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A tale of two cars

Truism: Cars are expensive. Expensive to buy, expensive to fuel, expensive to maintain.

Since we all know this, (hence it being a truism), some data I recently came across caught me by surprise. And made we wonder whether I have been misjudging the actual cost of my driving choices.

Here’s the scoop, and I begin with a confession. I own a car. Actually, more than one. And I drive regularly. Indeed, this post is A Tale of Two Cars. One, a Prius. One, a minivan.

I was an early adopter of the Dodge Caravan double-sided-door minivan. In 1995, I got myself on a list and waited six months for my eggplant-colored, eggplant-shaped car-that-seats-seven. There is a part of my brain that, even, now has no regrets about this car. We have special needs in my family and a minivan was the only vehicle which accommodated the special modifications we required.

Nine years later, I got myself on another waiting list. I waited nine months for my silver Prius. Not to replace the minivan, because we still needed that, but to replace the two-seater my husband was driving. Our family of four was creating too many situations where one parent or the other was stuck with a car improperly sized for the task at hand.

Today, we are still driving both cars and, just for fun, compiled all of our repair and maintenance bills so we could have a look at the true cost of each one. Without any attempt to account for inflation, but including all expenses except purchase price, gas and insurance, here is where each car stood when it hit 120,000 miles:

Dodge minivan: 13.63 cents per mile
Toyota Prius: 3.35 cents per mile

Ouch. And Wow. I mean, OK, I was not surprised that the minivan had higher maintenance bills. It is a heavy car and has gone through tires and transmissions and brakes with keen regularity. And of course, it has different functionality than a Prius. It carries lots of people and lots of stuff.

But 4x the cost for every mile? Not including gas? (The minivan’s gas cost is a bit more than double that of the Prius). Even the raw number without any comparison is a shocker. It’s almost as high as the cost of gas.

Wow.

And here’s what I learned. The cost of gas is the most obvious, most visible ongoing cost of driving a car. You get reminded of it very frequently. But ongoing maintenance costs aren’t trivial by comparison. They may be lower, but not a lot lower. So when you think about how much it’s going to cost you to drive somewhere, don’t fall into the trap of considering just the cost of gas and parking. And when you do drive, and especially when car-shopping, choose wisely. Buying more than you need costs you more than you think.

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