The cheapest 2012 cars to own

Look at bottom-line ownership costs, not just the sticker price, to find a new car that will deliver maximum long-term value.

Forbes

While many families will put nearly as much money into owning and operating their vehicles in a given year than they will sink into their retirement accounts — and will certainly be more passionate about what they drive than where they keep their cash — few motorists will pay the same attention to getting the most out of their automotive investments than they will their portfolios.

To wring the most value out of your ride you’ll have to work the bottom line like an accountant and think long-term like an investment adviser when you go out shopping for a new car or truck. That doesn’t necessarily mean settling for the cheapest car on a dealer’s lot just to save a few bucks. No matter what type of vehicle you favor, keeping a watchful eye on long-term ownership costs can mean substantial savings over a typical five-year ownership period.

“Car shoppers should take the time to compare vehicles on their consideration lists to fully understand the financial implications involved with cost of ownership,” says Juan Flores, director of vehicle valuation for Kelley Blue Book.  “While a vehicle might be less expensive up front, the cost of fuel for that model, insurance and other expenditures could make it the less appealing choice for their wallet in the long run.”

Fortunately, the Internet makes comparing new-car ownership costs easier than scouring financial reports to pick stock-market winners. We consulted Kelley Blue Book, which recently announced its inaugural Total Cost of Ownership Awards. The kbb.com website tracks anticipated depreciation, fuel costs, insurance costs, financing, repairs, maintenance, and average state sales taxes and registration fees over a five-year ownership period for most makes and models, and even provides a per-mile expenditure for easy comparison. The accompanying slide show highlights models in 20 separate categories that kbb.com predicts will be the cheapest to own, based on the above cost assumptions.

Generally, the more expensive the vehicle, the more important differences in projected ownership costs become, simply because there’s more money at stake. “Total cost of ownership among relatively less expensive vehicles does not vary by more than $1,000 to $3,000,” Flores explains. “But in the luxury or near luxury segments, the variance can be within $8,000 to $10,000, and in the high-end luxury segment, total cost of ownership can vary by $20,000.”

When looking for a car that’s cheapest to own, you’ll get the biggest return on your investment by picking a model that’s predicted to hold its value better over time than others in its class, based on economic factors and historical data. This is likewise important for those leasing a vehicle because payments are largely based on its projected value at the end of the contract’s term. According to Flores, Kelley Blue Book begins its depreciation calculations with the average new-vehicle transaction price, based on what car shoppers are actually paying for a new car (not the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price, or MSRP).

The next most-important cost variable to consider is a car’s fuel economy. With the national average price for a gallon gas at $3.51, according to the AAA (with $4.00/gallon a probability by summer), buying a more fuel-frugal model can mean significant savings. For example, the annual estimated cost difference between a vehicle that gets 20 mpg and one that’s rated at 30 mpg is $878 (based on current gas prices and 40 percent highway/60 percent city driving at 15,000 miles/year) according to the EPA’s fuel cost calculator at fueleconomy.gov. That’s a difference of $4,390 over a five-year ownership period, with even greater savings at stake if fuel costs continue their upward trend.

Another major cost factor is the price of auto insurance. While rates are based largely on a person’s driving record, age, gender, credit rating, address and miles driven, some cars are inherently cheaper to insure based on their claims histories and repair costs. Family-oriented minivans and crossover SUVs generally garner the lowest rates, with high-performance sports cars and top-of-the-line luxury cars being assessed the costliest premiums. Always consult with an insurance agent when shopping for a new car to compare rates among various models under consideration and shop among several companies to garner the best deal.

The kbb.com cost estimates we cite here assume a driver with a clean record using the vehicle for personal use. Quoted coverage includes liability, physical damage protection and (where applicable) personal injury, based on the most-often-selected limits and deductibles.

The maintenance cost projections from kbb.com we cite are based on the manufacturers’ recommended service schedules, with labor costs at the national average of $84 per hour, plus replacement parts and service items purchased at the suggested list prices. Repair costs are based on the retail price of a zero-deductible extended-warranty service contract that covers the vehicle for its initial five-year term of ownership.

