Car running costs

RACV RoyalAuto Magazine

Given the motorist catches a cold every time the world sneezes over oil prices, interest rates, currency fluctuations and increased taxes and charges, it’s rare for drivers to take a trick. Costs to run a car each week range from $99.63 for the micro Suzuki Celerio to $209.01 for the people mover Honda Odyssey, or $242.13 for the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport – which are all winners in their categories.

Driving Your Dollars

But in Driving Your Dollars, RACV’s annual assessment of how much a vehicle costs to own and run, every week and every kilometre, then the motorist has for once had a win.

An overall reduction of 1.8 per cent on a like-for-like comparison with last year’s survey mightn’t seem a lot, even if you’re forking out $375 a week for a Toyota LandCruiser.

But if you drill down into the figures that show, line by line, just where your motoring dollar goes, then you’ll be alert to ways to save, if not on your current car, then certainly on your next one.

Keep costs down

Two main factors helped keep motoring costs down over the past year, and they’ve come from each side of the vehicle ownership equation: possessing a vehicle (standing costs) and keeping it going (running costs). Cars cost money even when sitting in the driveway but stagnant interest rates have helped keep a cap on those monthly repayments.

And once on the road, you’re not wincing every time the odometer clicks over, because the worldwide drop in oil prices has meant real savings to the consumer.

But those savings are countered by rising costs elsewhere, particularly the average purchase price in a market flooded by SUVs, which are more expensive than the traditional – and very good value – Australian-built sedans and station wagons that will soon disappear.

Visit for tables of the most frugal vehicles on the Australian market, from micros and electrics to SUVs. You will find the full rundown on the 124 vehicles covered in this year’s survey and you can also compare the figures with last year.

Here are the highlights of Driving Your Dollars 2016.

The big SUV shift

We’ve surveyed 125 vehicles this year, up from 111 in 2015. In keeping with market trends all the extra vehicles are SUVs, from small 2WD city wagons to the hulks. These include the increasingly popular seven-seat all-terrain SUVs, which are mostly based on ute platforms, and we’ve also added some premium SUVs in both the small and medium categories, reflecting their popularity.

Price points

Consumers who want the ‘latest’ are usually prepared to pay more, and so the arrival of so many new SUVs on the Australian market has bumped up our average purchase price.

That means, on a broad view of the market, the overall cost of owning and operating a new car in 2016 is almost exactly the same as last year. If we consider the pool of vehicles studied in 2015, then it’s actually a 1.8 per cent reduction.

A good drop

Despite making up only 12.6 per cent of the total ownership cost, the price of fuel is the most regular and noticeable expense. It also fluctuates the most.

Petrol (91 RON) has dropped 8.6 per cent, to an average 123 cents per litre, LPG users (who seem to suffer more than most with wild price fluctuations) paid an average 54.1 cents per litre over the year, a drop of 15.5 per cent. The biggest drop has been for diesel, to 118.6 cents per litre, down 16.4 per cent.

Micro marvels

The real savings are in the smallest cars. Suzuki Celerio, for the second year in a row, is the only car that can be owned and run for less than $100 a week.

Second-placed Mitsubishi Mirage has dropped $3.61 a week to $111, and its total running costs of 11.22 cents per kilometre – due in part to needing just annual services plus the best fuel consumption of any conventional engine in the survey – beats the all-electric cars.

And even Holden Spark, which has had an $1100 whack to its drive-away price due to a new model, is only $3 a week more than last year.

Small change

Only $2.71 a week separates the top five cars in the light category, a remarkable result given how many variables are combined to produce these results.

Meanwhile the market for small SUVs continues to grow, and when motorists are getting SUV benefits for not much more money than a small car it’s easy to see why.

The class-leading Mazda CX-3 is only $6.76 a week more than a small Mazda3 hatch.

Electric surge

Electric vehicles have again proven that high purchase prices cannot offset their super-low running costs, and this particularly works against Nissan LEAF.

Based on its official price we’ve calculated it at $55,470 to drive away. Nissan has been heavily discounting LEAF for years but it is not officially an ongoing price and so that number can’t be used.

But if you manage to get a LEAF at, say, $39,990 drive-away, then the total cost per week falls to $193.91, which is comparable with the new Toyota Prius hybrid ($192.44).

The diesel factor

Many vehicles have a diesel option that’s pretty close to its petrol sibling, such as Hyundai i30 where the diesel model, at $152.48 a week is 10 cents better than the petrol equivalent.

To feel the difference, however, go to the other end of the scale, where Toyota LandCruiser’s 200 Series petrol V8 is the most expensive vehicle in this survey at $375.34 a week, which is almost $40 a more than its diesel sibling.

This demonstrates not only the significantly reduced fuel consumption but also the effect that the more desirable diesel engine has on depreciation in the all-terrain SUV class.

Sharing economy

The top five vehicles in the all-terrain SUV category are all new to the study. The commercial ute-based SUV market has taken off this year, with Toyota Fortuner, Ford Everest and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport all coming in at a lower cost than the traditional vehicles in the class, proving that the economies of scale that come with platform-sharing are worthwhile for manufacturers.

small car i30
small mazda 3
Small SUV
People mover
Micro Suzuki
Medium SUV
large SUV outback
Dual cab
Pajero Sport
Large falcon
Written by Blake Harris
July 01, 2016