The cost of car ownership in Australia

8 June 2018

Australians have more choice of transportation than ever before.

More and more people are deciding to cycle to work, use car sharing and ride sharing services, all while public transport is being relied upon more heavily as populations surge in the capital cities.

Despite having these options, Australians are still driving to work every day in record numbers, as shown by comparing 2006 and 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data.

Though there is growing investment and infrastructure in public transport along with technical innovations available to the public, driving is still the main mode of transport – and its popularity is only climbing as cars become more affordable, more luxurious and safer.

Driving habits

Australians love driving cars, and always have. The way we talk about our cars as if they were our children, the memories we have of being on the open road and the feeling of freedom when we get our first set of keys. Despite all these wonderful moments, there can be a few drawbacks.

At some point you have probably complained about traffic and how long it will take to get from A to B. Even with the frustration driving and traffic can cause, evidence shows that it’s not enough of a deterrent to change habits.

Owning a car, and the congestion it creates, costs Australians a lot of money – as individuals and as a nation. According to a 2015 report titled Traffic and Congestion Cost Trends for Australian Capital Cities by the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (BITRE), the national average commute-time for drivers has hit 85 minutes per day over the last decade – that’s a lot of time for your car’s engine to be running and using fuel. That means the average person who works a traditional 5-day week will sit in their car for at least 7 hours each week – or 336 hours a year, which is equal to two weeks.

Meanwhile BITRE estimates that congestion (in the 2015 financial year) cost the Australian economy:

  • $6 billion in private time costs
  • $8 billion in business time costs
  • $1.5 billion in extra vehicle operating costs
  • $1 billion in extra pollution costs

Despite all of these costs, Australians still prefer to drive. However, due to the rising cost of housing in Australia, many people have been forced to reduce the amount they spend on other essential goods and services. People now spend 1.8% less on transport – whether it be for private vehicles or public transport, 3.1% less on food and beverages but 6.8% more on housing compared to 30 years ago.

It is clear people have less money to spend on owning and operating their vehicles, so how do you save money while owning a car?

Put your car to work

A growing number of Australian drivers are putting their car to work and earning money through their vehicle. Whether that means using it with a ride-sharing or a car-sharing service or delivering packages, owners can begin to recoup some of the costs of owning a car.

Know how far your dollar gets you

If you drive in an urban environment, you can start a diary to show how much money you are spending on fuel and how long it lasts.

You may have heard blanket rules about how far a tank of fuel can get you, but this figure will change dramatically depending on the kind of car you drive, how old it is, what kind of fuel you use and what kind of conditions you are driving in. 

Each time you fill up, write down how many litres, how much did it cost and the current odometer reading.

After a couple of weeks or months, depending on how often you need to fill up, you will get a much better understanding of how far your fuel is getting you and whether it’s worth it.

Know where the money goes

There is a difference between being able to afford to buy a car and owning a car. This is why it is so important to do your research before purchasing a vehicle: is the car you want a gas-guzzler? How much will you spend on insurance? How much will registration be? These are all things to consider. If finance is also required to buy a car, make sure to find out how much the repayments will cost you.

As you can see, purchasing a car is only a third of the cost you will face when owning a car. Depending on your negotiating skills, you may be able to reduce the cost of purchasing a car. 

Finding the right insurance policy is also a key part of the car ownership journey. Luckily, Suncorp Insurance can help with that!

Explore our car insurance policies

Read more on Learn About


The information is intended to be of general nature only. Subject to any rights you may have under any law, we do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss or damage, including loss of business or profits or any other indirect loss, incurred as a result of reliance upon the information. Please make your own enquiries.