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Home » Auto Ownership, Save Money, Summer of Saving, Transportation

The Most Powerful Tool to Cut Miles Driven, Gas, & Vehicle Costs (and it’s Free)

Last updated by on 20 Comments

The average miles driven per year in the U.S. for a 20-34 year old is 15,098. 35-54 year-olds come in at 15,291.

That’s a lot of driving.

Actually, it’s enough driving to cross the entire United States from New York City to San Francisco – 5 times over.

And the cost of all that driving comes out to a mean of $8,582 per 2-person household.

We actually seem to be quite addicted to driving around, despite it being a relatively new phenomenon in human history. There are people still alive today that were born in a time when vehicles were not on streets.

In less than a century, the evolution of driving around in a vehicle, went from:

non existent -> an idea -> a prototype -> rare luxury -> common luxury -> common necessity -> recreationally wasteful

Almost every adult in the United States has one. It is common to have one and uncommon not to.

Remove yourself from the normality that vehicle driving has become and put its ridiculousness in to perspective for a moment:

  • cut your vehicle coststhe entire history of human civilization got around just fine for millions of years without combustion powered vehicles.
  • we went from zero vehicles sold to 14-15 million per year (in the U.S. alone) in the span of one (long) lifetime.
  • each of those 14-15 million vehicles started out as metal and oil underneath the earth’s surface, that was extracted – at a great environmental cost.
  • hundreds, if not thousands of people melted, torched, shaped, manipulated, engineered, and pieced together materials to put each of those vehicles together – at a great environmental cost.
  • you paid thousands, probably tens of thousands for that metal/plastic and didn’t think twice about doing so – because it is the normal thing to do.
  • you’ll probably do it 5-10 times over in your lifetime.
  • to power your 100-300 lbs. of body weight around, you also have to power 4,000 lbs. of metal/plastic around by using a fossil fuel that was extracted from miles below the ground by huge drills – at a great environmental cost.
  • with each mile driven, you spew out carbon dioxide, at a great environmental cost. At 15,000 miles, you spew out about 12,000 lbs. of CO2 per year.
  • You pay about $0.565 per mile driven, all costs included, according to the U.S. govt.
  • the median household income in the U.S. is $52,762, while the mean spent on vehicles is over $8,000. That means 15% of our working hours, or about 1 hour and 12 minutes of the work day, goes towards paying off this habit, on average.
  • because you spent the money on it, you sure as hell are going to use it. So now you have good reason to move farther away from work and use it even more, further increasing costs, environmental waste, and the hours needed to work to pay it all off.

None of this is “natural”. But we’ve grown used to it as “normal” human behavior. And many of us have completely taken how ridiculous and wasteful it is for granted because of its normalcy – hence the 15,000+ miles driven per person per year.

If we don’t take the act of vehicle driving for granted, we would buy fewer vehicles (and cheaper and more fuel efficient ones when we did), we would buy them less often, drive them much less frequently, and save tons of money in the process. We might think twice about hopping in our vehicle to drive 2 miles to pick up a bottle of soda or 7 times a week to get groceries or dine out. And hopefully we really think twice when deciding between living in a nice urban home a mile from work, the school, and grocery store or that huge country home with the big yard 30 miles away from work and 5 miles away from everything else. And a “vacation home” hundreds of miles away? No thanks.

The best tool for cutting your miles driven and the gasoline/maintenance costs needed to power them is to develop an appreciation and respect for the ridiculousness and wastefulness that driving a vehicle is. Only then, will you change your driving habits. In other words, your brain can develop and free and very powerful tool – gratitude. Your attitude towards vehicle and all consumption will change for the better, the more you use this tool. It may not be easy to develop, but it’s there, if you look for it.

Think of the impact if everyone used gratitude to view vehicle driving as a privileged luxury to only be used as a last resort.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


20 Comments »
  • Jesse K. says:

    First off, I wholeheartedly agree and wish that there was someway to do away with cars, at least for everyday city driving. It is kind of ridiculous that in just 100 years it’s now expected for most people to not only start driving but even get their own car at 16 (or sometimes even younger). There are a couple barriers I’ve personally come across when trying to find alternatives to get to work. Believe me, there’s nothing more I’d like than to just bike 15 minutes everyday to get to work.

    Most cities are now built to where you pretty much need a car to get around, otherwise you’ll spend an enormous amount of time waiting around for sub-par public transit. Even though civilization was fine without cars for millions of years they did have some alternatives, such as horses =). Governments also (perhaps unintentionally) encourage the use of cars when they build road systems that don’t accommodate bikers and pedestrians well. While my commute would be quite long, the number one reason I don’t bike to work is actually because I fear for my safety. There have been a lot of auto-bicycle/pedestrian accidents lately, many fatal. There are a decent amount of bike lanes along the way to work, but also enough troublesome stretches and intersection that I feel it’s still dangerous. Riding home for 30 minutes in 100+ degree weather also does not sound fun.

