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  • Writer's Research to Move West: The Cost Having a Car in California
Writer's Research to Move West: The Cost Having a Car in California
Contributor
Written by
Beth Derrick
April 2019
Writing
Contributor
Written by
Beth Derrick
April 2019
Writing

Have you been to California? There's something magical about the space, that draws millions in from other places to capture even a sliver of creativity, cool vibes and beautiful landscapes. My own family has considered living there, as I expand my writing career and my wife explores her painting and artistic side. With those considerations comes tremendous amounts of research in planning our future life. We've become highly aware of the overall higher cost-of-living in California, but few realize how the state’s premium pricing extends to simple things such as car ownership. We currently have 3 cars with plans to get another next year. One of the things we've realized is owning a vehicle in California is more costly when compared to the costs imposed on drivers in most other states (we live in Texas). In considering moving to California, a recalibration of budget to account for this increase in the cost of car ownership, the specifics of which are outlined below, let's break down the numbers:

License and Registration

Of all the car-related expenses incurred by Californians, license and registration are actually one of the least-costly when compared to the national average. A title costs $18, vehicle registration is $46, and CA drivers license renewal good for five years is only $36. However, those coming from states where these fees are higher shouldn’t get too excited considering how other car-related expenses will make up the difference and then some.

Insurance Coverage

Californians pay about 20% more than the national average for their auto insurance. Whoa. That's real dollars when you put pen to paper! Ask any personal injury lawyer or anyone that's ever been to the populated areas (lookin' at you, 405!) the reason why and they’ll tell you it’s because the roads in California are particularly congested and this results in a greater chance for vehicle collisions. In our research, we learned that approximately 600 injuries are caused by bad driving in California every day, a figure which certainly contributes to the higher premiums imposed by insurers.

Sales Tax Due

The sales tax in California is currently set at 7.25%, with additional local taxes tacking on as much as 2.5% more. For a new vehicle purchased for $36,113, this adds up to nearly $3,000. And in lieu of a personal property tax, Californians pay an annual registration fee amounting to 0.65% of the vehicle value. For a new car bought at the aforementioned price of just over 36 grand, this fee would be $234.73 for the first year, or around $20/month to set aside.

Fuel Prices

The few times I've visited California, I've filled the tank before returning my rental car and gas prices in California are notoriously higher than I pay in Texas, and have been for decades when compared to the national average. The current price for a gallon of gas in the Golden State is the highest paid in all 50 states. This is due to a whopping amount of taxes paid per gallon, which are an accumulation of federal and state taxes subject to state and local sales taxes. All added up, Californians currently pay $3.51 for regular, $3.65 for mid-grade, $3.76 for premium, and $3.86 for diesel per gallon. That's around $1/gallon more than we currently pay in suburban Texas.

Service and Maintenance

Most vehicles come with a new car warranty, then naturally will need to be serviced and maintained post-warranty. This is something that's always top of mind, as my own SUV nears 170,000 miles. We've learned that while not exceptionally high compared to the national average, the typical car repair in California will cost about $365.45 based on data from 2017. That means Californians driving early model road warriors with high mileage probably want to put aside one dollar every day for the inevitable repair. Keep in mind this price is only the average; service and maintenance for luxury vehicles, newer models, and other more high-valued makes and models will undoubtedly cost more.

All in all, we've learned what many already know, California is not a cheap place to live, but many people moving to the Golden State are surprised to learn how far this extends beyond the higher cost of rent they pay. Owning a car to move freely about town is also subject to these higher costs. If you're dreamy yet planful like we are, in order to preserve and protect your personal finances, it’s imperative to take this into account before packing your belongings and heading westward. 

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