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Mr. Green Car: The cost of driving

February 9, 2011

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

Again, The Rock River Times’ Staff Writer Jim Hagerty provided a good lead story for Mr. Green Car when he wrote his Jan. 26-Feb. 1 Fast Lane article, “Gas prices expected to see big jumps by spring.”

I am not entirely sure why, it is just a hunch, but something tells me we will be seeing $4 per gallon for gasoline again this summer. I don’t study the oil market, or the stock market; but we’ve seen recent increases that seem to be priming the pump for yet another climb. Like the frog placed on a pot of water that’s warming toward boiling, we won’t be jumping out of our skin if the increased prices are gradual.

Is it a plot? I don’t think so, but it does reflect supply and demand. Our miles driven historically go up along with the temperature.

Cold weather tends to make us want to go out into that frigid car as little as possible, so we tend to combine trips, use the mail, Internet and phone to do things we might otherwise do in person. Vacation travel tends to be limited. While it would be tempting to drive south, no part of the country is immune to winter weather, and it is not uncommon to get caught in an ice storm in the South—so we put off our trips until summer. Summer finds teen-agers out of school and time on their hands to drive around. It all adds up to demand.

So, let’s take a little time to look at what it costs, just for gasoline, to drive around. While diesel vehicles are generally more fuel efficient, they have historically paid a higher price for fuel—a fact I’ve long attributed to business being gouged by the oil industry—for it is business that largely operates diesel vehicles. They, of course, pass the cost on to you in their products and services. This chart is for you—so we’ll leave business out of this—though many businesses are realizing cost savings by using smaller vehicles, too.

On average, Americans will drive about 15,000 miles per year—that’s about 288 miles per week, 1,250 per month. This analysis will figure out, at $4 per gallon, what your cost per week/month is for a given fuel economy level (city/highway average). The point of which is to show that fuel efficiency really saves you a substantial amount of money.

Large SUV, H.D. truck, 15 mpg: $76.92 per week/$333.33 per month.

Light truck, medium SUV, older cars, 20 mpg: $57.69 per week/$250 per month.

Average car, small SUV, 25 mpg: $46.15 per week/$200 per month.

Mid-size auto, 30 mpg: $38.46 per week/$166.66 per month.

Compact auto, 35 mpg: $32.96 per week/$142.85 per month.

Sub-compact/Mid-size hybrid, 40 mpg: $28.85 per week/$125 per month.

Older sub-compact, 50 mpg: $23.08 per week/$100 per month.

Compact-hybrid, 60 mpg: $19.23 per week/$83.33 per month.

First-generation Honda Insight, 70 mpg: $16.48 per week/$71.43 per month.

Many vehicles commonly sold at the auto shows get 25 mpg. That’s 16 cents per mile, $1.60 every 10 miles. However, if a person were to drive a compact-hybrid (Prius or equivalent) getting 60 mpg, the savings would be $1,400 per year. To quote Ben Franklin, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Saving $1,400 is the same as making $1,400 more in earnings. You would also be helping the environment with less pollution and reducing our nation’s oil imports all at the same time. As our gas prices increase once again—consider all the costs of what, how and why you drive.

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