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Why buying a car is more expensive than ever

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 9/12/2019 Claudia Assis

Rising finance charges have pushed the cost of car ownership in the U.S. to the highest ever since travel and leisure organization AAA started tracking it back when tail fins were a feature in most vehicles.

Finance costs rose 24% this year, sending the average annual cost of vehicle ownership to $9,282, or $773.50 a month, based on 15,000 miles driven a year, AAA said Thursday. That’s the highest since the organization began keeping track of such costs in 1950. 

The finance charges accounted for more than 40% of the total increase in average ownership cost, and they rose more sharply in the past 12 months than any other major expense associated with owning a car, AAA said.

That increase was a combination of rising interest rates and higher vehicle prices, AAA said. It also comes as 72-month, or six-year, car loans keep rising in popularity.

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Of all costs, depreciation, or a measure of how quickly a car loses value, remained the single largest cost of ownership, accounting for more than a third of the average annual cost, AAA said.

Fuel costs rose to 11.6 cents a mile, 5% higher than last year’s cost, while maintenance and repair costs rose to 8.94 cents a mile, 9% higher than last year.

Electric vehicles had the lowest maintenance and repair costs, 6.6 cents a mile, while medium-size SUVs had the highest, at 9.6 cents a mile. License and registration fees and taxes increased 2% to an average of $753 a year. 

Small sedans, not surprisingly, were cheaper to have around: They cost an average $7,114 a year to own. Compact SUVs, a style that steadily has risen in popularity, cost an average of $8,394. At the top of the heap were pickup trucks, which AAA said cost $10,839 a year to own.

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