The Added Everyday Costs Of Driving An SUV

I recently had my SUV in the shop for some warranty work and they gave me a small sport sedan as a ‘loaner’ car for the morning. My SUV isn’t huge – and we use it as our family hauler – but I wondered out loud how much better a smaller vehicle might be for gas mileage. The technician added, “for the environment, too”.

Here’s the math …

⁃ Average American drives 13.5K miles/year

⁃ Gasoline average $2.88 / gallon

⁃ My SUV gets 20 mpg (city); Honda Accord gets 30 mpg

⁃ Equates to a 225 gallon ‘premium’ to drive the SUV vs sedan

⁃ About $650 / year

⁃ Generates about 2.25 tons of CO2

⁃ Carbon offset price would be $19 / year

I’m not too surprised by the extra cost. I always figured that driving an SUV meant about one $10 bill a week more in gas mileage. Turns out it is just a little higher than that at $12.50/week. Yes, there are other costs – a more expensive purchase price, higher insurance rates, and maintenance to keep it going, but there are also some benefits too.

The ‘cost’ to the environment – at least in terms of green house gases – I had no real idea about. I used the current carbon cost listed on a non-profit website which acts as a ‘travel emissions offset’ by calculating CO2 usage and donating dollars collected to other non-profits committed to carbon-free energy. At just $19 extra for the entire year, I was surprised how relatively inexpensive this ‘cost’ was.

Given the utility, safety, and comfort that comes from having an SUV, I’m quite comfortable with these added costs compared with a small sedan. The odds of being involved in a serious vehicle crash alone are real enough that these costs are more than acceptable.

How do you consider fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions in your vehicle choices?

Image Credit: (c) MrFireStation.com

9 thoughts on “The Added Everyday Costs Of Driving An SUV

  1. I will say, I think entirely differently about it since I moved to Europe. We have a minivan (7 seater, in local parlance). It is a Diesel. But its 60 liter gas tank can take us anywhere–a recent 3 hour drive, generally at highway speed (70 mph) took 1/4 of a tank. We don’t drive for our daily commute, so we fill up the tank *quarterly*. Most of our driving is to meet guests arriving from the US (on overnight flights, so not forcing them to navigate taxis or public transport) to do our own touring, or occasional shopping outside the neighborhood (i.e. Ikea runs)

    Much of that comes from the transmission, which is geared for economy rather than performance. But this is a minivan, so didn’t get it for performance. But I predict the weekly fill-up for all the required driving for daily living will be one of the things that will be most difficult when we return to the US.

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    1. I’ve never had a minivan. Where we live in Minnesota, having an AWD SUV makes a lot of sense. Mine’s a 5 passenger, but you can get a third row seat if you want to carry more. We didn’t need that and the extra seat is only kid-sized. Looking it up, the fuel economy of a Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey is about the same (actually 1 mpg worse) as my SUV.

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  2. I’m willing to pay the added cost since there are no sedans that can accommodate my family of 6 (including 3 car seats and 1 booster).

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    1. When I grew up in the 1970s, we had a VW Beetle that our family of 6 actually fit into. Mom & Dad in front, my three brothers in the back, and me (baby brother) in the little luggage compartment in the back window! (We also had a Ford station wagon, but I can remember riding in the Beetle too!)

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  3. What about the safety of these SUVs versus cars ? If you look at some of these vehicles based on the insurance crash tests, you would be surprised. A big vehicle is not necessarily safer than a well designed smaller car. It’s not just mpg to consider.

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  4. Everyone’s situation is different. In my case, I commute 24,000 miles per year, my SUV gets 17 MPG (and 8 MPG when towing my camper), and my Prius gets 50 MPG. This is nearly a $2700 difference in just fuel. My barely used Prius was half the price of my new SUV. In my case, the seating capacity is the same, 5 passengers tightly packed, but most of the time I’m solo (commuting to work).

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    1. Agree. I picked our mid-sized SUV and a Honda Accord to be broadly comparable. Tesla owners would have a more unique argument too.

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