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.

Author Bio

erin

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  1. Sean Y - November 3, 2011

    This still isn’t a completely fair comparison. The Caravan is likely a 1996 model and is now at least 14 or 15 years old. The Prius is likely a 2004 model, and therefore is about 7 years old.
    Depending on how long it took to reach 120k in each vehicle, there are certain things that go wrong with time rather than mileage. Electrical components, wiper blades, tires, and exhaust systems are subject to weathering rather than physical wear.
    Maybe the Prius needs oil changes every 7k miles, whereas the Caravan requires 3k. I’m not sure of the maintenance schedules, but they’re probably different.
    You also said “special needs” with no clarification. If this is something that adds substantial weight to the Caravan, such as a wheelchair lift, then things like the tires are going to wear sooner than they should, the transmission and engine will both have greater loads than normal, causing quicker wear.
    And you haven’t reached the point of needing batteries. When your Prius is 14 years old, come back with a report on the costs. That would be a more fair assessment.

  2. Dave R - November 3, 2011

    @Sean Y:
    Caravan doesn’t require any special treatment regarding oil changes compared to the Prius. It might need an extra quart or two for each change. The Prius definitely doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, so duh – it’s cheaper to run. Even if you doubled the cost of maintenance on the Prius, it’s still way cheaper than the Caravan – and it still uses half the fuel of the Caravan at least.
    The Prius battery is warranted for 15 years or 150k miles. Should it fail outside of that period, you can head over to Luscious Garage and have it replaced with a refurbished battery for $2-3k. Assuming you need to have that done every 150k miles and it costs $3k, that adds $0.02/mile to your operating costs.
    Still have a long ways to catch up to the Caravan.

  3. Pauls - November 3, 2011

    I agree with Sean. Make the comparison again in 7 years. The Prius is just getting to the point where it will require more maintenance per year than it has up to this point.

  4. Johnmichael Monteith - November 3, 2011

    Sorry, but a Dodge Caravan versus a Toyota Prius is not a fair comparison. If you take a Honda Odyssey versus a Honda Insight you will find that, yes, the Insight maintenance costs less but not nearly as dramatic as your example. There is a cost per person element to this, as well, since if your minivan versus small car comparison is like our own family you will find that there are regularly more than one person traveling in the minivan and rarely more than 2 in the car.

  5. Bryan - November 3, 2011

    Erin,
    Thanks for posting. Can you provide more detail on the Caravan maintenance expense? I have a 2000 Caravan and I’m scratching my head how you managed to spend over $1000 per year on the car on maintenance (if I follow your math…13.63 cents per mile x 120,000 mils divided by 16 years). Your Prius is a 2005? So you put 120,000 miles on it in 6 years? Your maintenance cost was $670 per year for the Prius. I agree with Dave that there is a time factor that’s not being considered. On an annual basis, your Prius maintenance is running about 60% of the Caravan. That’s not 4 times as much. Looking forward to more details.

  6. Scott - November 3, 2011

    Let’s take the comparison one step further and consider the cost of driving a Nissan Leaf. While long term maintenance costs are yet to be determined, my fuel cost is running less than $.02 per mile and my first maintenance service consisted of rotating the tires. 80 to 100 miles per charge hasn’t been an issue for me anytime in the first 6 months of ownership.
    We now leave the mini van parked most of the time and enjoy the quiet, responsive ride behind the wheel of an EV.
    I’m out of gas and way over the Prius I traded in.

