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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Personal Vehicle Ownership and Operating Cost Calculator


The goal of this research is to develop a tool that can help students and the public better understand the total cost of owning and operating a personal vehicle over the lifetime of that vehicle, from vehicle purchase to vehicle disposal.  Lifetime vehicle operating cost consists of the vehicle purchase cost, as well as costs that are less obvious to the user (e.g., financing, fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc.).  Underestimating the hidden costs embedded in lifetime vehicle operating cost can lead people to choose vehicles that are unaffordable for their financial situations.  Hence, educating transportation planners, students, and the public about lifetime vehicle operating costs is important.

To provide a more personalized calculation approach, the National Center for Sustainable Transportation (NCST) research team developed the Lifetime Vehicle Ownership and Operating Cost Calculator.  The NCST website provides users with data entry flexibility and a clear, intuitive, and interactive user-interface through which users can better understand their vehicle ownership costs.  Vehicle ownership costs are calculated using lookup data and user input for such elements as: purchase price, down payment, interest rates, loan term, annual insurance, maintenance, tire, smog check, parking, tolls, etc.  All lookup data can be modified as desired by the user.

The NCST website is designed to provide students and the public with a tool that can be used in research and also at any educational level.  Users can calculate the cent/mile and total cost of vehicle ownership over the life of the vehicle, with cost estimates for each component specifically identified so that users can weigh the impact of each cost element in their vehicle purchase and use decisions.  From an educational perspective, this tool can be used as an instructional aid to specific courses.  For example, the tool has been used in the urban transportation planning course at Georgia Tech, where the students are asked to compare different vehicle choices based on a real-life case study.  In addition, the NCST team plans to introduce this tool to high school consumer economics classes to help students make reasonable vehicle purchase decisions and to assess vehicle operating costs over entire vehicle life cycles.

The Lifetime Vehicle Ownership and Operating Cost Calculator is available at

View the NCST Project Webpage

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