The Real Cost of Your First Car

Fri, 20 Jan 2012

When my brother handed me the keys to his 1983 Camaro I was so excited and grateful to have a free car.  Little did I know there are many other expenses that come along with being a car owner. 

Here is what my “free” car cost me in the first 6 months:

  • Gas: $482.75
  • Insurance: $750.00
  • Oil Changes: $62.50
  • Clutch Replacement: $325 (and this was a great deal because the shop class at my high school did it)

Total: $1620.25  Whoa!  

For six months, my free car was costing me about $270 a month!

Shortly after that 6 month “honeymoon period” I was told Old Bessie (that is what I called the Camaro) would need a whole new engine if she was going to keep running. When I looked at the cost of getting the engine replaced I realized it would be a better idea to use my savings on a more reliable, fuel efficient car with a lower cost to maintain. After saving and hunting for the perfect car I came across Yoshime (that was what I called my 1994 Volkswagen Jetta). 

Yoshime stayed with me through college and well into my professional career. She was a fuel efficient, low cost to maintain, super-cute car that ended up saving me big over the 8 years she was with me. 

The average 6 month period of maintenance on Yoshime was:

  • Gas: $360.00
  • Insurance: $600.00
  • Oil Changes: $40.00
  • Maintenance: $30.00

Total: $1030.00  

With Yoshime, my monthly average was dropped down to about $171 per month, almost $100 savings per month! I guess the moral of this story is, be sure to take into account all costs before diving into a big commitment like a car. EdmundsThis is a third party link. Please review the third party content guidelines by clicking here for more details. has a nice way of bringing in even more costs that weren’t discussed when deciding on your first car.  

Typical Car Expenses Include:

  • Gas: The bigger the car, the more gas it usually takes. Check out this websiteThis is a third party link. Please review the third party content guidelines by clicking here for more details. to figure out the cost of gas for different types of vehicles. And here are some tipsThis is a third party link. Please review the third party content guidelines by clicking here for more details. on getting better fuel mileage for all vehicles.
  • Insurance: Many different factors play into how much you pay for insurance, including your age, type of car, how far you drive, and how safely you drive.
  •  Oil changes: Depending on where you go, oil changes start at $20 and up, and are recommended at every 3,000-5,000 miles depending on the vehicle.
  •  Maintenance: Every car has its own recommended maintenance schedule, and includes things like major replacements at certain mileage milestones, like changing your water pump and timing belt. Some of these can cost a lot, and should be planned for.
  • Repairs: These are the unplanned for expenses that can pop up when you least expect it. You should have some money set aside for these unexpected inconveniences, like when your tire blows out on the side of the road.
  • Emergency Services: If you have an older car, or are young, you should think about investing in some road-side emergency services. Places like AAA, or your cell phone provider, for a fee, are on-call 24-7 for you if you ever break down on the side of the road. They will come with a tow truck and save the day. These services can range from a couple dollars a month, to a hundred dollars for the year, but can be your saving grace in time of need.

Remember to keep all expenses in mind when buying your first car. What are the other expenses that we haven’t talked about?  

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7 comment(s).

January 20, 2012 at 11:49 am
TAXES are another cost of ownership to consider. Whether the car is given to you or no matter what price you actually pay for your car the city/town you live in will be charging you personal property taxes based on the value of the car. The year, the make, and the model can make a big difference in what you will be paying. Whatever the cost, that amount, due in July (or in some towns/cities half in each January & July) should also be figured into your cost of ownership calculations. Happy motoring!
Amanda Gabriele
January 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm
Great point! Taxes should definitely be taken into consideration.
January 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm
A tip for roadside assistance-- Check with your insurance company. Many provide simple towing, lock-out, flat tire and running out of fuel service as part of your policy. If you don't have this service included with your policy many cell phone companies offer is as an add-on for a small monthly service charge. It's important to be prepared ahead of time. First, I think everyone who drives should know how to change a tire. But having a roadside service is a great comfort when you come out in the morning to a dead battery or if you breakdown on the road at night!
Amanda Gabriele
January 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm
Absolutely fabulous advice! Roadside assistance does provide peace of mind. Now that I don’t live so close to my dad, I wouldn’t leave home without it.
January 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm
Another important factor is the initial cost of getting a newly purchased vehicle on the road: motor vehicle registration fee, state sales tax and state inspection fee (the excise tax bill was previously posted in another comment.
Amanda Gabriele
January 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm
Another great point. That is definitely something to consider. Thanks for the comment!
July 7, 2013 at 10:53 am
We've got the VW Routan on hire for a weeks time while on a brief trip. Because we have a few kids we initially wanted to rent a minivan, ultimately as it turned out the Volkswagen was really a very nice alternative