  7. Mick - November 3, 2011

    I’d love to know what Prius is pictured in your article. It’s not something we have in the states. I’d buy that in a second. (as my second Prius)

  8. BobboMax - November 3, 2011

    I really don’t understand this post- If you want to compare the cost of ownership for cars, you have to include all costs- purchase price, second-hand value, insurance costs, registration, maintenance and fuel. The IRS is currently allowing something like $0.50/mile deduction for business use, almost 4 times the 14 cents cited above.
    As Bryan suggests, if you’ve had to spend 16 grand on maintenance for the Caravan, you’ve been really unlucky, you’re really using it hard, or your mechanic has big boat payments.
    Comparing a Prius to a Caravan is like comparing a pickup to a semi (well, kinda.) The semi costs a lot more to buy and run, but it will carry a lot more, IF that’s what you need to do. American cars are a LOT better than they used to be, but comparing 1996 Detroit iron to a 2005 Toyota is silly. If you’re serious, compare a 2005 Corolla to a 2005 Prius.
    And, FWIW, I’m pretty sure that when you factor in all the costs you’ve left out, you’ll find the Corolla is cheaper to own. It won’t get quite as good fuel mileage, but you can take what you save and buy carbon offsets.

  9. wiz kidd - November 3, 2011

    When the Caravan sits while the Prius is driven then the maintenance of the Caravan goes down, doesn’t it?

  10. al - November 3, 2011

    This article is plain stupid. As a professional vehicle reviewer I can clearly see the writer does not have an understanding of vehicle ownership costs, resale values, or even why such an article would be of value to the reader. Terra Pass needs to reevaluate its goals if this is the type of article it is promoting.

  11. Bryan - November 4, 2011

    Whoa, kinda harsh there, no? Let the author provide some more info. Then you might see that she missed a concept or got some math wrong. In that case, your point would be better made by showing her a better way to evaluate it. As the article focused on maintenance costs alone, why don’t you write an article about how the maintenance costs of a conventional vehicle compares to an EV or PHEV?

  12. BobboMax - November 4, 2011

    @ Bryan,
    Yeah, al was kinda harsh, but I have to agree with his last point- for a discussion like this to be meaningful, you have to get all the facts , get them right and analyze them usefully (not always easy or obvious how to do that.) Otherwise we’re all wasting our time blowing smoke at each other when there’s real work to be done.
    In this case, there’s no question in my mind that facts were omitted and the analysis wasn’t useful. If TerraPass wants to be taken seriously and wants people like me to keep reading, and really wants to change minds, and the world, they MUST make more of an effort to “get it right.” Some call it “tough love.” I think their hearts are in the right place, but if their heads aren’t in the right place too, they’ll need a glass bellybutton to see where they’re going.

  13. Benjamin Ghiglione - November 5, 2011

    I own a 2007 Prius. I must admit it is one of the best cars I’ve owned. My previous car got 25 MPG so when I switched to owning a hybrid I went to getting 50 MPG. My gas expenses were literally slashed in half. Just to correct some of the other comments listed on here. The Prius requires oil changes every 5K miles, whereas most other conventional cars require oil changes every 3K miles. I must also say that the if you read the news and consumer reports you will know that the hybrid battery is rated at lasting the life of the car. It was noted in the review that after 200K miles driven the MPG was nearly identical and the battery was still going strong.

  14. Johnmichael Monteith - November 5, 2011

    @Benjamin
    Cars built in 2007 and newer regularly have routine oil changes in the 10k range. I am not certain if the Prius has adjusted since then but it would not be surprising given the necessity of the engine to regularly turn off and on that the oil change schedule is slightly more often than less fuel efficient vehicles that have their engine on at all times.
    The battery life is commendable and I think the anti-battery crowd is often not aware of the longevity or that even after they are expended they are highly desire for using the materials again.

  15. wiz kidd - November 5, 2011

    American fear sets the potential for battery failure. I has a 2002, 2003, and 2006 traded the 2002 and 2006. Wrecked the 2003 in a interstate pileup. All cars performed well, with the best mileage to the 2006… always got the 100,000 mi warranty
    I think GEICO automatically totals any wreck because Toyota repair costs are high. What about the Caravan? That would add an advantage for Dodge.

