Despite skyrocketing gas prices, it costs less to own and operate a 2005 model vehicle than a 2004.
In its yearly "Your Driving Costs" study, the AAA calculates the cost to own and operate a vehicle for 10,000 miles of annual driving and five years of ownership.
Costs take into account gas, oil, maintenance and tires as well as insurance, depreciation, financing charges, license, title, taxes, registration and plates.
The AAA said the national average is 68.2 cents a mile, or $6,820 a year, to own and operate an '05 vehicle, down from 68.9 cents a mile, or $6,890 a year, for an '04.
That's $70 in savings, or a couple tanks of gas, even at $2-plus per gallon.
But don't rush out and spend that $70 yet.
Costs vary by vehicle size. The AAA says it costs 59.9 cents a mile, or $5,990 a year, to own and operate a compact car such as the Chevrolet Cavalier, up $310 from 56.8 cents a mile, or $5,680 a year, for an '04.
Hmm. Trade your big car for a small car to save money?
It will cost 69.1 cents a mile, or $6,910 a year, for a midsize car such as a Ford Taurus, down $190, from 71 cents a mile, or $7,100 a year, for an '04.
And it will cost 75.7 cents a mile, or $7,570 a year, to own a full-size car such as a Mercury Grand Marquis, down from 79 cents a mile, or $7,900 a year, for an '04. That's a $330 savings.
But that's where the savings end.
The owner of a midsize sport-utility vehicle, such as the Chevy TrailBlazer, can expect to pay 77.7 cents a mile, or $7,770 a year. That's up $500 from 72.7 cents a mile, or $7,270 a year, for an '04.
Those who own minivans such as a Dodge Caravan will spend 66.1 cents a mile, or $6,610 a year, up from 64 cents a mile, or $6,400 a year, for an '04, up $210.
For a full-size sport-utility, such as a Chevy Suburban, owning and operating costs are 79 cents a mile, or $7,900 a year, for '05, up from 76 cents a mile, or $7,600 a year for an '04, a $300 increase.
But these numbers leave some things out, such as tolls and parking fees. And at the time the study was done, gas prices averaged $1.94 a gallon, not $2-plus. So you're paying a few more cents per day and a few more dollars per year.
The study has another shortcoming.
"In doing our calculations, we look at specific vehicles," said Mike Calkins, manager of auto repair for the AAA who helps compile the study.
Cavalier, Taurus and Grand Marquis have been the benchmarks for compact, midsize and full-size cars for many years -- too many.
Especially considering Cavalier is giving way to Cobalt, Taurus is about to give way to Five Hundred and the Grand Marquis is the car Methuselah drove when the wife was using his Ford Crown Victoria.
Yet they represent all cars in their segment. Since Cavalier and Taurus are being phased out, prices have come down to dispose of them. Lower prices reduce financing, insurance and depreciation costs -- on those cars, not on all compacts and midsize makes.
Besides, more comprehensive maintenance schedules raised costs to offset the savings with Cavalier.
And Ford extended the recommended timing for a coolant flush, and Goodyear cut prices on the tires on Taurus and Grand Marquis, which reduced costs on those models, but not on other midsize makes.
Calkins said for '06 the AAA is considering using at least two models in each category to get a more accurate figure -- the compact Chevy Cobalt and Honda Civic, the midsize Ford Five Hundred and Toyota Camry and maybe the full-size Grand Marquis along with the Chrysler 300 and/or the Buick Lucerne.
So for a more accurate reading on costs, wait till next year.
Full details of the AAA study are at www.aaa.com.