The real facts about driving and car insurance in America
The realities of car ownership
Over 270 million vehicles are registered in the US, and that doesn’t just include cars. According to the Federal Highway Administration, drivers of private passenger vehicles — including cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans — put a total of 3.22 trillion miles on the roads in 2016. In fact, the average driver racks up about 13,500 miles behind the wheel each year, a figure that continues to rise despite a declining number of young drivers.
Take a look at what it’s like to drive and own a car for the average American driver and compare telling statistics about the state of driving in the US.
How much does it cost to own a car?
While the cost of gas and number of car theft claims have gone down over the past few years, many Americans are still paying more to own and insure their car. Even for drivers who make a profit driving for Uber, paying for car costs like maintenance, insurance and gas can all add up.
Compare how car ownership costs break down for the average American.
Car ownership costs
Which cars are the most popular in the US?
Over 6 million new cars are sold every year in the US, but which cars are our favorites? Americans love buying foreign cars, with Nissan, Honda and Toyota topping the list. That said, Chevy and Ford are the two most popular US brands, with the Silverado and F-Series outselling every other vehicle in recent years. Here are some of the other best-selling vehicles.
Roughly 750,000 vehicles in the US are stolen each year, which adds up to more than one per minute. In 2016, over $5.9 billion was lost to vehicle theft, with an average loss per theft of $7,680. While theft has been declining since the early 2000s, there has been a spike in recent years. However, theft rates can vary depending on your location, among many other factors.
Worst states for vehicle theft
Worst cities for vehicle theft
Most stolen car models
What about electric cars?
Electric and hybrid cars are quickly becoming more common, which might explain why charging stations for electric cars are popping up all over the US. Most major automakers have at least one electric or hybrid vehicle available, and according to our estimates, over 17% of Americans would be interested in driving an electric vehicle. This increase in demand may be due to lower long-term ownership costs and a growing interest in environmental sustainability.
Electric cars have lower-than-average driving costs at $8,439 per year.
Electric cars have the lowest annual maintenance and repair costs, at $982 per year.
It’s cheaper and easier to “fill up” your electric battery, with an average cost of 3.68 cents per mile. Compare that to 13.88 cents per mile for a gas-guzzling pickup truck.
Watch out for depreciation, and expect average annual loss to be nearly $6,000, compared to about $4,000 per year on gas and diesel vehicles.
Some road trips require finding an EV charging station, which might not be available everywhere.
Electric and hybrid vehicles can be more expensive to insure
Dangerous driving in the US
You’ve seen drivers who engage in dangerous behavior behind the wheel. Not using turn signals, texting while driving, forgetting basic road safety — these rage-inducing actions might seem to happen to you every time you get behind the wheel. Almost 6 million car accidents occur in the US every year, leading to over 40,000 vehicle-related fatalities in 2017.
Take a look at which drivers are most likely to commit these acts of dangerous driving and how often reckless driving really happens.
Teen drivers are three times more likely to have speeding tickets.
Around 84% of people use seat belts.
About 481,000 drivers use cell phones while driving; an estimated 25% of accidents involve phone use.
Over 50% of road traffic deaths happen to adults ages 15 to 44.
The price of auto insurance is often much higher for men. While this may seem unfair, the gap in pricing is due to multiple factors that affect the risk of insuring each gender. This includes types of cars chosen by each gender, frequency of accidents, driving behavior, annual mileage and more.
Men statistically show a higher risk on the road. Studies have shown men are more likely to speed, drive drunk, not wear seat belts and be involved in accidents involving fatalities. That’s why insurance companies tend to charge more to insure men, even if an individual man’s driving habits are generally safe. Gender-based pricing is legal in most states except for California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
26,515 males died in car accidents
10,900 women died in car accidents
32% of deaths involved BACs of over 0.08%
20% of deaths involved BACs of over 0.08%
28% of fatalities involved speeding
20% of fatalities involved speeding
Drunk driving in the US
Drunk driving claims the lives of thousands of Americans every year. In 2015, over 12,000 people died in road accidents involving at least one impaired driver, which is over 30% of all vehicle-fatalities for the year. Through drunk driving and blackouts contribute to road fatalities in every state in the US, some states are affected more than others. Larger states saw a higher number of drunk driving deaths, with Texas, California and Florida topping the charts.
Compare the states with the most drunk driving deaths and how likely you are to be involved with a drunk driver on the road.
The cost of owning a car really begins to add up once you factor in the price of car insurance. Regardless of which vehicle you drive, auto insurance is a necessity. But how much do drivers actually pay for insurance?
The national average cost of auto insurance was about $1,500 a year in 2017. Rates can vary depending on your location and many other factors, including:
Car make, model and trim
For example, the average price of auto insurance in Maine is much lower than the national average, while Michigan drivers could see rates more than double the national average. You might be wondering why the birthplace of the motor industry is so high on the list. One of the top reasons is due to Michigan’s personal injury protection coverage. Unlike other states that limit your total payout after being injured in an accident, in Michigan, you and your passengers are guaranteed unlimited lifetime medical benefits to those injured in an auto accident.
These state averages reflect a variety of drivers across the state, so your premiums might be quite different from these averages. If you’re paying more than the average for your state, there are a number of ways you can save on your car insurance. Only 27% of Americans shop for car insurance every few years, yet comparison shopping is the number one reason drivers can save money on their car insurance.
Each state has different laws and regulations that can influence rates, coverage, payouts and other factors. How does your state stack up?
Car insurance costs by state
Can I save with usage-based car insurance?
You shouldn’t have to pay more for car insurance if you don’t drive much or you’re generally a safe driver. That’s the idea behind usage-based car insurance, also known as mileage-based or pay-as-you-go insurance.
Once you find an insurer who offers this discount, you’ll place a telematics device in your car, which sends data back to your insurer about your typical driving habits. Your new insurance premium will be based on your actual driving, not a guess based on the risk group your insurer places you in. If you’re thinking of going this route, you’re not alone — around 35% of Americans share data with their car insurer to save money.
Car insurance claims
In 2017, car insurance claims totaled over $163 million in the US. To put that into perspective for any single driver, the average loss per claim was $4,100. That’s roughly the cost of a used 10-year-old sedan.
The good news is that the average driver makes an accident claim once every 18 years. Although your car might experience the occasional ding or bump, you probably won’t have to worry about making a big claim in the next decade or two.
Most common claims
Neck or back injury
Auto insurance providers
Auto insurance is a $260 billion industry that continues to grow year after year. In the US alone, there are almost 9,000 auto insurance businesses that cover all 270 million vehicles across the country. However, a few providers have a much bigger market share than others.
For those with less-than-perfect driving records, some providers offer coverage tailored to high-risk drivers, often called non-standard auto insurance. While the non-standard auto insurance industry seems to be on the decline in recent years, it still holds over $35 billion in revenue.
In a car-loving country like the US, it can be hard to ditch your ride in favor of other transportation. While insurance can be expensive, it protects you and your vehicle with the peace of mind that you’ll be covered in the event of an accident. With that said, getting the right coverage for the car you’ve always wanted is easier than you might think.
Wielding a degree in Economics from Dalhousie University, Peter Carleton is a writer that covers banking and investing at finder.com. From savings accounts to cutting-edge banking apps, robo-advisors and beyond, he breaks down what you need to know about where you put your money. When Peter's not thinking about bank accounts and investing tools, he runs a creative agency and spends his spare time cooking or reading.
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