  16. Benjamin Ghiglione - November 5, 2011

    @Johnmichael
    This is just a follow up to a post, not much to do with the article. Most cars even today say to change the oil every 3K, but the Prius owners manual says to only change the oil every 5K. I did some reading online and there is some consensus that people do not need to change the oil as often as we do, but I was only speaking on behalf of the owners manual.
    I also felt like adding some MPG math.
    70,000 miles / 25 MPG * $4 = $11,200
    70,000 miles / 50 MPG * $4 = $5,600
    If I had kept my other car I would have spent an extra $5,600 on gasoline alone. Also, my 2007 Prius recently hit the 70K mark. =)

  17. Johnmichael Monteith - November 6, 2011

    @Benjamin
    My 2007 Honda Element is recommended at 7,500 using just my car as an example. Current Honda Civic is 10,000 miles. The 3,000 mile mark was abandoned a long time ago.

  18. mike - November 6, 2011

    Hi,
    I think your article is interesting and I applaud your efforts but the facts regarding the true cost of ownership on the ‘green’ Prius are most certainly in doubt.
    The costs of any vehicle are not just about the cost to the owner… the cost to the environment is much more important. Electric cars with hideous environmental construction costs and charged by coal fired electricity aren’t the solution… and anyone who thinks they are… should please look more closely at the facts.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/20/AR2009062001523.html
    The Prius is most definitely symbolism over substance.
    The easy way to cut the costs for you and the environment? Stop driving! I moved to be near my work and my hospital where I need weekly treatment. I now drive 600 miles per year.
    People need to think a lot more about changing their lifestyles than their cars. To look green is one thing to be green is entirely different.

  19. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Sean,
    Yes, of course, It is not a fair comparison. And if the numbers were anywhere close, then that would explain away the difference. But they aren’t close. They aren’t explained by differences in oil change frequency, because (despite what I thought our records showed) upon further investigation, oil changes aren’t included in these calcs. And they aren’t explained by our special needs modification, because it is a relatively minor modification which does not add much weight. See some responses below (as soon as I write them) which detail where all that money went.
    As far as the batteries go, there is a post about that below which I’ll also respond to… what I wonder is whether the batteries will, in the end, represent the car’s final straw where the prospect of increasingly high maintenance costs exceed the value (to the owner, not the economic value necessarily) of the car.

  20. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Paul,
    I did do some equalization of the comparison in that I drew a line at 120,000 miles and compared each car’s costs as of that point in time. The minivan passed that line several years ago, the Prius passed that line just recently. I didn’t include more recent maintenance costs or miles on either car. So while the Prius may indeed cost more to maintain over the next batch of miles, I didn’t account for those costs on the Caravan either…

  21. Anonymous - November 6, 2011

    Hi Johnmichael,
    Actually, your point touches on one of the reasons I wrote the post to begin with. Though I don’t have loads of data to defend it, my experience is that larger cars are going to cost more per mile to maintain than smaller cars. This can be an acceptable price to pay if you need the utility of the larger car.
    However, I am not at all sure that people purchase cars thinking, “what is the smallest car that will meet my needs 90% of the time.” Rather, it is more, “how big does the car need to be to meet the worst-case circumstance I am likely to encounter, and let’s get one at least that big.” The “grandparents are in town and we’re taking a weekend trip as an extended family so we need a car big enough to fit all the people and all the stuff” car. And if people understood that, in addition to the gas cost, they may well be taking on a considerable increment of maintenance costs as well, then perhaps they’d think twice about buying for that worst-case and rent one instead.
    At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that my minivan was the go-to borrow car for several of my friends when they did have extended family in town!

  22. Bryan - November 6, 2011

    Erin, please provide some detail on your Caravan maintenance expenses. As it stands, you spent something like $16,000 on maintenance over less than 16 years. That pushes the maintenance cost even further about $1000/year (and you say you’re not including oil changes?).

