, fuel, and maintenance can really eat away at owners' bank accounts.
According to AAA, though, some of those costs are headed in an unusual direction: down.
AAA recently released its annual "Your Driving Costs" study, which shows a 2.7 decline in vehicle ownership expenses for 2014. It now costs Americans about 59.2 cents per mile to drive an average sedan -- a drop of 1.64 cents from last year. If you rack up 15,000 miles on your vehicle every twelve months, that means an annual ownership cost of $8,876. Last year, that sum was over $9,100.
Your actual cost may be higher (or lower) depending on what kind of vehicle you own. If you have an SUV with four-wheel drive, your annual expense will be around $11,039. Minivans are a little cheaper, at $9,753.
On the other hand, if you drive a more fuel-efficient ride, you'll fare significantly better. Small sedans, for example, cost around 46.4 cents per mile, or $6,957 per year.
The biggest relief for car-owners has come from decreased fuel costs. AAA says that a nearly six percent drop in the price of gas, paired with improved fuel economy and other factors, have resulted in a 10.4 percent drop in fuel-related expenses compared to 2013. Gas currently accounts for about 13 cents of per-mile costs.
Also on the decline: tires, which have fallen three percent to 0.97 cents per mile; depreciation, which has fallen 1.71 percent to $3,510 per year; and insurance, which has dipped an ever-so-slight .58 percent to rest at an average $1,023 per year.
Moving in the wrong direction were maintenance costs, which ticked up 1.87 percent, to 5.06 cents per mile. However, some of that added expense might pay off in the long run: according to AAA, "[Our] experts also identified an increasing number of vehicles requiring low-viscosity semi- or full-synthetic motor oils, which cost more than conventional oils but provide better fuel economy, added engine protection and allow for longer oil change intervals."
Bottom line: before investing in a new car, do your research. Start with TheCarConnection's Rankings, which offer our opinions on the best (and worst) buys. There, you can also get quotes on new cars and have dealers bid for your business.