The cost of a longer commute – My data over 1 year

by r3dt4rget


I graduated college in the recession, and basically took the first real job opportunity I could find at the time. It’s a great job with good pay, but the issue is the distance from my home. It’s a 100 mile round trip 5 days a week. Sounds terrible, right? A few things make it tolerable. First, I’m driving from a medium town to another medium town, not in a city. That means no traffic, and 90% of my drive is 70 mph interstate. Second, despite being 50 miles each way, it only takes me 45 minutes to make the one way commute. I know lot’s of people who spend 45 minutes driving 20 miles across the city. Third, I like listening to audiobooks and drinking my morning coffee in peace. 45 minutes in the car is great for this, and allows me to have this time each day uninterrupted.

I’ve been doing this for too long, and plan to move soon. But I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my numbers and show people what it really costs to commute that far (or commute in general). I’ve been using YNAB for almost a couple years now, but decided to just grab the last full year of data I have which is April 2017 to April 2018. This data excludes the purchase cost of the vehicle as well as sales tax and financing costs. The data includes basically all ongoing costs associated with owning a vehicle and driving it:

  • Repairs
  • Maintenance (oil, tires, car washes, etc.)
  • Insurance
  • Registration fees
  • Property taxes

How will this scale for you? Well, it depends on a lot of things. First, consider your vehicle. I’m driving a 2007 Toyota Prius that had around 170,000 miles at the start of the data in April 2017. That means my gas costs are going to be different. The value of my vehicle and my location determines property taxes and insurance. I have full coverage insurance, by the way. I do all my own work unless it requires specialized tools (tire balancing, alignment, A/C work for example). That keeps my repair/maintenance costs down despite the longer commute.

So let’s get to the data:

Total Cost Trend

Cost trend for all categories over 1 year:

Surprisingly, the ongoing monthly cost of maintaining a long car commute is more than I would pay for a monthly car payment. I know a lot of people who are car shopping completely forget about the extra costs associated with a car. People just look at the $300/month for financing, completely ignoring that it will probably cost double that with everything else. Not surprisingly, repairs and maintenance add up to the most of all categories. More details on that below.

Fuel Cost Trend

Fuel costs over 1 year:

Gas was between $2.40 and $2.70 a gallon during this time period in my area. My Prius usually gets 40-45 mpg per tank of fuel. Less in the winter, more in the summer. Having a high efficiency vehicle definitely helps control fuel costs with a long commute. Most cars have trouble averaging 25 or 30 mpg over the coarse of a tank. Your on board MPG display is not very accurate. What I do is reset the trip meter each time I fill up the tank. The next time I fill up, take your trip meter and divide by the number of gallons required to fill up the tank. That’s your accurate MPG for the tank.

Repair/Maintenance/Misc Cost Trend

Repair/maintenance costs over 1 year:

This was the most expensive category. It’s important to note that I included vehicle registration and property tax costs in this category in YNAB. That totaled around $170 for the entire year. So what was I buying here? Was my old Prius breaking down a lot, or is this just regular stuff like oil and tires? Mostly the latter, actually. You can see on the graph that for 6 months, costs barely hit $50. That is stuff like car washes, wiper blades, a headlight here and there, etc. There were 2 months, October and December, where big things happened. In October I had a $700 engine repair. In December I bought all new tires for $400. Other notables: In March I had to replace 2 tires that were defective. Got my windows tinted for $150 in June of 2017. The $700 engine repair was my only major repair for the year. Everything else is maintenance or misc. stuff.

“A year is not enough data for an old car! You will need a $3000 transmission next year!” – I’ve been tracking with YNAB for almost 2 years, but I’ve owned this car for 3 years now. The most expensive things actually all happened in this last year, including that $700 engine repair. Your mileage may vary, of course. I recommend Asian cars, and I recommend keeping up on maintenance. I do the work myself which really helps costs in this area. I also cannot say anything but good things about the Prius, but we can talk about that separately. Things that I bought frequently:

  • Oil changes every 5000 miles. $40 synthetic oil and filter
  • Headlights $50 every 4-6 months
  • Wipers $30 2-3 times a year
  • $8 automatic car washes 1-2 times a month (I’m too lazy to do it myself)
  • I did random maintenance tasks like cabin air filter ($20), front brake job ($150 I think) as well.

Fun Facts

My repair/maintenance costs work out to about $0.09/mile.

Gas works out to about $0.08/mile.

If I include the cost of my car financing in the equation (I took out a 3 year loan for $8000, but let’s assume I just repeat this every 3 years), my total car cost is $0.31/mile. For reference, the IRS rate is around $0.54/mile. Not bad for assuming I will constantly have a car payment (which isn’t going to be the case) and full coverage insurance (I plan to get liability only when my loan is over because it’s a cheaper car).

Why Don’t You Just Freaking Move?!

My circumstances are unique. I have really cheap living costs, but the trade off is higher commuting costs. I do plan to move in the next few years and drastically reduce my commute but also increase housing costs. If you have average housing costs plus high commuting costs, that is something to work on changing right now. But for me the trade off was acceptable while paying down student loans.

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