  23. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Bryan,
    Yeah, I was scratching my head too!!! Where did all that money go???
    It’s worse than you think… we took possession of the caravan on December 29, 1995 and it hit 123,000 miles on July 10, 2006. So that’s 10.5 years of driving and just about 12,000 miles a year. The Prius, we took possession on July 6, 2004 and it hit 123,000 just this past month. So that’s 7.25 years and almost 17,000 miles per year. Now, it wasn’t like that in real time; as soon as we bought the Prius, the minivan driving dropped off because the Prius was larger than we thought and served more uses than we expected. So that’s the time factor. Here is the money factor…
    I’m not going to publish the whole list here, but here are some of the minivan expenses just to give you an idea. As noted above, my numbers don’t include oil changes. And yeah, I live in the SF Bay area and I suspect our repair and maintenance costs are higher than you’d see elsewhere in the country just due to labor costs.
    Std “15k” checkups are $150, 30k checkups $300, if nothing is wrong.
    At 5 years – brakes, struts, tires – $2k
    At 6 years – starter, serpentine belt, water pump, thermostat, belt tensioner – $1.3k
    At 6.5 years – front brakes. again. $500 (replaced both front and rear brakes 2 years later, $843)
    Skipping over some stuff… we get to water pump (again) and radiator at 10 years $1.7 k
    And in the last 6 months before the 123,000 mile mark, we spent $5400 on tires, front struts (again), fuel pump, transmission (rebuilt) and engine mounts, solenoid, and the 120k service.
    If I had to look at items which just really shouldn’t be that way, it would be the front brakes and struts, and the water pump. That car goes through a lot of brakes. I have heard that they use the same braking mechanism on the Grand Caravan (mine) as they did on the Caravan, a smaller car, so the Grand is infamous for going through brakes. Design flaw if so, but still, that was not the only factor.
    Note that the Prius has yet to have any brake work. I think the regenerative braking does a lot to preserve the brake pads. Uninformed opinion, of course.

  24. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Scott,
    I’m looking forward to learning how the Leaf does over the long term! Those early results are certainly impressive.

  25. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Bryan,
    Check out the response to your earlier post. Yikes! To be fair, that last $5400 we spent served the car pretty well, and over the most recent 5 years and 40k miles (it gets driven a lot less these days), the only non-Checkup expenses were more brakes, more tires, and another water pump. Having said that, what inspired this exercise to begin with was a trip to the mechanic for a 15k service which came back with a list of $3k worth of work to be done. We were trying to figure out whether to keep pouring money into the car…

  26. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Mick,
    I’ll have to ask at the office! I don’t know myself…

  27. Anonymous - November 6, 2011

    Hi BobboMax,
    My goal was to highlight and bring into focus some of the hidden costs of *driving* – not of owning a car per se. I believe there is a perception problem with people not recognizing or connecting in a clear enough way, the economic costs of driving their cars, which makes people more likely to drive than seek out alternative modes. So, I focused on maintenance costs. These are ongoing costs which accrue more or less per-mile, like gas. Yet people don’t, in my experience, take them into account when doing quick calculus about the cost of driving.
    The government figure, which includes gas, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, everything… is pretty accurate for all that, but if you are already a car-owner, the depreciation and insurance costs may not be relevant to your decision of whether to drive or take the bus to work today.

  28. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Wiz Kidd,
    Well… the maintenance costs are calculated here on a per-mile basis. So when the Caravan is sitting, it is not accruing maintenance needs but no miles either. As soon as we bought the Prius, and realized it would meet more of our family’s needs than we thought, we preferentially started driving the Prius for everything possible… we would squeeze 5 people into it, for example, rather than pull out the minivan. The mileage on the Caravan dropped off quite a bit, but on a per-mile basis, its costs have not changed much.

  29. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Al,
    I stand by it. As a longtime vehicle owner, I was surprised by the maintenance costs on the Caravan. I think some of the other folks who have commented were also surprised. The fact that we are not experts is precisely the point.
    Also, as I have noted in response to other comments, the Caravan and the Prius turned out to be much more interchangeable than we thought. While the Caravan has different utility, it is very rare that we actually need that utility. I suspect the same is true of some people who buy 4-wheel drive cars. It is a lot of weight to carry around for those rare occasions when it lets you deal with adverse conditions more easily. My point here is that the gas cost which comes with that extra utility is not all you’re going to have to pay for it.
    Resale value… well, I suppose you have me there. We do not sell our cars. We drive them until we decide they are dead and then we donate them. This is why we have a 15-year old Dodge Grand Caravan and are trying to decide whether to spend $3k on yet another radiator among other things. This is why we do not worry about Prius batteries. If it turns out it isn’t worth it to replace them, we will have no regrets.

