The Most (and Least) Expensive Vehicles to Drive in America

Did you just get a great deal on a new car? Don’t answer yet — you won’t know for sure until you pay a vehicle’s operating costs for a few years. Those who got one of the most reliable vehicles on the road will save cash on repairs and other maintenance costs. However, you can’t forget about depreciation and fuel costs.

According to AAA’s annual driving costs study, all these factors contribute to the $8,469 it costs Americans to keep the average new car on the road in 2017. In addition to operating expenses, monthly payments, and insurance, AAA considered taxes, finance charges, and license/registration fees. Depending on the vehicle you drive, your costs could fluctuate as much as $3,700 per year after you drive off the lot.

Here’s how much it will take you to own and run a new vehicle for 15,000 miles in each of the nine auto segments. (Download the full report as a PDF here.) We ranked the classes from the least expensive to the most expensive vehicles to drive in America.

9. Small sedans

View of 2017 Elantra Sport in red

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport | Hyundai

You can find a new compact sedan for under $20,000, and you’ll get the cheapest type of vehicle to own and drive in the bargain. AAA pegged the annual cost of a small sedan at $6,354 for the year. These cars offer the lowest per-mile fuel and maintenance costs outside of electrified vehicles. If you want to keep it frugal with your next car purchase but can’t splurge for an EV or hybrid, compact cars are your best bet.

8. Small SUVs

White RAV4 followed by blue RAV4 hybrid

Toyota RAV4 ranks among the cheapest cars to drive. | Toyota

Without question, small SUVs are among the hottest auto segments in America. Through the first eight months of 2017, three of the top six vehicles on the sales charts came from this group. Those buyers earned themselves access to some of the cheapest cars to drive. AAA pegged the segment’s annual costs at $7,606. With models, such as Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, also ranking high in reliability, consumers looking for value can’t go wrong here.

7. Hybrids

Profile view of 2016 Prius Two Eco

2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco | Toyota

As far as operating costs go, good luck finding something more efficient than Toyota Prius Eco (56 mpg combined). This segment, which also includes the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Honda Accord Hybrid, only trails small SUVs due to higher upfront (i.e., purchase) costs. Over the course of a year, AAA said buyers would spend $7,687 for monthly payments and operating expenses for their hybrid. Pick up a used model, and you’ll see those costs really make sense in your budget.

6. Midsize sedans

The 2018 Toyota Camry

2018 Toyota Camry | Toyota

Though midsize sedans no longer dominate the U.S. market like they did in the past, you will still find Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in the top 10 on sales charts. These cars combine solid fuel economy (led by Kia Optima at 31 mpg) and strong reliability scores. Buy one new in 2017, and you’ll pay about $8,171 in costs for the year with a midsize sedan. If you baby a model, such as Camry, you might even see it make 300,000 miles.

5. Electric vehicles

2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf | Nissan

In terms of operating costs (maintenance and electricity), you can’t top EVs at 10 cents per mile. Because battery technology drives up the prices of these cars, ownership (especially depreciation) of electric cars ranks them near the top of the pack. However, because running an EV is so cheap, it will still only cost buyers $8,439 over the course of a year. To get the absolute cheapest car for your daily commute, skip the high MSRP in dealerships, and buy a used Nissan Leaf.

4. Minivans

2018 Honda Odyssey

2018 Honda Odyssey | Honda

Once you get to the minivan segment, you see vehicles that are both expensive to acquire ($6,332 in ownership costs) and pricey to operate (nearly 19 cents per mile). If you bought a new Honda Odyssey or Nissan Quest, AAA calculates it would cost owners $9,146 in annual costs for 2017. On the bright side, owners who take care of their minivans have a shot at reaching high-mileage goals. Odyssey placed 11th on the list of used cars that hit 200,000 miles in a 2017 study by iSeeCars.com.

3. Large sedans

2016 Toyota Avalon

2016 Toyota Avalon | Toyota

Prices get steep once you start shopping for a new large sedan. In addition to $6,462 in ownership costs, consumers find themselves spending close to $3,000 in maintenance and fuel costs in a year. Large sedans give families space to ride in comfort, but that size comes with a thirst for gasoline. (Toyota Avalon, the most economical model in the class, averages 23 mpg.) The total bill runs owners about $9,399 in annual costs.

2. Mid-to-large SUVs

2017 Honda Pilot Elite

2017 Honda Pilot Elite | Honda

While AAA did not round up the cost of the biggest SUVs such as Chevy Suburban, the organization did crunch the numbers on popular models, including Honda Pilot, Ford Escape, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The segment’s ownership costs were nearly in line with large sedans, but operating costs were higher at 20.03 cents per mile. Larger SUVs’ thirst for gas vaulted annual operating expenses over $3,000, pushing the total to $9,451 per year. If you’re shopping this segment, pick a model with lower depreciation costs.

1. Pickup trucks

Ford F-150

2018 Ford F-150 | Ford

Anyone who uses a full-size pickup truck to work knows these vehicles cost money to operate. At 22.22 cents per mile for fuel and maintenance, they cost more than double an electric car to operate and even 10% more than larger SUVs. Throw in the ownership costs of a new four-wheel drive crew cab model ($6,722), and you’re talking about a hefty annual bill. AAA estimates pickup owners will spend $10,054 in annual costs on these trucks. With costs this high, be sure to avoid the overpriced pickups on the market.

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