For most King County families, owning and maintaining a vehicle consumes more of their budget that anything else other than housing. The average household spends more than $12,500 per year on one or more vehicles.
After housing, what would you say is the biggest expense for the typical King County household?
Nope, it’s not food.
For most county households, transportation costs eat up more of the annual budget than anything other than the house itself. Nearly all of that transportation money is spent on cars and car-related expenses.
This isn’t unique to our area. Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that transportation is the second-biggest expense for most households across the U.S.
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Here in King County, the average household devotes more than $12,500 per year — about 20 percent of consumer spending — to vehicles, according to Nielsen market research.
Those costs go way beyond the car itself, of course — and they add up fast.
Unless you drive a Tesla, you’ve got to put gas in the tank. There’s maintenance, repairs and parts — expenses that are bound to increase as your car ages. Insurance is a big one, plus licensing, registration and taxes. Throw in interest and financing charges — and don’t forget what you shell out for parking.
So cars are expensive. And it doesn’t help matters that the majority of households around here have at least two of them.
Outside of Seattle, 65 percent of King County households have more than one vehicle, either owned or leased. While that number is considerably lower in the city — 41 percent — that’s still an awful lot of households.
Spending is highest, not surprisingly, in wealthy areas of the county, where residents are more likely to drive high-price luxury vehicles, as well as in rural areas, which are more vehicle-dependent.
In parts of Sammamish, Cottage Lake and Mercer Island, households average close to $20,000 per year in car-related expenses. The top area in Seattle is in North Queen Anne, at more than $17,000.
You’ll find the lowest spending on cars is in walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods where residents have other ways to get around. They might not own a car at all, or even if they do, they probably drive it less frequently, saving money on gas, maintenance and repairs.
In the Chinatown International District and Pioneer Square, where car costs average less than $5,000 per year, more than two out of three households do not own a vehicle.
Neighborhoods like that are the exception, though. There are only a handful of census tracts in King County where the majority of households do not have a car — all are in downtown Seattle or the University District.
Transportation costs have been at the forefront this election season.
Sound Transit 3, the $54 billion ballot measure to massively expand our region’s light rail, bus and commuter train system, passed easily this week. It would increase property, sales and car-tab taxes for several decades.
But it also promises many commuters the option of no longer having to drive. Some two-car households could become one-car households.
By now, you’ve probably given a lot of thought to how much ST3 would cost your household. Have you given as much thought to how much your car costs you?