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The True Cost of Car Ownership

Thinking about buying a new or used car? There's more to consider than just the purchase price. According to AAA, a typical commuter pays about $54.10 in total vehicle expenses every 100 miles. So when you start car shopping, be sure to factor in the other costs of car ownership.

What Kind of Car?
New vs. used is your first decision to make. Although it's difficult to forego the delicious new-car smell, buying a used car is frequently more economical. Because the purchase price is lower, you'll save on insurance, interest, and taxes, license, and registration. But you might want to factor in other considerations besides cost—new cars could have better safety ratings and mileage, as well as warranty repair protection.

Insurance rates are based on the car's value, your driving record, how many miles you drive, where you live, and, sometimes, your credit record. You can cut costs by getting quotes from several insurance providers, opting for a higher deductible or lower coverage (if you bought the car outright), making sure you get all the discounts you qualify for, keeping your driving record spotless, and choosing a less racy or expensive car to insure.

Factor in frequent oil changes and yearly tune-ups while trying to keep an emergency fund for unexpected repairs. New cars may have some repairs included in their warranty. Be sure to have a trusted mechanic check a used car thoroughly before you purchase it. Remember, weekly car washes can add up to several hundred dollars a year, so budget wisely.

Take the penny test to decide when you should replace old tires: Put a penny upside down in one of the tire's grooves. If you can see the top of President Lincoln's head, it's time to replace it. You can extend the life of your tires by keeping proper inflation and alignment, and rotating tires on schedule. Generally, tires last between 25,000 and 50,000 miles, so budget accordingly.

Fuel costs can fluctuate dramatically, but you'll spend less on fuel and upkeep for a smaller car. AAA estimates the cost of driving a small sedan to be 10,000 miles at 55.1 cents per mile vs. 85.8 cents per mile for a large sedan. Try to overestimate the per gallon cost of gas, then place any difference in a savings account to help cover potential rising fuel costs.

License, Registration, Taxes and Local Fees
These costs vary from state to state but must be paid on time to avoid costly fines. Other fees to consider are required periodic smog testing, the cost of using toll roads or bridges and the cost of parking lots, garages or meters.

The minute you leave the new car lot your car's value drops—usually by as much as 40% in the first five years. Some cars hold their value better than others, so check with online sites or your dealer to estimate the resale value of your vehicle before you make your purchase.

Finance Costs
Your lender can tell you exactly how much you'll pay in interest over the life of your loan. Some financial institutions offer a reduced percentage if you use their auto pay deduction feature which can also help prevent late fees. Another way to avoid late fees or missed payments is to use online banking to set up automatic payments.

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