  30. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    HI Wiz Kidd,
    My Prius was rear-ended at a stop light about 5 months after I got it, and based on that experience I can definitely say that certain repair costs – not necessarily the same for maintenance – were very high indeed. Several “only in a Prius” costs were included, such as driving the car from the bodywork shop to the dealer, who was the only party authorized to disconnect the batteries, which needed to be done prior to bodywork. Then towing the car back to the bodywork shop. And then back to the dealer to reconnect it. And then driving back to the bodywork shop for finishing. Also a lot of custom-molded plastic parts (like that tray underneath the rear hatch) were ridiculously expensive to replace. Luckily, my car was new so it was all covered by (the other woman’s) insurance.

  31. Erin Craig - November 6, 2011

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for your comments! Let’s make sure we don’t confuse issues here. My Prius doesn’t use grid electricity, so the evils of coal-fired power plants and their emissions don’t come into play, at least in the comparison here.
    Batteries present a difficult environmental quandary. There really isn’t any such thing as an environmentally friendly battery. I am thankful that we are no longer routinely using cadmium, and lead-acid batteries are no longer found in consumer electronics, at least. But still, nickel-metal hydrides are no panacea.
    My own personal judgment, as a person who has spent a great deal of my life working on air quality, is that I would rather have my noxious air emissions concentrated in such a way that they can be carefully and rigorously monitored and abated, rather than distributed over many difficult-to-control sources. It doesn’t get much attention, but cars emit all kinds of really horrible carcinogenic and otherwise harmful substances, over and above the NOx and hydrocarbons and particulates for which they are regulated. Deteriorating brake pads and tires contribute, in addition to the combustion emissions. So while I am not in any sense a fan of increasing worldwide demand for metal smelting, overall and with the benefit of living in well-regulated North America, I would rather have auto emissions transferred from a distributed, difficult-to-control environment to a more concentrated one.
    That’s just me. It’s a difficult equation either way. Driving less, of course, works either way.

  32. mike - November 7, 2011

    Hi Erin,
    I agree a truly green car where the pollution is tied to it’s construction and that production is carefully monitored is a better future than the one we currently have. That however is not the future of the Prius or it’s chinese counterparts.
    I have a great deal of concerns over the move to Lithium-ion that Toyota are making. That seems to be their chosen future and what concerns me most of all is their investment in Bolivian mines. When it comes to regulations you can’t get worse. So to me the Prius is like many many consumer products – good for the user, bad for the planet – a gesture. I guess if you have a local air pollution issue then it would help there, but that is a not in my back yard attitude. It won’t help the pollution of child miners in Bolivia.
    The solution that your government won’t ever tell you and that most people won’t adopt is STOP consuming, STOP driving 20,000 miles a year. Up to now there is NO consumer available system that means you can do this without creating pollution and also suffering. Just how much pollution do you think is created by building batteries for 2,500,000 Prius?

  33. sara - November 7, 2011

    I agree with mike, in that the real solution is to find ways to drive less. I own a Caravan which I bought new and cheap in 2004. The first few years I drove it a good deal, but now my situation is such that I don’t really need to drive much. Over 7 years I have averaged 6,000 miles per year, but that figure has fallen the last 3 or 4. I would do without but in our small town, there is not a lot of public transportation.There are taxis, some buses and some private services. Question: for someone who drives less than 3,000 miles per year, is a car worth the money? (I have figured that my car has cost me, for all costs including purchase price, about $300-$360 per month over 7 years). Since no car ever has zero cost, what would be the break point?

