Driving

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

    Owning a car takes a huge chunk of your budget no matter where you live. But some cities are actually more affordable than others if you want a ride of your own. 

    We gathered data for 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: $1,548
    • Gas per gallon: $2.18
    • Auto loan debt as percentage of income: 29%

    10 most expensive cities for owning a car

    #1: Riverside, CA

    Riverside takes the cake as the most expensive city for owning a car. Part of that is due to high gas prices throughout the state of California. But the area also comes with expensive insurance premiums eclipsing $2,100 a year — or $175 per month. Auto loans are also large compared to the median income, with a debt-to-income ratio of 39% just for car payments.

    • Gas averages $3.81 a gallon
    • Car insurance costs $2,126 a year
    • Auto loan debt accounts for 39% of income

    #2: Los Angeles, CA

    Living in Los Angeles comes with a lot of perks, like year-round sunshine. But that lifestyle comes at a cost when you rely on a car as your main mode of transportation. Depending on where you’re going, tolls can cost up to $1.40 per mile. Like Riverside, car insurance costs over $2,100 a year on average. California residents also see one of the biggest increases in auto insurance costs for accidents and filing claims. 

    • Tolls are expensive
    • Car insurance is more than $2,100 annually
    • Gas in California is among the most expensive states

     

    #3: Miami, FL

    If you need a car to get Miami’s beach or nightlife, make sure you budget for it. Auto loan prices are high compared to income levels, and car insurance premiums come out to $250 a month. Florida is also home to high gas prices, as well as an extensive system of statewide toll roads. 

    • Auto loan debt is at 45%
    • Car insurance is almost $3,000 a year
    • Florida gas prices average $2.14 per gallon

     

    #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, especially if you have to commute into Manhattan. Car insurance averages over $200 per month for New Yorkers, and two-hour garage parking will cost about $37. On a positive note, auto loan debt only reaches 24% of the median income, compared to the national average of 20%.

    • Tolls average $0.55 per mile to enter the city
    • Car insurance is nearly $2,500 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 $200 a month. Auto loans are also high compared to income at 39%. And while there are no toll roads in Nevada, the state does have a gas price of $2.652 per gallon, whereas the national average is just $2.18.

    • Car insurance tops $2,467
    • Gas across the state is $2.65 per gallon
    • Auto loan debt is 39% of income

     

    #6: San Francisco, CA

    For those who regularly drive into the Golden Gate City, toll costs quickly add up during the daily commute at $1.75 per mile. Pair that with high California gas prices and hefty car insurance premiums and the city’s substantial public transportation system may look better and better. 

    • Expensive tolls up to $1.75 per mile
    • Gas in California: $3.81 a gallon
    • Car insurance averages $1,886

     

    #7: Denver, CO

    Driving around the Rocky Mountains is certainly a perk of living in Denver, but it can be expensive. Tolls around the city reach as high as $0.75 per mile, and car insurance premiums are above average at over $1,800. Colorado also has some of the highest gas prices in the country. 

    • Tolls cost $0.73 per mile
    • Gas in Colorado costs $2.42/gallon
    • Car insurance annual premium of $1,863

     

    #8: Philadelphia, PA

    Pennsylvania is also notorious for high gas prices, and the City of Brotherly Love is no exception. Two-hour parking in a garage costs about $16.55, and annual car insurance premiums hover just below $2,000. Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are also quite high at $0.15 per mile.

    • Gas prices in Pennsylvania average $2.42
    • Car insurance averages $1,924
    • Parking is about $16.55 for two hours

     

    #9: 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 $1,750 a year. 

    • High California gas prices at $3.18
    • Tolls as high as $0.25 per mile
    • Car insurance above average at $1,750

     

    #10: Jacksonville, FL

    Car insurance is among the nation’s highest in Jacksonville, reaching over $2,100. Jacksonville residents also carry a large amount of auto loan debt, with the average loan taking up 39% of the median income. 

    • Auto loan debt is 39% debt-to-income
    • Car insurance averages $2,143 a year
    • Gas in Florida costs $2.14

    10 least expensive cities for owning a car

    #1: Columbus, OH

    Rounding out first place on our list is Columbus, which gets bypassed by the expensive Ohio Turnpike toll road. 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, car insurance is nearly $500 below the national average at just $1,099 per year. Auto loan debt is also affordable at just 29% of the city’s median income.

    • No expensive turnpike
    • Garage parking averages $6.22 for two hours
    • Car insurance below average at $1,099

    #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.

    • Two-hour garage parking averages just $6.28
    • Car insurance is low at $1,260
    • No tolls in Wisconsin

     

    #3: 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 below $1,500 a year and Texans typically pay around $1.86 for a gallon of gas. 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. 

    • Car insurance just $1,431
    • Gas is low in Texas at $1.86
    • Inexpensive to park at just $6.64 for two hours

     

    #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 just over $1,110, and debt from auto loans only accounts for 30% of income. 

    • Least expensive parking on our list at just $5.43
    • Car insurance around $1,119
    • Auto loan debt lower at 30% DTI

     

    #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 low gas prices at just $1.913 per gallon.

    • No tolls in Tennessee
    • Gas low in the state at $1.913
    • Moderate parking $10.03

     

    #6: 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 $1,500.

    • Low auto loan debt at 27%
    • Car insurance averages $1,500
    • Inexpensive tolls

     

    #7: Raleigh, NC

    Raleigh holds the claim of the lowest car insurance premium on our entire list of cities, at well under $1,000 a year. Plus, auto loan debt takes up just 30% of the median income, while North Carolina gas prices are quite low at $1.961 per gallon.However, area tolls are above average at $0.19 per mile.

    • Lowest car insurance on our list at $941.78
    • Inexpensive gas in NC $1.96
    • Debt on the lower end at 30% DTI

     

    #8: Minneapolis, MN

    With scenic lakes to look at while driving, Minneapolis is also quite affordable for car owners. Car loans only account for 23% of the city’s median income, and commuters have below-average garage parking as well. Even car insurance is low at just $1,400 a year. However, tolls in and out of Minneapolis are quite high at $0.46 per mile.

    • Auto loan debt is 23% of median income
    • Parking low at $7.36
    • Car insurance is below average at $1,417

     

    #9: Cleveland, OH

    The third Ohio city on our list, Cleveland’s car insurance is among the lowest in the nation at just $1,056. Garage parking is extremely affordable at just $7.04 for two hours, and we know that Ohio is home to low gas prices. Cleveland ranks lower than its other Ohio counterparts, however, because auto loan debt is higher at 33% of the city’s median income. 

    • Low car insurance premiums averaging $1056
    • Two-hour garage parking is about $7.04
    • Gas in Ohio is only $2.08

     

    #10: Portland, OR

    Back on the West Coast, Portland rounds out our most affordable cities for car owners, partly because of Oregon’s lack of tolls (with the exception of a few bridges). 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, exceeding $2.65.

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

    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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