Cars

The Most Expensive States to Own a Car

Published On 11/23/2016 Published On 11/23/2016
Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles | Flickr/GoRun26

If you own a car, you have a certain amount of control when it comes to how much money you spend. For example, if you drive a fuel-efficient vehicle (like one of these) and have zero accidents on your insurance in the last decade, you'll definitely fare far better at both the gas pump and with your agent than a 17-year-old who drives a gas guzzler... into other cars.

But other than that, how much you spend on your car every year pretty much boils down to your location. The cost of gasoline alone can fluctuate by nearly 30%, thanks in no small part to very disparate state tax rates -- some of which haven't changed in decades. How far you have to travel (and thus, how much gasoline you use) obviously changes by geography, too. States where people drive more miles -- or waste time sitting in traffic on one of the 12 most godawful highways in America -- spend roughly 70% more on gas in a year than drivers in, say, Hawaii. It's a similar story for annual cost of insurance.

Sorry, Michigan. You "win" overall. But you probably already knew that.

We've included some of the highlights (lowlights?) below about the top 10 most expensive states, but check out the infographic to see where your state ranks, and why.

Oren Aks/Thrillist

The top 10:

1. Michigan
Annual cost: $4,021
Why it's so bad: No Michigander will be even the least bit surprised to top the list here. To run away with it by $700 from the next-closest state, though, is insult to injury. It's not the gas prices doing the heavy lifting, either. Michigan's insurance rates tower above the rest of the nation's for a variety of reasons, some of which are controversial, and well-laid out by Michigan's NPR station. Unlike other states, there's no requirement for insurance companies to disclose how much profit they're making from those high premiums. Michigan is also a no-fault state, which tends to drive the cost up a little bit, since it requires adequate medical coverage for all drivers. The widespread poverty in areas of Detroit and Flint also impact the average, since insurance companies take credit scores into account when assessing premiums.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of reasons that factor into making Michigan the most expensive place to own a car, and almost all of them have to do with insurance.

2. Maryland
Annual cost:
 $3,322
Why it's so bad: While Maryland has some of the cheapest gas in the nation, the fifth-most densely populated state exhibits some of the worst fuel economy. That makes sense given Maryland's city-dominant landscape, but it also leads to higher insurance rates. Not Michigan high, but high enough.

3. California
Annual cost:
 $3,216
Why it's so bad: While average fuel economy in California isn't horrible, especially considering its legendary traffic problems, it's not great, either. Combine that with some of the most expensive gas prices in the nation and above-average insurance, and California's third step on the podium of shame seems kinda obvious.

4. Montana
Annual cost:
 $3,097
Why it's so bad: Montana's insurance rates only look good if you've moved there from Michigan. Were they even on par with the national average, Montana would be one of the top 10 cheapest states to own a car, thanks to the ridiculously low $800-per-year cost of gasoline.

5. New Jersey
Annual cost:
 $3,068
Why it's so bad: This is actually more a question of why New Jersey isn't worse. Take all the demographic factors that work against Maryland and magnify them -- insurance is actually higher at $1,905 a year, New Jersey is the most densely populated state, and its overall fuel economy is straight outta 1992. But... the average driver in NJ doesn't go all that far, and when he or she needs to fill up, NJ has some of the cheapest gas in the country, thanks almost entirely to the lowest state gas tax (10 cents).

6. Louisiana
Annual cost:
 $3,027
Why it's so bad: It's not that there's any one section that's bad here, it's that none of them is particularly good. The fuel economy is only slightly below average, and the cost of gas is actually on the low side, but that's offset by the extra miles Louisiana drivers incur.

7. Oklahoma
Annual cost:
 $2,970
Why it's so bad: Cheap gas and fantastic fuel economy generally point to a trend of more miles driven, and Oklahoma comes in about 15% above the 12,000-mile annual rule of thumb. With a gaggle of states tightly bunched between the sixth and 13th slots, that mileage is enough to get Oklahoma into the top 10. Let's face it, though, this isn't the first time Oklahomans will be disappointed with a top 10 finish.

8. Mississippi
Annual cost: 
$2,947
Why it's so bad: The average driver in Mississippi drives over 18,000 miles each year. That's more than 50% above the national average, so even though Mississippi is one of the cheaper place to insure your car, all that saved money's going straight to the pump.

9. Georgia
Annual cost:
 $2,940
Why it's so bad: The price of gas, at $2.29, isn't all that great, especially since Georgians drive just over 14,000 miles on average. The insurance rates aren't much better here, either.

10. Florida
Annual cost:
 $2,861
Why it's so bad: The short answer? It's Florida. Seriously, though, Florida's insurance rates are on the high side, as is the average miles driven. The gas itself is on the cheaper side of things, and the fuel economy is better than average, but neither is quite good enough to offset the insurance and the need to drive further.

About our methodology:

We took the FHWA's tabulation of the total number of gallons of gasoline sold in each state, divided it by the number of cars registered, and then multiplied by the average cost of a gallon of gasoline in that state, according to AAA. This provided a reasonable approximation of the average driver's annual gas expenditure for each state. We then tacked on the average insurance costs for each state, based on a March 2016 survey by Insure.com.

An attempt was made to calculate the registration and license fees for each state, but the crazy variation -- not only between states, but for differing years, class, weight, and cost of the vehicle, not to mention different durations (some states require annual renewal, while others allow registration for up to five years at a time) -- makes it wildly impractical to estimate those costs from state to state and car to car.

It's also important to note that we didn't include diesel in the rankings, nor did we include Washington, DC. Tractor-trailers skewed the diesel numbers too heavily to provide any realistic insight into the average person's costs -- California, for example, sold around 10% more gasoline overall than Texas in 2014, but Texas outsold California in diesel nearly two to one. We discovered an even more profound anomaly in DC, where dividing gallons sold by registered vehicles yielded an average MPG of over 30. The most probable cause for the discrepancy? The relatively high percentage of fuel tax-exempt vehicles in the District; the FHWA data we used is derived from state-reported numbers -- numbers that are reported for taxation purposes, thus the decision to omit our nation's capital.

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. He's perfectly fine paying what he's paying in Texas, thanks.

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