  34. mike - November 7, 2011

    @sara
    I drive less than 3000 miles per year.
    I have just kept the same car that I had for a few years before I moved. Not the greenest car out there but I think for the miles I do that it must make more sense than buying a new car? There is no public transport alternative for where I live. The cost of ownership is not high once you own a vehicle and reduce your driving down to a tiny amount. Not driving places is such a win win… no cost, no environmental impact, no wasting time in traffic. Once in a blue moon I might go for a holiday but it’s generally not far and I now try to use public transport as much as possible for that too. It’s not perfect but it’s very hard to be so when the rest of the world seems hell bent on consuming all it can.
    @ everyone on this thread:
    I just want to make clear, I do support Erin and any efforts she makes. More power to her! I just want to chuck my thoughts in when I feel there is “more to” a given situation. I’m afraid I am distrustful of any organisation (like Toyota) who is solely motivated by profit. I don’t let this stop me from pursuing the right way in life BUT it does make me do a lot of “due diligence” on anything these folks try to sell me. The more you dig around regarding the Prius, the muddier the water gets.
    I became so frustrated with trying to be a green consumer that I just stopped consuming all together. I buy the bare minimum I need to lead a basic life. Not something I find the average Prius owner is prepared to even consider! That is not directed at you Erin :-) – just a certain ‘type’ of Prius driver. You know, the type who ALSO owns a personal jet! ;-)

  35. sara - November 7, 2011

    I also support any efforts by Erin or anyone else to reduce our excess consumption in this country…or anywhere on Earth for that matter. I am not against the enjoyment of life,but it seems that the more we have and use, the more discontented we become. I too have moved to smaller digs, closer to medical and shopping needs, but even so I calculate that I cannot do less than 25 miles a week for work, medical appointments and groceries and that is a bare minimum. With our current gas cost here and getting about 17 miles per gallon, that is less than $270 per year, but does not consider entertainment, visits to friends and family or extra or emergency needs. This past year with the move, extra work, family demands (altho I live alone) my gas cost has run about $80 per month. With insurance, this makes my car cost cose to $200 per month. I am looking for cheaper insurance,which will help, but as I said, there is no zero cost to owning a car.

  36. Tony Pinkham - November 18, 2011

    The author did compare both cars when they reached 120K miles, so that is a somewhat similar comparison (probably the best way to do that), but the costs change over 7 years. Actually, the real cost that should be looked at is ALL of the expenses (purchase price, insurance, maintenance, and ongoing expenses. I’ve found that my Prius is between 50 cents a mile (when it was 1 or 2 years old and 35 cents a mile when it is 7 years old. My previous car was definitely more expensive. That’s made me think twice about doing any driving–is it really worth doing at 50 cents a mile (or more)? I ride my bike much more often and was recently able to drop my driving distance by 30 percent this year as a result (that save a bit on my insurance). I’m also in much better shape than a year ago.

  37. Tony Pinkham - November 18, 2011

    Agreed, the real challenge is to consume less, a lot less. Keeping an old car and driving it minimally is better than buying any new car. For me, my old car died, so I got a Prius and I’ve been happy with that, especially with my challenge to eventually drive less than 20% of my previous miles. I’m down to 40% and going down…without any quality loss in my life (it’s actually a gain in my quality of life to spend more time doing things other than driving).
    Thanks to the author for writing the article!

  38. spencer - November 18, 2011

    I’d like to know the formula that lead to a prius costing around 3 cents per mile. I also feel as if 13 some odd cents is generous for a van. My wife’s vw jetta averages about 12 cents per mile. my tdi beetle averages about 9, which makes it hard to believe that the prius is so much better.
    Great article, though. I’ve been a fan of such studies for a while. I know that it’s become more commonplace to be aware of mpgs, but the window stickers aren’t enough. it needs to be mandatory to inform consumers of the costs associated with the overall life of a vehicle.
    keep up the good work.

  39. Erin Craig - November 20, 2011

    Hi Spencer,
    No secret sauce involved, just a look at one particular slice of the cost picture. It was a calculation of maintenance costs alone – no gas, no insurance, no depreciation… and no oil changes. Essentially it was everything which came as a bill from our mechanic.
    Thanks for your support!

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