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What cars really cost you… An astonishing £158,835 (and that’s just an average family saloon)

Piper Terrett
Image: Fotolia

Your first car means freedom, but freedom doesn’t come cheap. When you consider how much it costs to own and run your car you might think of the purchase price of the vehicle – or the monthly loan payments if you are still paying them off – the road tax, insurance and fuel charges.

But have you ever stopped to think how much owning a vehicle will actually cost you over a lifetime? If not, the figures might come as a shock.

Obviously, the running costs of any vehicle will vary considerably and depend on the type and make of car, its engine size and the amount of mileage the individual owner does each year.

However, using the example of a mid-range family petrol car that covers 10,000 miles a year, Yahoo! Finance asked the AA’s archivists to look at how much that vehicle would cost to run over an average of 42 years.

Examining data from 1970 to 2012, researchers found that the total cost of running and maintaining the vehicle set the owner back £158,835.

The figures include road tax, insurance, depreciation, servicing and the replacement of parts, including tyres, as well as average parking and fuel costs.

The numbers are particularly shocking when you consider that a car is a purchase that, unlike something like a house, will depreciate considerably over its lifetime, losing thousands of pounds in value, and will likely be worth just a few hundred pounds at the end of its life.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it – or even essential – to have a car. After all, you can’t put a price on freedom. But in light of the huge overall cost, we thought we’d take a look at how to cut your bill as much as possible.

Buy second hand

While it can be satisfying to buy a brand new car that no one else has driven before that’s made to your specifications, it can make more sense financially to purchase your vehicle second hand.

If you buy a new car, the moment you drive it away from the showroom forecourt it loses value. On average, a brand new car loses 40% of its value in the first year of ownership.

If you buy a used vehicle instead, you will avoid this huge depreciation and also pay less to purchase it too. Second hand isn’t always second best. Many used cars from dealerships which are just a year old have often clocked up very little mileage and benefit from the same mod-cons as a brand new model yet cost less.

Taking care of the car’s bodywork will also help retain its value, while buying popular models and steering clear of purchasing luxury vehicles which depreciate more dramatically (50% in their first year, according to experts) is also recommended.

[Related link: Search for new and second-hand cars]

Reduce your insurance costs

Insuring a car, especially in urban areas, can be expensive, however, there are ways to trim your insurance costs. The less of a risk you and your car present to insurers, the cheaper your premiums will be.

Reducing your yearly mileage by using public transport or leaving the car at home for short local journeys can help cut your insurance premiums.

The less you drive your vehicle, the lower your payments will be. Parking the car in a garage or driveway overnight will also help, as will adding an alarm or immobiliser to the vehicle. Avoiding points on your licence will also keep premiums lower.

[Related feature: The cheapest cars to insure]

Adopt eco-driving techniques

How you drive your vehicle can have a major impact on the amount of petrol or diesel you get through. Fuel efficient driving can help you pay less at the petrol pump.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, which trains drivers in eco-driving skills, the average driver will see a 15% improvement in petrol usage or a saving of £250 a year by changing the way they drive.

Better anticipation of the road ahead and avoiding harsh braking and acceleration can help cut fuel wastage, as can using the correct gear for the situation.

While it can be tempting to exceed 70mph on motorways, driving at 85mph, for example, is not just illegal but uses 25% more fuel to cover the same distance, according to the Institute for Advanced Motoring.

What’s more, using a satellite navigation system will help ensure that you take the shortest route possible to your destination and conserve fuel.

Try to avoid driving at busy times if you can but if you are stuck in a lengthy traffic jam, it’s a good idea to turn off the engine to save petrol.

Turning off the air conditioning and simply opening a window will also cut petrol and diesel usage unless you are driving on the motorway when it can reduce the car’s aerodynamics.

[Related feature: How much can you really save with a new driving style?]

Keep your vehicle well maintained

Under-inflated tyres can add 2.5% to the cost of fuel, according to Institute of Advance Motoring, so it is well worth checking them regularly.

Worn spark plugs and dirty air filters can further increase your costs. Ensure your car is serviced regularly and shop around for a good value garage. Small firms can sometimes be better value than the big chains and the service can be better.

Consider going to a specialist outlet for parts such as tyres, for example, which may be able to repair punctured tyres instead of replacing them or have a range of products for different budgets.

[Related feature: The cheapest cars to run]

Do you definitely need that car?

Cars are essential to millions of Britons, but not to everyone. Consider whether you really need to own a vehicle, or a second one, at all. While handy, most cars represent a poor investment and, as we have seen, are costly to tax and insure.

If you only do a small amount of mileage each year and use the vehicle for occasional short journeys you may be better off taking public transport, car sharing with a friend, taking a taxi or simply hiring a car when you need it.

Car clubs are becoming a popular way for drivers in urban areas to hire a car for as little as £5 an hour, and allowing them to cut out the cost of purchasing, insuring and maintaining a vehicle of their own altogether.

Depending on where you live, if this is a practical solution for you and your family it could save you a small fortune.