Driving

The most (and least) expensive U.S. cities for car ownership

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Owning a car can be both prohibitively expensive and — in a country where half the population lacks access to public transit — completely necessary. The cost to own a car has only increased recently in the wake of car shortgages causing higher vehicle prices, one of the biggest rises in inflation in decades and a significant surge in gas prices. 

But these costs aren’t equal everywhere. The Zebra analyzed the 50 most populous cities across the U.S. to find the 10 most expensive places to live with a car, as well as the 10 least expensive cities. We weighed average costs such as car insurance, gas and toll roads. We also looked at the amount of auto loan debt residents carry compared to the median income. Finally, we evaluated parking expenses for two hours in a garage. 

Find out if your city falls on either list and see if your driving costs are on the low end or if you’re paying more than most other drivers in the country. If your town didn’t make either list, here are some national averages to use as comparison:

  • Car insurance: $1,529
  • Gas per gallon as of March 2022: $4.32
  • Auto loan debt as percentage of income: 29%

#1. Los Angeles

Los Angeles rose to the top of our list in 2022. Depending on where you’re going, tolls can cost up to $1.40 per mile. And while the cost of car insurance dropped around $50 since our last report, it’s still one of the most expensive in the nation. Plus, the City of Angels has some of the most expensive gas prices in the nation, at $5.787 per gallon.

Why it's pricey

  • Tolls are expensive
  • Car insurance is $2,053 annually
  • LA is one of the most expensive cities to buy gas

#2. Miami, FL

Miami ranks as one of the most expensive cities for owning a car. Auto loan prices are high compared to income levels, and car insurance premiums come out to $250 a month. Miami’s gas prices have also surged in the last two years, although they are currently only slightly above the national average.

  • Auto loan debt is at 45%
  • Car insurance is almost $3,000 a year
  • Miami gas prices average $4.344 per gallon

#3: San Francisco, CA

At $5.42 a gallon, San Fransisco has one of the most expensive gas prices of any city we surveyed. In 2020, the average was $3.184 in California. On the plus side, the average car insurance premium has dropped nearly $100 since 2020.

Why it's pricey

  • Expensive tolls up to $1.75 per mile
  • Gas in San Francisco: $5.422 a gallon
  • Car insurance averages $1,796

#4: New York, NY

It may not come as a surprise that one of the world’s largest cities is also one of the most expensive for car owners, although some expenses have dropped in the last two years. Car insurance averages $156 per month in New York City, compared to $200 a month previously, and two-hour garage parking will cost about $37. On a positive note, auto loan debt only reaches 24% of the median income, not too far above the national average of 20%.

Why it's pricey

  • Tolls average $0.55 per mile to enter the city
  • Car insurance is nearly $1,876 a year
  • Parking averages $37 for two hours in a garage

#5: Las Vegas, NV

The bright lights of Las Vegas reveal expensive car insurance that costs vehicle owners an average of $167 a month — a slight drop from 2020. Auto loans are also high compared to income at 39%. And while there are no toll roads in Nevada, Las Vegas does have a gas price of $4.872 per gallon.

Why it's pricey

  • Car insurance tops $2,088
  • Gas across the state is $4.872 per gallon
  • Auto loan debt is 39% of income

#6: San Diego, CA

San Diego’s warm weather and beautiful beaches are appealing, but driving around the city can take a bite out of your wallet. Tolls go up to $0.25 per mile. And while you’ll pay less for car insurance compared to the other California cities on our list, the average is still high at $1,696 a year.

Why it's pricey

  • High California gas prices at $5.60.
  • Tolls as high as $0.25 per mile
  • Car insurance is above average at $1,696.

#7: New Orleans, LA

New Orleans is a new addition to the top 10 most expensive cities for owning a car in 2022, and here’s why. Car insurance premiums are some of the highest in the country, averaging $3,532. And while gas is quite affordable compared to other areas, auto loan debt accounts for 37% of the average income.

Why it's pricey

  • Car insurance costs over $3,500
  • Auto loan debt-to-income ratio is 37%
  • Gas is rising but costs less compared to other cities, at $4.157 a gallon

#8: Houston, TX

Houston is another debut city on our list. It has above-average car insurance premiums at nearly $1,700 per year. Tolls are also expensive in the state of Texas. But what really hits the city hard is the price of cars, which comes in at a debt-to-income ratio of 44%. That means the average Houstonian with an auto loan spends nearly half their income on car payments.

Why it's pricey

  • Average car insurance premium is $1,685
  • Auto loan accounts for 44% of income
  • Toll price per mile in Texas is $0.58

#9: Orlando, FL

As everywhere, Orlando is experiencing a surge in gas prices leading it to jump to $4.363, slightly above the national average. And while some cities saw a decrease in average car insurance premiums, they increased in Orlando, from $2,150 to $2,245.

Why it's pricey

  • Gas costs $4.363 a gallon
  • The average car insurance premium is nearly $2,250
  • Auto loan debt is 38% of income

#10: Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville maintains its 10th place position in 2022. While car insurance premiums lowered slightly, the average cost is still among the nation’s highest at $2,025. Jacksonville residents also carry a large amount of auto loan debt, with the average loan taking up 39% of the median income.

Why it's pricey

  • Auto loan debt is 39% debt-to-income
  • Car insurance averages $2,025 a year
  • Gas in Florida costs $4.346 per gallon

Remember, whether your city is on this list or not, if you're feeling the crunch of car ownership costs rising, one way you can take control is to compare car insurance quotes to make sure you're paying as little as possible while still getting the coverage you need. 

