Oh, to Own a Car

The tossing of the keys: for some, it’s an iconic rite of passage. For others, a pipe dream associated with a life that feels out of reach. Most teens are likely to hold two views simultaneously: “I want one” and “How expensive could it be?!”.

While the biggest single expense in owning a car comes at purchase time, the total cost of car ownership adds up to quite the bill over the years. Before your teen spends all of their summer earnings on a new ride, set aside time for some dinner table math.


An observant young car shopper has likely seen the prices at gas stations, and has a general understanding of the cost of a fill-up. But insurance? That bill likely goes undetected, as if it doesn’t cost a thing. Plus, teen drivers face some of the highest rates of all. InCharge reports that an individual policy for a teenager can cost as much as $2,200 per year. The good news: adding one to a parent’s existing policy can cut that price in 4. Just remember: a single traffic ticket or accident could make this cost skyrocket without notice.

Average cost: $56 per month if adding to parent’s policy (Source: InCharge)


Welcome to the world of unpredictable expenses. Gas has been mostly stable in recent years, but the last 20 years have seen fuel prices fluctuate between under $1 to more than $5 per gallon in some areas. Budgeting for fuel is an exercise in planning. Look at current fuel prices, and make sure you can handle another 25% increase. Don’t forget: the older the car, the less fuel efficient it will be. So knowing your car’s estimated mileage is vital. (FuelEconomy.gov can help with that.) Calculate the number of miles you plan to drive each month and multiply that by the number of gallons your car will require for such a distance. Then multiply that by the average cost of a gallon of gas in your area, and hopefully you’ll be close the actual cost.

Average cost: $116 per month (Source: Fool.com)


By now, you have a running total of the cost of car ownership–if everything goes perfectly. That’s unlikely. Repairs can be costly, and often necessary. As a result, it’s important to have repair funds saved up in advance, in order to avoid being stranded or tempted to make the fix with debt.

Average cost: $99 per month (Source: AAA via NerdWallet)

Tickets, Towing, and Other Budget Bummers

Speaking of the unexpected, there are plenty of surprises associated with learning to drive. Among them? That speed limits are enforced, that texting and driving doesn’t mix, and that parking in the wrong spot can magically make your car disappear (and a towing bill appear.) Such bummers can’t be planned for, so it’s important to have a “bummer fund” ready for such surprises.

Average cost: $150 per speeding ticket (Source: Esurance) and $109 per tow (Source: Angie’s List)

The Grand Total

Adding up the averages discussed here gives us a whopping total of $271 per month (without getting a speeding ticket or requiring a tow.) That may not sound like much to a parent with a paycheck. But to a teen limited to minimum wage jobs for a few hours a week, such a bill can require the majority of their income. While sharing such news with your teen may feel pessimistic, it’s better to educate your teen on the true costs of car ownership now than when their wheels start making that funny sound.

From the Show:

Two brothers. Two cars. Two strategies. Meet the car-buying brothers: