Car running costs: Australia’s cheapest and most expensive cars for 2020

Hyundai’s Ioniq Elite PHEV driving along the road

Tim Nicholson

Posted November 17, 2020

RACV’s Driving Your Dollars survey reveals the cheapest cars to own and run in 2020.

The Suzuki Baleno light hatchback is the most affordable car to own and run in Australia, according to RACV’s annual Driving Your Dollars survey.

The Baleno GL just edged out another Suzuki light hatch, the Swift GL Navigator, in the 2020 survey, which measures the total cost of buying, operating and maintaining Australia’s highest-selling cars, averaged over a five-year period. The most expensive vehicle to own and operate according to the survey is Nissan’s big V8-powered Patrol 4x4 SUV.

Although many people assume that fuel is the biggest single expense in running a car, the survey reveals it makes up just 10 per cent of the overall total cost. 

On-road costs such as registration, insurance and club membership make up 15 per cent of the cost of running a car, while tyres take a five per cent slice and servicing accounts for just under four per cent. 

Beyond the upfront purchase price of the car, depreciation is usually the biggest cost in owning a car and can wipe 40 per cent or more off the value of a vehicle as soon as it leaves the dealership. 

The 2020 Driving Your Dollars survey analysed 79 of the top-selling cars in Australia, taking into account the initial purchase price and loan repayments, as well as the cost of registration, insurance, auto club membership, fuel or EV charging, tyres, servicing and repairs, averaged over a five-year period. 

The analysis assumed annual mileage of 15,000 kilometres per year, roughly the average distance travelled by Victorian drivers. Although many motorists have been driving less in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, for consistency’s sake this year’s results are based on a more typical year’s driving and maintenance patterns to allow for comparison. 

The survey reveals that light cars and small cars are the most affordable vehicles to own and run – not surprisingly, given their relatively low purchase price. The average cost of owning and running a car in the light car category is $770.16 per month averaged over five years. The next-most-affordable category is small cars, with an average monthly running cost of $928.64.

The most-expensive category by some margin is all-terrain vehicles – large four-wheel-drive wagons with thirsty petrol or diesel engines – with an average monthly cost of $1804.61. That is $214 more a month than the next-priciest vehicle category – 4x4 light commercial vehicles (pick-ups) on $1590.56. Large SUVs, consisting mostly of seven-seat family soft-roaders, were the third-most-expensive category on $1432.98 a month.

The Suzuki Baleno light hatchback driving along the road.

The Suzuki Baleno light hatchback (pictured above in the GLX variant) is Australia's most affordable car for 2020.


Suzuki’s top-placed Baleno costs $707.21 a month to own and run, around $33 less per month than its slightly more expensive stablemate, Swift, which costs $740.56 a month. The Swift is marginally cheaper to own and run than the third-placed Toyota Yaris Ascent hatch, which costs $744.97 a month.

At the other end of the survey, the Nissan Patrol Ti costs $2447.43 per month to own and operate. The Patrol’s rival, Toyota’s LandCruiser GX turbo diesel, is slightly more affordable at $2320.27 per month.

The most-affordable SUV surveyed is Hyundai’s Venue Go from the small SUV category at $851.22 a month. The best-value 4x4 pick-up is the Mitsubishi Triton GLX on $1340.98. Meanwhile Mitsubishi’s mid-sized Outlander is the most affordable family-friendly SUV in the survey, costing $1166.73 a month.

Electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles sit in the middle of the pack as an overall category, with an average monthly cost of $1383.89, about $30 more a month than people-movers. As more EV models enter the Australian market, increased competition is likely to drive down prices, making them increasingly affordable to run.

For this year’s survey RACV focused exclusively on mainstream brands, analysing the top-selling models in the various vehicle categories. All up, 79 models were included across 11 vehicle segments. In most cases, RACV used the base variant unless a higher-spec variant is more comparable with other vehicles in that class. As well as petrol and diesel models, several hybrid and battery electric models were included to reflect the growing uptake of low and zero-emissions vehicles in Australia.

Editor’s note: Since the 2020 survey figures were finalised, some vehicles have been updated or replaced by a new-generation model. These include the Isuzu D-Max, Kia Sorento, Mazda BT-50 and Toyota Yaris, HiLux and Fortuner.

Car Running Costs

See the full results from our 2020 Car Runnings Costs survey.