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Least expensive cities for car ownership

Now let's look at our list of 10 cities where costs are actually the least expensive to own and drive your car. 

#1: Columbus, OH

Columbus, which gets bypassed by the expensive Ohio Turnpike toll road, wins the top spot on our list for cheapest cities to own a car. Parking is also affordable for those who work downtown, averaging just $6.22 for two hours in a garage (compared to $37 in New York City). Plus, the city’s low car insurance premiums dropped even further, from $1,099 to $1,064. Auto loan debt is also affordable at just 29% of the city’s median income.

Why it's affordable

  • No expensive turnpike
  • Garage parking averages $6.22 for two hours
  • Car insurance below average at $1,065

#2: Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee takes second place partially because there are no toll roads in the state of Wisconsin. With low car insurance premiums and inexpensive garage parking in the city, Cheeseheads have fewer auto expenses to worry about.

Why it's affordable

  • Two-hour garage parking averages just $6.28
  • Car insurance is low at $1,193
  • Gas is $4.038 per gallon, below the national average

#3: Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City enters our list of cheapest cities for owning a car this year thanks to a drop in gas prices in comparison to most other cities. While gas is certainly still high at $4.171 per gallon, it’s less than the national average. Car insurance premiums are also moderately priced at around $1,400 per year.

Why it's affordable

  • Gas is below national average. 
  • Annual auto insurance premiums are $1,401
  • Auto loan debt-to-income ratio is 30%

#4: Cincinnati, OH

We’re back to Ohio with Cincinnati ranking as another low-cost area for drivers. Parking in the city is the lowest in the nation at just $5.43 for two-hour garage parking. Annual car insurance premiums are $1,244, and debt from auto loans only accounts for 30% of income.

Why it's affordable

  • Least expensive parking on our list at just $5.43
  • Car insurance around $1,244
  • Auto loan debt lower at 30% debt-to-income

#5: Nashville, TN

You won’t find any toll roads while driving through Tennessee, including the Country Music Capital of the World. Nashville’s downtown parking is quite affordable, averaging around $10 for two-hour garage parking. Tennessee also boasts lower gas prices than most other cities at $4.076 per gallon (although in 2020, prices were under $2 a gallon, which shows how much has changed in two years).

Why it's affordable

  • No tolls in Tennessee
  • Gas average $4.076
  • Moderate parking $10.03

#6: Cleveland, OH

The third Ohio city on our list, Cleveland’s car insurance is among the lowest in the nation at just $1,021. Garage parking is extremely affordable at just $7.04 for two hours, and gas is low compared to larger urban areas. Cleveland ranks lower than its other Ohio counterparts, however, because auto loan debt is higher at 33% of the city’s median income.

Why it's affordable

  • Low car insurance premiums averaging $1,021
  • Two-hour garage parking is about $7.04
  • Gas in Ohio is only $3.83

#7: Portland, OR

Back on the West Coast, Portland creeps up in affordability this year thanks to a major drop in car insurance premiums. The average price fell from nearly $1,700 in 2020 to $1,356 in 2022. Drivers also enjoy lower auto loans compared to income levels, and two-hour parking in a garage only sets them back about $8. However, gas prices in Oregon are high, at around $4.762.

Why it's affordable

  • No tolls in Oregon
  • Lower auto loan debt at 23% of income
  • Parking is below average at $8.07

#8: Buffalo, NY

Buffalo residents carry lower auto loan debt compared to most other city dwellers in the U.S. Plus, the toll road between Buffalo and Niagara averages just $0.04 per mile. Finally, Buffalo’s annual car insurance premiums fall just at the national average of about $1,315.

Why it's affordable

  • Low auto loan debt at 27%
  • Car insurance averages $1,315
  • Inexpensive tolls

#9: San Antonio, TX

While many things may be bigger in Texas, the cost of owning a car in San Antonio is much smaller compared to other cities on our list. Car insurance averages $1,560 a year. For those visiting or working downtown, two-hour garage parking is about $6.64. On the downside, San Antonio drivers are prone to high auto loan debt, which takes up 46% of the median income.

Why it's affordable

  • Car insurance just $1,560
  • Gas is $3.847 a gallon - well below the national average
  • Inexpensive to park at just $6.64 for two hours

#10: St. Louis, MO

A new addition to round out our list, St. Louis has lower gas prices than most of the country at $3.921. Auto loan debt is fairly middle of the road, with an average DTI of 32%.

Why it's affordable

  • Gas is $3.921 per gallon
  • Auto loan DTI at 32%
  • Average auto insurance is$1,664

While the cost of owning a car may not be enough to make you move to a more affordable city, it’s eye opening to find out how your own expenses stack up to other areas. But if you are looking for a clean slate in another place, check to see how your existing budget will translate, especially for car-related prices that can fluctuate based on location.

Methodology

The Zebra pulled five data points to analyze the top 50 MSAs (by population) in the U.S. for owning a car. 

MSA data was used where applicable, and we sometimes substituted city data as necessary.

 

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The ZebraThe nation's leading independent insurance comparison site

The Zebra is an independent insurance advisor and quote comparison site with headquarters in Austin, Texas. Utilizing its real-time quote comparison tool, The Zebra partners with companies such as Allstate, Liberty Mutual, and Progressive to help consumers browse pricing, coverage, and service level for both home and auto insurance policies.