Cost Per Mile from a Year of Biking and Driving

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Ride or die drive?

I live in southern California, where everyone drives, lives, and breathes (literally) car. The public transportation system isn’t that good out here; there’s no subway in my city, and trains are spotty unless you happen to be going at exactly commuter hours (how I miss you, 24/7 NYC subway!) I try to bike to nearby places if possible, and use the car on the weekend for errands. I know that the car costs more, but it covers more miles; while the bike costs less, but also travels less distance. I wondered, what’s the cost per mile, based on data from a year of usage?

I usually bike to work, but I am also a regular human being who drives her car because there’s no way I’m lugging my Costco haul back home on a bike. (Side note: tried it, never again. These roads are *not* made for biking.) I drive about once per week to the grocery store. About once a month, I drive to a nearby city an hour away for some fun.

Calculating costs: I dug through my credit card statements and Amazon orders from Feb. 2017 to Feb. 2018. I didn’t include the cost of purchasing the bike or car (which are both paid off anyway), or the cost of any accessories that I already own. I also didn’t count parking fees, since I wanted to calculate the transportation cost, not the storage cost. (Side note 2: The parking ended up being fairly hefty, $300 for the year, mostly from parking at the airport before they started allowing Uber/Lyft.)

Mileage: I drove 7500 miles during the year. Compared to the national average of 12,000 miles, this seems reasonable. To calculate my bike mileage, I estimated that I biked to work 75% of the time, leading to the calculation: 4.4 miles/day * 260 working days/year * 0.75 = 858 miles/year. WOW, that’s almost 1000 miles!

The Numbers

So given that the driving mileage is more than 8x the biking mileage, does the car cost 8x more than the bike? Let the numbers speak:

Item Car Bike
Registration DMV ($100), smog check ($40) free on-campus
Insurance AAA ($650) n/a
Regular maintenance gas ($600), oil changes ($100) pump tire and lube chain ($0)
Unexpected events traffic ticket ($250) flat ($7)
Upgrades none mirror, bell, and reflective vest ($50)
TOTAL COST $1740 $57
COST PER MILE $0.23 $0.07


Cost comparison: Overall, the car costs 30x more than the bike in terms of dollars spent! In terms of cost per mile, every mile spent in the driver’s seat costs 3x more than sitting on the bicycle seat. The car’s cost per mile of $0.23 is actually quite a bit lower than the standard reimbursement amount of $0.535, which is interesting. Perhaps that’s because my insurance costs are low, since I don’t cover damage to my own vehicle, and I’m in a lower-risk demographic (female, above 25).

Fuel me up: One surprising thing to me was the gas cost, which is about $600 (~2 tanks per month). And this is given that US gas prices are amongst the lowest in the world. Seeing as I occasionally drive short trips in-town or long distances on the highway, and fewer miles than the average American driver, I didn’t expect the gas costs to be so high.  I suspect that upgrading to a more gas-efficient car would help there. I currently drive a 2005 Pontiac Vibe (basically a hatchback version of a Toyota Corolla), which doesn’t have the best gas mileage due to its age.

Final thoughts: I would never be able to give up my car. Although I admire people who can live car-free, the value of being able to drive to nearby cities on my own time is incredible. California doesn’t have great public transportation options, compared to NJ/NY where I used to live. Although I used to complain non-stop about New Jersey Transit 😛 , I would take it in a heartbeat if there was a similar option in California. Out here, the car is invaluable for the ability to travel long distances = time saved.

Do you usually drive, walk, bike, or bus/subway? How much do you spend on car maintenance?

6 thoughts on “Cost Per Mile from a Year of Biking and Driving

  1. The actual car owning math is incredibly helpful! We don’t have that kind of data for ourselves, I might reference this! 🙂 Biking sounds so fun at 0.07 per mile, although one would need rent or drive a car once in a while.


    • Biking is definitely fun and refreshing! I read a post somewhere saying that driving an electric car costs $0.08 per mile, similar to biking, so I guess electric cars are pretty efficient now (or human legs are inefficient?). I actually think driving is kind of fun too, if you can blast music and have an open road ahead 🙂


  2. We drove about 3,000 miles last year. I don’t know how much exactly my husband biked, but most of our groceries are bought either walking or him on his bike (we do drive to Costco 3-4 times per year though) and he bikes to and from work, but that’s probably only 500 miles a year.

    All in that, we spent $3,500 on the car last year. $1,600 of that was a repair from an annoyingly minor accident, so I would say about $1,900 was more normal recurring items. $1,000 on insurance, $350 on maintenance (needed a new battery), $240 on vehicle registration, $234.51 on fuel, and then $35 on tolls and parking. Our cost per mile is much higher than yours, but we drove very, very little. I drove much more the previous year (I think about 7,000 miles) and spent about $2,700 total on car expenses, so there’s a certain amount of fixed expenses with owning a car…


    • 3000 miles is so low! I wish we could get down to that, but we end up driving out of town to the oceanside cities fairly often. I also think I’m addicted to Costco, I go way more than you 🙂

      I guess technically the cost per mile could be infinite, if you spent non-zero dollars but drove 0 miles 😛 Repairs can be so expensive! I once dented someone else’s car, and it cost $1500 to repair what looked to me like a small blip. $35 on tolls and parking is amazing too. I’m guessing you live somewhere with decent public transportation so you can skip the parking sometimes…

      My partner and I have recently been thinking about selling one car, which will sell for basically nothing, but what I’m most looking forward to is eliminating the fixed costs of owning a car!


      • We only have one car 🙂 My husband has two bicycles though. And yeah we have pretty decent public transportation. We usually use that or a Lyft versus paying for parking. Plus, my husband’s employer gives him a free bus pass so I end up using that and we have a card we put cash on for him. Costco is about 3-4 miles from us which is a solid hour minimum round trip driving usually so we don’t go very often when there are grocery stores a 10 minute walk away. We mostly have the car to visit family who live a few hours away and for the occasional road trip.

        On the other hand, we live in the city and spend a lot for our very centrally located condo 🙂


      • Buses are great! Somebody else to do the driving 🙂 I recently found that my work ID doubles as a free bus pass too, and it goes door-to-door from home to work.
        3-4 miles = 1 hour round trip of driving?? Sounds like big city living = horrible parking. I can’t even imagine Costco in the city… the parking is already a zoo out here in the suburbs.


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