MONEY Autos

The Least and Most Expensive States to Drive

Car driving into the Tetons, Wyoming
At least the scenery is great in the state where drivers tend to log in the most mileage on the road, Wyoming. Rolf Richardson—Alamy

Curiously, a state with low auto insurance premiums and fairly cheap gas is named the most expensive in the nation for operating a car.

Bankrate.com released the results of a new study about the least and most expensive states to own a vehicle, and a few of the places featured at the pricey end may seem particularly puzzling. Using state-by-state data concerning driver spending on car repairs, insurance, and gas gathered from CarMD.com, GasBuddy.com, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Bankrate researchers found:

• The Midwest dominated the least expensive end of the cost spectrum, with Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa named the three cheapest states. All averaged under $2,000 annually for the trio of car operating costs included in the study, with Iowa the cheapest of all—$1,942, 13% below the national average ($2,233).

• Drivers in North Carolina, California, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey spend the most on repairs, all averaging $390 or more annually. New Jersey has the highest average of all at $393, which is 11% higher than the national average. A few hours north in Vermont, meanwhile, drivers average just $270 in annual repairs.

• Average car insurance premiums in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Louisiana top $1,200 per year, which is at least $500 more than a half-dozen other states in the country.

• Several of the top five most expensive states to operate a car may come as a surprise: Wyoming is the priciest overall ($2,705), followed by Louisiana ($2,555), Florida ($2,516), Mississipi ($2,487), and New Jersey ($2,421).

The reason that Wyoming is at the top of the list pretty much boils down to how much drivers pay for gasoline. It’s not even that the state’s gas prices are all that high—drivers in Alaska, Hawaii, New York, California, and Connecticut, among other places, routinely pay more per gallon than folks in Wyoming. Instead, Wyoming drivers pay more annually for gasoline because they tend to drive so much—68% more than the average American. The data used by Bankrate indicates that folks in Wyoming spent $1,588 on gasoline last year, and $1,643 the year before that. In the 2014 study, the state where drivers spent the second highest amount on gas was Alabama, with an average of $1,237. The average driver in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, spent an average of only $618 on gasoline in a year’s time.

Drivers in D.C. don’t get off so easily in other areas, however. The average car insurance policy there runs $1,273 annually, vastly more than premiums in Iowa, Ohio, Idaho, Wisconsin, Maine, and both of the Dakotas, which all average under $700.

What’s more, D.C. drivers are subjected to many costs that aren’t factored in to the Bankrate study, and that drivers in, say, Wyoming, rarely have to worry about. Like parking. A 2014 NerdWallet report about the worst 10 U.S. cities for parking featured Washington, D.C., for its typical costs ($19 per day, $270 per month) and the total amount collected in parking fines (around $100 million each year).

For that matter, the Bankrate study, limited as it is to just three data points, leaves out quite a few of the costs involved in owning a car. Like, you know, the actual cost of the car. Once the price of buying or leasing a vehicle is adding in, along with things like depreciation, maintenance, and gas, the average sedan costs $8,876, according to the latest AAA estimates.

And hey, owning a car in Wyoming is not necessarily as expensive as the Bankrate study makes it out to be. The average driver pays more there because he is on the road much more than his counterpart in Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, where the averages in annual gas expenditures are all under $800. To some extent, Wyoming drivers are victims of their state’s geography and development—stuff there is far away, what are you gonna do? But unlike in other states, where impossible-to-get-around high auto repair and insurance costs inflate overall driving expenses, at least people in Wyoming theoretically have the power to dramatically rein in the price of having a car, provided their work schedules and personal lives allow it. Just drive less.

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