Among the models represented in our list, it should come as no surprise that the smallest cars are both the most affordable to buy and deliver the lowest long-term operating costs. Thanks to high gas prices, a sagging economy and a wave of more-upscale models like the Ford Focus and Buick Verano, small cars are on pace to outsell midsize entries for the first time in nearly two decades, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

One final word: Never pay full list price for a new car or truck. While a Ferrari or Lamborghini dealer may not see the need to haggle, and a few in-demand models might actually command price premiums if they’re in particularly short supply, an astute buyer can pay less – sometimes by a substantial amount – than what’s quoted on the window sticker. Many cars can be driven off the lot for at or near the so-called invoice price, which is a slight percentage above the dealer’s actual cost for a given model. What’s more, choosing a vehicle for which the manufacturer is offering a cash rebate will further reduce a buyer’s costs.

Nissan Versa

Segment: Subcompact Car
Base MSRP: $11,770
Depreciation: $6,270
Repairs: $1,728
Maintenance: $2,161
State Fees/Taxes: $1,045
Insurance: $4,580
Financing: $1,163
Fuel: $8,921
Total Five-Year Cost: $25,868
Cost Per Mile: $0.34

Kia Soul

Segment: Compact Car
Base MSRP: $14,650
Depreciation: $8,621
Repairs: $1,980
Maintenance: $2,358
State Fees/Taxes: $1,315
Insurance: $3,695
Financing: $1,464
Fuel: $9,018
Total Five-Year Cost: $28,451
Cost Per Mile: $0.38

Hyundai Sonata

Segment: Midsize Car
Base MSRP: $20,455
Depreciation: $13,498
Repairs: $1,828
Maintenance: $2,166 State Fees/Taxes: $1,814
Insurance: $4,405
Financing: $2,018
Fuel: $9,709
Total Five-Year Cost: $35,438
Cost Per Mile: $0.47


Chevrolet Impala

Segment: Full-Size Car
Base MSRP: $26,585
Depreciation: $19,034
Repairs: $2,196
Maintenance: $2,650
State Fees/Taxes: $2,347
Insurance: $5,025
Financing: $2,612
Fuel: $12,364
Total Five-Year Cost: $46,228
Cost Per Mile: $0.62

Volvo C30

Segment: Entry-Level Luxury Car
Base MSRP: $25,575
Depreciation: $15,870
Repairs: $2,636
Maintenance: $2,081
State Fees/Taxes: $2,266
Insurance: $4,700
Financing: $2,523
Fuel: $11,320
Total Five-Year Cost: $41,396
Cost Per Mile: $0.55

Audi A5

Segment: Luxury Car
Base MSRP: $37,975
Depreciation: $22,784
Repairs: $3,942
Maintenance: $4,011
State Fees/Taxes: $3,418
Insurance: $5,105
Financing: $3,805
Fuel: $11,048
Total Five-Year Cost: $54,113
Cost Per Mile: $0.72

Lexus LS

Segment: High-End Luxury Car
Base MSRP: $68,505
Depreciation: $45,562
Repairs: $2,026
Maintenance: $3,672
State Fees/Taxes: $6,120
Insurance: $7,030
Financing: $6,812
Fuel: $14,418
Total Five-Year Cost: $85,640
Cost Per Mile: $1.14

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Segment: Sports Car
Base MSRP: $24,265
Depreciation: $15,276
Repairs: $1,851
Maintenance: $2,169
State Fees/Taxes: $2,117
Insurance: $4,500
Financing: $2,355
Fuel: $11,148
Total Five-Year Cost: $39,416
Cost Per Mile: $0.53

Lexus IS F

Segment: High-Performance Car
Base MSRP: $62,175
Depreciation: $36,683
Repairs: $2,016
Maintenance: $4,077
State Fees/Taxes: $5,595
Insurance: $7,900
Financing: $6,229
Fuel: $14,640
Total Five-Year Cost: $77,140
Cost Per Mile: $1.03

