The True Cost of Driving

Living in LA, people are often surprised to find out you can survive (let alone put together anything resembling a normal life) without a car. Even more surprising though, is just how much cars cost – especially when it comes to short trips, like your commute.

It’s no secret that biking to work is cheaper and healthier than driving – but what may surprise you is that it’s usually the fastest way there too. Sure, in a dense city it’s usually faster to go on two wheels than to sit in the grid-lock, but what about if you’ve got fairly open roads? This is where things get interesting.

My commute today is 5 miles each way, so 10 miles total. Let’s take a look at what I was paying for the car:

  • Car payment: $250/mo
  • Insurance: $155/mo
  • Gas: $24/mo (Note: That’s just for the 10mi of commute per day at 30mpg with 22 work days in a month)
  • Maintenance: Lol, who can afford it?
  • Depreciation: I’m no economist
  • Total: $379/mo

Leaving out a couple that AAA includes in their cost-of-driving calculator (maintenance and depreciation), my 4-wheeled commute was costing me $379 each month!

Now, on my bike that 5-mile trip takes me just under 20 minutes if I hustle, and 25 if I’m cruising. In a car, that 5-miles zips past in 12-15 minutes so the car is about 10 minutes faster, right? Wrong.

I own my bike, I maintain my bike, and my bike doesn’t need gas, insurance, or any crazy financing. In fact, let’s go over the top and assume that I get my bike a tune-up twice a year from my shop for $75, that breaks out to a whopping $12.50/month.

With 22 commute days in October our daily commute costs break down to:


Monthly Cost

Daily Commute Cost








The bike is obviously cheaper, but what most people don’t realize is that means I get to work (for myself) even earlier than if I’d driven. Taking the car costs me more than $17/day, which means at minimum wage ($9 in CA) my first hour and 54 minutes at work are just to pay for the trip into the office. And that’s assuming I don’t get taxed on my paycheck either! The bike trip? Covered for in under 4 minutes.

So, while the car is about 10 minutes faster on the road, I have to work nearly two hours before the trip is paid for and I can start making some take-home money. That “speedy” commute is really more than 2-hours of time lost! On the bike, I lose a little bit of time on the road, but I’m earning money for me basically from the minute I sit down.

Through that lens, the difference between the commute options is pretty staggering:


Commute Time on Road

Work Time Necessary to Pay for Commute

Total Time Cost of Commute


15 minutes

1 hour 54 minutes

2 hours 9 minutes


25 minutes

3.75 minutes

29 minutes


Wow, right? It’s one of those things that makes total sense when you think about it – we’re just encouraged not to think about it because selling cars and the car lifestyle is big business. Heck, I was spending more than a quarter of my work day just for the privilege of having a car parked out front!

Crunch the numbers yourself. Total up your payment, insurance, mileage, etc… and figure out how much your commute costs you and how much time at work you spend every day to make it up. That bike’s looking better and better isn’t it?