    I work downtown, and the biggest barrier that kept me from living closer was cost. I would have LOVED to buy a nice urban home near downtown rather than a home that requires me to drive to get around except that they cost 3-5 times as much!! With downtown living so expensive, only those with high income can afford to live there. Even most decent apartments a few miles from downtown have rents higher than my mortgage. Some of the high rise apartments actually inside downtown can be multiple times my mortgage.

    I do see that the city is making efforts to create more bike lanes though, so hopefully that might become a more viable option in the future. It’s just tricky because most downtown cities have narrow enough roads as it is.

  • Ben says:

    I enjoy reading your blog – but for this post and a minimal handful of others, I feel they are a bit preachy and judgmental. I know – I can always not read, but I sincerely enjoy the way you put things and calculate out the ridiculousness of car ownership, but at the same time, for people living in the middle of Kansas or in suburban DC the options for transportation to those other things that are deemed necessary in life – Doctor visits (recall back when the Doctor’s used to make house calls?) or schooling (remember when people did NOT live in McMansions and actually formed a community around a main street so kids could walk to school)….things like these make car ownership for some a necessary evil. For population heavy areas where people may spend over an hour commuting each day, having a comfortable car may be worth it to them to pass that time. My wife and I just picked up a new Mazda CX-5 to accommodate our growing family, and I love the “instantaneous” MPG display – and play games to see how I can maximize the read out by not accelerating too hard or coasting when available – those are the types of things that I would also encourage others to do. Just some feedback – have a great day.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      What fun are blogs if they aren’t a little preachy and judgmental from time to time? Isn’t that why people turn to blogs vs. drone-written news outlet articles?

      But seriously, no change happens without a mental shift on consumer behavior. And the goal here is not to ridicule anyone (I take the occasional wasteful drive as well and I’m my own harshest critic), but rather to inspire the mental shift in how we view our actions. Otherwise, the actions are empty and short-lived.

      • Ben says:

        Trust me – there have been plenty of trips I’ve taken to say Walmart or Target where I’m kicking myself for forgetting a product that I had to return to that store anyway only having to either turn around and go get it (wasteful) or make a totally separate trip.

        I agree with you on the mindset changing – it seems as though the only “tried and true” method that works is pricing people out of the market – not via the vehicles themselves, but when gas topped $4.50/gallon a few years ago, you saw people concerned with combining trips, car-pooling, fueling at more environmentally times of the day to squeeze every last drop etc. Of course, when gas prices dropped again – this mindset also faded.

        I like your comment on using a blog to be preachy and judgmental….my opinion was that it perhaps detracted slightly from this post as opposed to others – but hey, it’s your blog – and as another person commented….PREACH ON!!!! :)

  • Todd says:

    “non existent -> an idea -> a prototype -> rare luxury -> common luxury -> common necessity -> recreationally wasteful”

    This path is very common. We could say the same thing about any other form of travel, from horses to (potentially) spaceship. We could definitely say it about the telephone or the computer or even cooked food or clothing. I know there are some nudists who could make their own version of this same post.

    I’ve enjoyed the tips this summer to this point. You have pointed out a number of good areas for savings, and while there are significant savings to be had in the area of transportation, they are much more difficult to obtain for lack of control. We can try to set up your life so that our homes are next to most places you want to visit, but in many towns, that’s asking a lot for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the people who build and zone the places you want to go don’t really care about where you live because they expect you to have the “common necessity” car. We need to change the minds of city planners, not only the consumers who are just operating within the confines of the rules presented to them. Build up, not out. Build Hyperloops, not highways.

    But even those are ideals that assume other ideals, like peace. Sprawl has its drawbacks, but opportunity for concentrated attack is not one of them.

  • Part of the reason cars are so large and heavy is to protect the precious cargo they carry when traveling at over 60mph with other extremely heavy objects traveling at similar speeds close by.

    If you don’t mind giving up safety there are far more economical options such as motorcycles or even bicycles.

  • Syed says:

    Great and informative post. Liked how you emphasized the environmental impact of from manufacturing to finally driving the car. I wonder how sustainable such a lifestyle will be. Will our grandchildren be able to live like this?

    Also there is something to be said about time sitting in your car especially in very congested areas such as Washington, SF and NY. All that time spent on the road is wasted and can certainly lead to more stress.

  • Lungs_of_Steel says:

    The ridiculous-ness and wasteful-ness of driving is only matched by the channels taken to deliver your computer to publish an article such as this.

    We all make choices and are responsible for them. Me? I have no other choice than to drive to work. I could have gotten a Honda Fit, which will hit 40 mpg on a good day. Or I could have gotten a Prius, which strangely is a status symbol as a “green” car while not helping the environment one iota. I could also have gotten a Corvette, which goes 0-100 km in just over 4 seconds and may appear wasteful but can hit the mid/high-20s in mpg. My compromise is the Mini Cooper, which has a great efficiency/fun-to-drive quotient.

