Jan 30, 2013

My Vehicle Ownership Costs

A while back, blog reader and old man abuser Andy Mckenzie, challenged me regarding my assumptions that motorcycle ownership isn't an economical transportation alternative, relative to cheap car ownership. The chart below describes the results of my careful accounting of my operational costs since I purchased these 3 vehicles. The actual odometer reading \on each vehicle is greater than that listed below, but the only significant variance in the "Miles" spec is on the Ford Escort Wagon which had about 100,000 miles on the odometer when I bought the car. The two bikes weren't even broken-in when I bought them from their original owners (less than 900 miles).

Economy Comparison
between My Cheap Car and My Motorcycles

Ford Escort Wagon
2008 Yamaha WR250X 2004
Suzuki 650 V-Strom
Costs/Mile $0.225 $0.290 $0.172
Cost/Year $1,865 $1,414 $1,114
Miles/Year 8,294 4,882 6,497
Years Owned 9.4 1.9 6.4
Miles 78,053 9,469 41,778
Average Fuel Economy (miles/gallon) 24.4 52.6 50.3
Vehicle Expense $2,700 $3,200 $3,400
Total Fuel Costs $9,437 $531 $2,450
Tires $280 $426 $1,540
Oil Changes $120 $39 $328
Major Repairs $3,572 $0 $0
Minor Repairs $84 $439 $1,056
Taxes and License Fees $517 $253 $310
Insurance $1,468 $410 $956
Farkles $275 $845 $627
Current Resale Value (estimate) $900 $3,400 $3,500
Total Lifetime Costs $17,553 $2,744 $7,166

This is not the data result I expected. For years, because of the cost of drive-line repairs (chains and sprockets) and tires, I've assumed that owning a motorcycle is inherently more expensive than driving a cheap car.  The comments I made on a past blog/rant more than implied that and Mr. Mckenzie called me on it. It's only luck that prevented me from putting money on this claim.This is a discussion and assumption I've shared with the publisher of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine, Victor Wanchena, and a disagreement that has continued with the owner/founder of Aerostich, Andy Goldfine, for years. I have, clearly, taken for-granted an erroneous assumption: motorcycles are not an economical transportation option.

The fact that the WR250X is, so far, the most expensive vehicle I currently own means nothing. The bike needed a lot of TLC in the form of returning it to stock after the original owner chopped it to bits in an effort to make his dick appear to be bigger (or whatever motivation it is that causes children and fools to ruin perfectly good engineering in an attempt at proving they're smart). All of the Minor Repair costs on that bike have been the expense of buying stock parts and one chain/sprocket replacement at about 1,200 miles (obviously, the previous owner didn't believe in lubrication). My first set of tires were actual SuperMoto tires and they were expensive and didn't live long. The current tires are dual purpose Korean cheapos and are wearing like iron. I also installed a 3.1 gallon tank, a new seat, a suspension-lowering link, and a rear rack which jacked up the Farkles costs considerably. As usual, I don't expect to get anything back from the Farkle "investment," but it is a one-time expense that will obviously be overwhelmed if the bike holds up and I'm able to put some serious miles on the 250 in the next few years.The more I've worked on the WR250X, the better the fuel economy has become, so it ought to show some serious "improvement" in cost/mile driven by next winter. Since I'm finished Farkle-ing the WR, now the fuel economy will start chipping away at the Cost/Mile figure.

The V-Strom ownership costs are artificially lower than they should be, due to my writing "business." The bike has a lot more Farkle-investment than $627, but I picked up most of those bits as evaluation "samples" so I don't have any money in my aftermarket luggage, chain-oiler, seat, and a bunch of other "improvements." I'm just working this out by what I have invested, not what the stuff might be worth. Most of the V-Strom's Minor Repairs costs have been in chain replacement. The bike has seen at least 12,000 miles of off-pavement travel and that chews up O-ring chains fast, even with an auto-oiler. In fact, if the Escort had seen the same kind of terrain, it might have not survived.

Since the Current Resale Value (estimate) is subtracted from the Total Lifetime Costs and Cost/Mile figures, if I get less than those estimates the numbers will, in the end, reflect that. I might be optimistic on the Escort and WR250X's resale, but from last summer's experience I don't anticipate getting less than $3,500 for the V-Strom whenever I sell it. Those numbers are just estimates, but I don't expect to be particularly surprised or depressed by the final values.

For most of my life, I suspected that car ownership is stupid. The cost of renting a brand new Kia in Portland and driving it to San Francisco this past January and the above data proves that point. I paid about $0.34/mile to lightly use that car for eight days. I would have paid 2/3 of that if I'd have returned the car to Portland. The "convenience" of car ownership is overwhelmed by the cost of the damn things and, since I hate driving them in the best of times, I will happily divest myself of at least one of my cars the day I retire.


Trobairitz said...

Such a great comprehensive account of ownership.

Thanks for putting so much work into getting those figures together. Based on cost to purchase and maintenance, LOF, etc I can tell the cost of ownership of our 2011 Subaru Forester is way more than our two motorcycles combined.

Good to know.

Andy Mckenzie said...

Interesting! As I think I said in my last comment, I assumed part of the cost difference was just that parts and labor were cheap where I was living. I honestly didn't expect to see that big a difference in per-mile prices carried through everywhere, but it looks like it does.

Thanks for the detailed breakdown; that was something I hadn't quite done in my math (I figured purchase price, gas, insurance, and a round-number "maintenance" cost based on what I usually end up spending per year), and I'm pleased to see it holds up with real detail. I think, mostly, that people don't realize just how much money they put into gas. When I lived in a city with good public transit, my monthly expenses dropped by something like 40%, even though the cost of everything went up.

All in all, I would have put money on MY expenses being cheaper on the motorcycle, but I wouldn't have put money on it for anyone else. It's good to know how it actually works out for other people.

T.W. Day said...

I'm glad we didn't put your money on it, too. Otherwise, some of my money would have been yours. I hate that.

Tire costs on an old bike are lower, generally, because you don't have many options for modern, high mileage, high traction, and water-shedding model tires. That's not a savings I'm fond of on a big bike (even "big" as the V-Strom). However, on the WR I am running cheap Korean tires and they work just fine on the little bike. We'll see how long these $50 tires (each) last. The supermoto tires barely made it 3,000 miles.

Chains go fast on my bikes. Dirt roads and sandy off-road paths take a toll. So, getting 10,000-15,000 out of a chain and sprockets is often pushing reliability too hard for comfort. A good o-ring or x-ring chain is close to $200 and sprockets push the total expense to about $275 per change. Saving money there is asking for a long walk from a remote place.

Still, it's obvious that even the WR is going to be a lot cheaper to own and operate than the cheap car.

T.W. Day said...

This maintenance spreadsheet has been something I've kept up for more than 40 years on a variety of vehicles. The biggest thing I take away from it is how incredibly expensive individual vehicle ownership is, contrary to how day-to-day ownership feels. Over the years, I've become a lot more consistent about being sure I document every single expense in the spreadsheet and the habit has reinforced my disinterest in ever owning a new or expensive car or truck or motorcycle. If you have to add that 25-50% value depreciation right upfront in the calculation, vehicle ownership is totally idiotic.