Honda Insight

Segment: Hybrid Car
Base MSRP: $19,120
Depreciation: $12,714
Repairs: $1,770
Maintenance: $1,831
State Fees/Taxes: $1,709
Insurance: $4,315
Financing: $1,902
Fuel: $6,418
Total Five-Year Cost: $30,659
Cost Per Mile: $0.41

Nissan Juke

Segment: Compact Crossover SUV
Base MSRP: $20,770
Depreciation: $13,009
Repairs: $1,791
Maintenance: $2,413
State Fees/Taxes: $1,829
Insurance: $3,780
Financing: $2,036
Fuel: $9,344
Total Five-Year Cost: $34,202
Cost Per Mile: $0.46


Hyundai Santa Fe

Segment: Crossover SUV
Base MSRP: $24,035
Depreciation: $15,852
Repairs: $1,948
Maintenance: $1,975
State Fees/Taxes: $2,098
Insurance: $3,830
Financing: $2,335
Fuel: $11,826
Total Five-Year Cost: $39,864
Cost Per Mile: $0.53

Lexus RX

Segment: Luxury Crossover SUV
Base MSRP: $39,950
Depreciation: $21,748
Repairs: $2,056
Maintenance: $3,358
State Fees/Taxes: $3,434
Insurance: $4,405
Financing: $3,823
Fuel: $13,179
Total Five-Year Cost: $52,003
Cost Per Mile: $0.69

Jeep Wrangler

Segment: Midsize SUV
Base MSRP: $22,845
Depreciation: $10,403
Repairs: $2,277
Maintenance: $1,817
State Fees/Taxes: $2,035
Insurance: $3,950
Financing: $2,266
Fuel: $14,596
Total Five-Year Cost: $37,344
Cost Per Mile: $0.50

Ford Expedition

Segment: Full-Size SUV
Base MSRP: $38,370
Depreciation: $25,077
Repairs: $2,106
Maintenance: $2,505
State Fees/Taxes: $3,369
Insurance: $4,405
Financing: $3,749
Fuel: $16,769
Total Five-Year Cost: $57,980
Cost Per Mile $0.77  

Audi Q7

Segment: Luxury SUV
Base MSRP: $47,125
Depreciation: $26,795
Repairs: $4,092
Maintenance: $4,093
State Fees/Taxes: $4,230
Insurance: $4,440
Financing: $4,709
Fuel: $14,881
Total Five-Year Cost: $63,240
Cost Per Mile: $0.84

Ford Escape Hybrid

Segment: Hybrid SUV
Base MSRP: $31,395
Depreciation: $21,002
Repairs: $2,046
Maintenance: $1,700
State Fees/Taxes: $2,700
Insurance: $3,700
Financing: $3,005
Fuel: $8,331
Total Five-Year Cost: $42,484
Cost Per Mile: $0.57

Mazda Mazda5

Segment: Minivan
Base MSRP: $20,420
Depreciation: $12,306
Repairs: $1,932
Maintenance: $2,081
State Fees/Taxes: $1,706
Insurance: $4,565
Financing: $1,896
Fuel: $11,470
Total Five-Year Cost: $35,956
Cost Per Mile: $0.48

Toyota Tacoma Regular Cab

Segment: Midsize Pickup
Base MSRP: $17,685
Depreciation: $9,456
Repairs: $1,767
Maintenance: $2,212
State Fees/Taxes: $1,577
Insurance: $4,880
Financing: $1,754
Fuel: $11,993
Total Five-Year Cost: $33,639
Cost Per Mile: $0.45

Chevrolet Silverado Regular Cab

Segment: Full-Size Pickup
Base MSRP: $22,940
Depreciation: $14,082
Repairs: $2,166
Maintenance: $2,301
State Fees/Taxes: $2,044
Insurance: $5,200
Financing: $2,275
Fuel: $16,058
Total Five-Year Cost: $44,126
Cost Per Mile: $0.59

Full List: The Cheapest 2012 Cars To Own

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