    Because, when you sit in traffic, having something fun to drive means everything. Until I move to Tahiti, this is the way it is.

  • Kim says:

    I lived in northern California where it was a social stigma to drive a car, so I just didn’t drive and didn’t miss out on anything. Now in Orlando I don’t drive often since we chose a house near downtown instead of in the “cheap” suburbs. I agree there’s something to be said about driving a fun vehicle (mine is a zippy Jeep) but it still isn’t as fun as walking or riding a bike to get around. Love your blog, preach on :-)

  • We got into biking as a way to decrease the miles we drive. Instead of taking the car to the grocery store we take the bikes. It’s cut down on a lot of wasteful city miles (which is low gas mileage anyway)

  • I agree – preach on, GE! And it looks like the message is being heard, and acted on, by young adults. Compared with previous generations, today’s young adults aren’t buying cars – heck, they’re not even getting driver’s licenses – at the same rate that their parents did. Okay, some of that is the job market, etc., but a LOT of it is the “mental shift” that you described. I know that’s the case in my household!

  • RL says:

    This is good info, but ultimately not something that can inspire change. To shun personal transportation is not practical. Unless you live in a metropolis with a well functioning mass transit system and are perfectly OK with never leaving that city, you will drive a car. It’s impractical not to.

    For example, for 15 years I lived in NYC and never drove a car. I didn’t have a license until the age of 27. Anytime I left the city, even just to go for a hike or visit a friend in the suburbs, I was at the whim of poorly organized taxis and shoddy public transportation. I still live in that city and have since bought a car.

    Most of the country is inaccessible for people without cars. Urban areas make up just 3% of the country according to the 2002 USDA ERS report. Even in many urban areas in America public transportation is inadequate.

    Basically, as much as I’d love to reduce the number of cars on the road, it’s not going to happen until there are better alternatives. More mass transit and better bicycle infrastructure would help but would require massive investments.

  • Dray says:

    I love your post and I do agree something needs to change but it is no where near as easy as you make it out to be.

    For instance I live less than two miles from my job, easily bikeable. However I am 21, female, and an assistant manager who frequently closes. Even living in a nicer area of town biking is not feasible purely for safety reasons. I get off at 10pm or so most nights, there is no way I’m going to bike home alone. On the rare days I open and the weather permits I can and do bike but beyond that I’ll stick to my car.

  • Jason B says:

    “non existent -> an idea -> a prototype -> rare luxury -> common luxury -> common necessity -> recreationally wasteful”

    I agree with this but it I feel that it is happening too often. Example look at this blog. All the computers and power that are used to keep this blog operational and available 24X7. And to be viewed by 8 Trillion computers online, which all require power and wasteful processing to build.

    It seems every step forward has an impact. So what is there to do step back to our roots, and alienate everything that is common to us.

  • G.E. Miller says:

    I am hearing a whole lot of excuse making out there.
    What is the point in the computer analogy (2 people have brought this up)? Because someone uses a computer to read or write this, does that mean that any efforts to reduce consumption are completely meaningless? It’s like saying, “I am 100 lbs. overweight, but there’s no hope in me losing weight because I have to eat food to survive and food makes me overweight.” It’s a non-starter.

    If you’re feeling guilty about wasteful driving, the first step is acknowledging that it is indeed wasteful.

    Tens of millions of people in this country get by without vehicles, and billions of humans over the course of history have done the same. So whether you reduce the recreational wastefulness, plan your errands more strategically, move closer to work, or get rid of your car altogether – the point is to start somewhere and improve. Trying to convince me or others that it’s not feasible doesn’t really help your situation. And it’s a feeble effort, because I’m convinced that 99% of those with vehicles can improve in this area. To the 1% who truly cannot – congratulations are in order.

  • Matthew Howell says:

    Mr. Miller,

    Consider this, if you will:

    I used to work, for 7 years, at a job that was 60 miles away (120 miles round trip) and I didn’t own a car at the time, so I relied completely upon Public Transit – I vividly remember needing to wake every morning at 5:30 so that I could start my job at 9:00 and, when my shift was over at 2:30, I wouldn’t get home until around 4:30 (Bus service was speedier in the afternoon). This was back before MP3 players and portable “gadgets” so I made due as best I could.

    Did I enjoy it? Not really….
    Did I feel environmentally superior to car drivers? No…

    I mostly felt exhausted each and every day.

  • Robert says:

    Lmao….

    “The best tool for cutting your miles driven and the gasoline/maintenance costs needed to power them is to develop an appreciation and respect for the ridiculousness and wastefulness that driving a vehicle is. Only then, will you change your driving habits. In other words, your brain can develop and free and very powerful tool – gratitude. Your attitude towards vehicle and all consumption will change for the better, the more you use this tool. It may not be easy to develop, but it’s there, if you look for it.”

    Writer lives in a city… Has to. I live 22 miles from city limits. I live over 8 miles from any store of any sort. A car is a necessity of life. No public transit available. Horses really aren’t a viable option.

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