How Much Do Cars Cost You? 3 Years of Your Working Life


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By Gerri Detweiler

That car that's supposed to provide you with the freedom to get you where you want to go may also be one of the many chains tying you down to a job you'd rather ditch. That's because -- over the course of a lifetime -- the average person will spend more than three years at work just to pay for their various sets of wheels.

The folks at eBay Deals recently released a "Trading Time" calculator that lets you figure out how long you have to work to pay for various expenses. It's an eye-opener.

Over a 50-year working lifetime, the typical person will work 157 weeks to generate the cash needed to pay for his or her cars. Then, add in another 50 weeks of work to cover car insurance. Those figures are based on the weekly median gross income. Yours may be higher or lower, of course.

If that doesn't seem like a lot to you, then think about this: You work even longer to pay for your vehicles because you need to figure in taxes and the interest on your car loans. And don't forget all the time in that vehicle commuting or shuttling your kids around.

According to the Trading Time calculator, other major expenses that keep you chained to your desk may include shoes (17 weeks), phone bills (60 weeks) and even toilet paper (two weeks).

Whether you love your job, hate it or or fall somewhere in between, it's helpful to think about the things you spend money on in terms of the amount of time you have to spend working to pay for them. Only you can decide what's really worth it.

Can You Get Back Some of Your Time?

Of course you may have no choice but to drive, and in that case, you may want to look for ways to try to reduce your costs. For example, can you drive a slightly used car instead of a new one? Keep your vehicle longer? Settle for a more economical model?

Another way to cut costs is to improve your credit. With a better credit score, you will qualify for a lower interest rate, which can mean significant savings over the life of the loan. You can see your credit scores for free at to determine whether your credit is good. Ideally, you want to review it at least a month before you plan to shop for a vehicle in order to address any issues you uncover. (Give yourself more lead time if your credit isn't great. Here's a guide to help you rebuild your credit. )

Here's an example of the savings you may achieve by boosting your credit. As of June 4, the lowest quoted rate for a $20,000 50-month auto loan with excellent credit on is 1.99 percent. That translates into a monthly payment of $411. But for someone with poor credit, the rate jumps to 14.99 percent or a monthly payment of $540.

Gerri Detweiler is's director of consumer education.

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I was paying 120 a month for garage fees, 150/mo. in taxes, 150/mo insurance. I always take the train or bus so I sold my car last year. First time in 50 yrs I am without a car!
IF I ever need a car to visit places withour train service I will rent a car.
But then I live in Europe. We have excellent public transport service.

June 10 2014 at 3:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guess the person who wrote this article has never heard of the idea of paying CASH for a good used car.

June 09 2014 at 9:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

You think that's bad. I pay for my car, then the government and my wife get the rest.

June 09 2014 at 8:29 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

It is an axiom of capitalism that the more you have, the less you are.

June 09 2014 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It works out to a dollar a mile. Average $16,000.00 for the car which is almost worthless once the odometer hits 100,000 miles. Average fuel economy is 20 miles per gallon. Gas is $1,800 a year. Insurance is $1,000.00 a year. Tags, tires, repairs are $800 a year.
When you add it all togther, about a dollar a mile.

June 09 2014 at 3:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to alfredschrader's comment

I have a 4-year old car with 110,000 miles on it that costs $1,100/year to insure, cost $28,000 new (including tax), is paid for, gets 40+mpg albeit on diesel, and goes about 28,000 miles per year. Maintenance is 2.8 oil changes (at $90) and 1 transmission change (at $125) per year, one set of tires every 50,000 miles (at $500). Diesel averages about $4/gallon. So - at a net outlay of $45,275 over the last four years, this come in at just over $0.41/mile. I expect the vehicle to last another 3 years capping out at about 200,000 miles overall. By then, I think I will be ready for a new car.

June 09 2014 at 4:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pfjw's comment

You do realize that the more you drive the lower your "cost per mile" becomes and at 28,000 miles per year you drive much more than the average. I hope you get to 200,000 miles with no major repairs and you might since I assume most of your miles are on the highway, but the odds are still not good.


June 09 2014 at 5:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

My last car cost 19.6 cents per mile, put 40,000 miles on, $1000 in maintenance, $5000 in fuel, $200 loss on sale from what i paid for it., & $30/mo for insurance. My truck cost per mile is probably even better since it's worth twice what i have in it as it currently sits and i've driven that for 6 years.

June 09 2014 at 9:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply