Despite slightly higher fuel costs in 2017 than in 2016, U.S. drivers might be surprised to learn the average year-to-year cost of vehicle ownership has dropped from last year. That's according to a just-released annual study from roadside services provider AAA showing that drivers are paying roughly 1 percent less annually — about $89 less on average — to own a vehicle compared with 2016.
Assuming annual mileage of 15,000, costs of operating a vehicle in 2017 were $8,469, or $706 a month on average, according to the study, which analyzed nine vehicle categories: small, medium and large sedans; small and medium SUVs; hybrids; electric cars; minivans; and pickup trucks.
Despite the apparent discount from 2016, it was unclear how much individual motorists would actually save. AAA did not point to a specific reason for the slight drop in annual average costs, and three new vehicle types were added to the list that was analyzed last year, likely affecting the outcome.
"Due to a shift in methodology, AAA's 2017 driving-costs study is not directly comparable to previous editions," said Erin Stepp, spokeswoman for AAA.
Of the vehicle types examined in the 2017 "Your Driving Costs" study, five are estimated to cost less to own than the overall national average for annual vehicle ownership. Small sedans were estimated to be the least expensive cars to own per year at an average cost of $6,354. Small SUVs came in second at $7,606, followed by hybrids at $7,687, medium sedans at $8,171 and electric vehicles at $8,439.
Pickup trucks were ranked as the most expensive vehicle type to drive at an estimated cost of $10,054 annually, or about 22 cents a mile in operating costs.
For the study, AAA evaluated 45 current-year models and focused on mid-range top-sellers encompassing a wide range of makes and models including the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ford F-150, Chevy Cruze and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Aside from vehicle type, the study also looked at overall long-term ownership costs — taking other factors into consideration aside from sale price, including depreciation, maintenance, repair and fuel costs.
At a national average of about $2.30 a gallon for regular unleaded gas as of the third week of August, U.S. drivers are paying about 9 cents more at the pump compared with prices in August 2016, according to data from gas-tracking smartphone app GasBuddy.
"Drivers are paying more for gas this year with the national average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline in 2017 [year-to-date] at $2.32," Stepp said.
Broken down by vehicle type, electric vehicle owners (as expected) paid the least in overall operating costs per mile at 10 cents, followed by hybrid owners at less than 13 cents, small sedans at 14 cents and small SUVs at nearly 17 cents.
Overall costs encompass general expenses for maintenance, repairs, tires and fuel.
What can drivers do to keep costs down? AAA recommends performing regular maintenance to ensure vehicles are operating at prime efficiency and to help prevent costly repairs in the future.
Moreover, when it comes to choosing the right gas for your vehicle, AAA says to opt for gas with the octane rating recommended by the vehicle manufacturer instead of automatically gravitating toward a higher fuel grade.