Annual car cost hits $7,834

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Here's an item you may have left out of your personal budget: The average cost of driving a car is now $7,834.

AAA recently released its annual survey about the average costs of owning passenger cars that are driven 15,000 miles a year.

The average driving cost -- a mix of expenses for small, medium, and large passenger cars -- works out to $150 a week. And that's not just because of the soaring price of gasoline. The AAA survey factors in gasoline at 9.5 cents a mile, based on a $2.40 a gallon average price nationwide at the end of 2005. Then, it adds other out-of-pocket costs like tires, insurance, maintenance, licenses, and financing.

The biggest cost, however, is one many drivers don't actually see: depreciation, or how much less your car is worth every year.

Maintenance runs $735, tires are $105, and insurance averages $926 a year. The AAA survey pegs license fees, taxes, and registration at $535, finance charges at $716, and depreciation at $3,392.

Gas added $1,425 to the total.

Because the AAA overhauled its methods last year, it's impossible to say whether the costs of driving went up or down in the most recent survey. (Even though you know the price of gas went up.)

In 2005, AAA looked at driving costs for three American-made cars. In 2006, it averaged the operating costs for five top-selling cars in the small, middle, and large categories. The best-sellers were both American and foreign models, along with SUVs and minivans.

Your personal costs of driving will vary greatly, depending upon which model you choose, said Michael Calkins, AAA's manager for approved auto repairs.

''SUVs are far and away the most expensive to operate," he said. The per-mile cost to operate a four-wheel-drive SUV is 20.1 cents, compared with 15.5 cents for a Honda Accord, or 17 cents for a minivan.

To be sure, driving costs will continue to go up, because that's where gasoline is headed.

Consumers are headed into the summer driving season. Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer, is just one month away.

''I think we'll see gas prices rise earlier than usual and faster," said Mark Vitner, Wachovia Securities senior economist.

The economy is strong, demand for gasoline is robust, and supplies are still tight.

Almost 23 percent of the production capacity in the Gulf of Mexico region remains shut down, due to Hurricane Katrina.

''Let's just hope that hurricanes steer clear of the Gulf and steer clear of your area this season," he said.