As my wife and I talked about the luxury of a car on the way home Saturday night, we tried to calculate what it would cost if we were to rent a car every weekend in a year and compare that to ownership, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and fees. This assumes that we would do without a car during the weekdays as we have been doing.

Between the late hour and focusing on driving the ever-busy toll road, my brain could not handle these calculations on the fly. Let’s try this again with a fresh brain and a calculator now that I returned the rental car yesterday morning and have the full financial damage to work with.

The weekend rate for this car for two days with 12% taxes - it’s 20% in the City of Chicago - is $85.10. For 52 weeks that comes out to $4,425.20. Gas is our responsibility so I’ll average what I bought for the two trips this week and annualize that for giggles: $28.22 x 52 =$1,467.44. Put the two together and you have $5,892.64 for the privilege of having an economy car two days a week.

A side trip to Edmunds’ True Cost to Own SM with the specs on the car we are currently doing without offers up these annual numbers for our 2003 Subaru Forester based on 15,000 miles per year:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 5-yr Total
Depreciation $1,177 $1,033 $909 $806 $723 $4,648
Financing $640 $518 $386 $243 $88 $1,875
Insurance $989 $1,024 $1,060 $1,097 $1,135 $5,305
Taxes & Fees $777 $78 $78 $78 $78 $1,089
Fuel $2,548 $2,624 $2,703 $2,784 $2,868 $13,527
Maintenance $1,519 $823 $1,733 $456 $1,142 $5,673
Repairs $429 $500 $581 $675 $784 $2,969
Yearly Totals $8,079 $6,600 $7,450 $6,139 $6,818 $35,086

Without monthly car payments, our fixed costs of vehicle ownership currently comes out to $1,338.00, which is a combination of insurance ($1200), license stickers/plates ($78.00), and city sticker ($60.00). Maintenance on this car is low but still hacks into the budget about $500.00 a pop lately. Let’s be generous and say I’ve done upkeep about every 3,000 miles and that would be four times a year. $500 X 4 = $2,000.

Gasoline I’ll rough in based on our lower-than-average annual mileage of about 10,000 miles using a modest fuel efficiency for our Forester at 25 MPG (400 gallons) and $4.25/gallon, which is about where we are right now in Chicagoland and that brings us to $1,700. That’s pretty close to the $1,467.44 rental car number above.

Add them all together and you get this: $5,038.00.

Given that we have yet to hit 15,000 miles per year lately, this number makes Edmunds’ numbers pretty darn close. Let’s recap:

  • $6,818.00 Edmunds Year 5 cost
  • $5,892.64 Rental car
  • $5,038.00 My numbers

So even though the costs are pretty similar, it looks like we are not getting a better value with a rental car: fewer miles, fewer days, more hassle, and nearly another $900.00. The upside is a fairly new car that we do not have to maintain.

Right now, it looks like my “car free” is actually “less car, same costs.” Unless, of course, “less car” also means “less rental car”.

That can be done, too.