Commuter Computer: What the Rush Hour Really Costs You

Commutes sap your time, wealth, and health.

According to the latest US data, the mean average trip from home to work clocks in at 26.4 minutes. Endured twice daily, this sucks away 220 hours per year from the average commuter’s life—that’s a total of 27.5 uncompensated work days.

Commuter pocketbooks also take a major hit. Over 85 percent of US workers travel to work in privately owned vehicles. This costs money in gas, tire wear, maintenance, and vehicle depreciation. Many commuters also incur highway tolls and parking bills.

Road warriors compromise their health as well. Daily stints in the car can lead to higher cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Long term commuters also suffer from increased anxiety, lower life satisfaction, and problematic backs.

This post introduces a new way to assess the true costs of your daily commute: the Commuter Computer. If you drive yourself to work each day, this calculator quantifies how much you’re paying in vehicle costs. It also places a value on the hours you spend in traffic.

Run multiple scenarios. See what happens if you cut your commute in half, switch to a hybrid car, or telecommute several days each month. Such changes can pay big dividends financially and greatly boost the quality of your life.

Commuter Computer Instructions

Like all other interactive tools on this website, the Commuter Computer is completely confidential. No record is kept of your inputs or of calculator outputs.

Line 1: Average Time of Commute (One-Way). Enter your average time for a one-way commute in minutes not hours (e.g., 90 not 1.5). During the year, you sometimes lose time due to traffic jams or bad weather. The average you enter should reflect these occasional delays.

Line 2: Commute Mileage (One-Way). If you’re not sure of the one-way distance between your home and office, visit Mapquest or Google Maps.

Line 3: Number of Commutes per Year (One-Way). If you commute 250 days per year, for example, enter 500 as the number of one-way trips you make.

Line 4: Hourly Value of Your Time. Knowing what your time is worth helps resolve all kinds of dilemmas: whether to hire a painter or do it yourself, whether to take a cab or walk instead, or whether to work a side gig or pursue an unpaid hobby. If you’ve thought about this enough to know what your time is worth, enter the hourly value here. If you want to explore this matter further, visit: (a) the shorthand calculator at LearnVest.com; or (b) the drawn out calculator at ClearerThinking.org.

Lines 5-6: Annual Costs of Workplace Parking and Tolls. If you pay out-of-pocket for these expenses, enter the yearly costs.

Line 7: Gasoline Expense. Estimate the average price of gas you’ve paid during the past year. If you want to enter the precise number for your location, visit Gas Buddy.

Line 8: Your Car’s Miles Per Gallon. If you don’t know your car’s fuel efficiency, visit FuelEconomy.gov.

Line 9: Tire Cost. Commutes wear down tires, bringing them that much closer to replacement. Input the cost of new tires, including sales taxes and mechanic’s labor. If you’re unsure of these expenses, visit TireRack.com.

Line 10: Tire Longevity in Miles. Your tires might boast a 50,000 mile warranty, but don’t expect them to last that long. Rely instead upon your personal experience or enter a number that’s at least 10-15 percent below the advertised mileage.

Lines 11-12: Oil Change Expense. Input the cost of oil changes and the miles that pass between them.

Line 13: Repair Costs. Your commute contributes to your mechanic bills. Enter last year’s cost of repairs to your commuting car.

Line 14: Annual Miles on Commuting Vehicle. Enter the total miles you put on your commuting car each year, including not only commutes but all other miles as well. The calculator will allocate part of the repair bill to the commute based upon the ratio of your car’s rush hour miles to its overall miles.

Line 15: Depreciation (Part 1). With each mile of travel, your car loses value, i.e., it depreciates. Although there are several ways to figure depreciation, I picked this one:

depreciation per mile = price you paid for vehicle whether purchased new or used (including sales taxes) / predicted mileage for vehicle from purchase date until it’s junked.*

Pursuant to this formula, on line 15 enter the total price you paid for your new or used vehicle, including sales tax.

Line 16: Depreciation (Part 2). Most cars produced in the last decade enjoy lifetimes of 200,000 miles on average—and perhaps longer for ultra-reliable makes like Honda and Toyota. If you bought your car new, input whatever you expect for longevity (in most cases 200,000 miles). If you bought used, input the difference between the car’s expected longevity and its mileage when purchased (e.g., 200,000 – 65,800 = 134,200).

Commuter Computer

1.  Average Time of One-Way Commute (in minutes):
2.  Length of One-Way Commute (in miles):
3.  Number of One-Way Commutes Per Year:
4.  Value of Your Time Per Hour:
5.  Annual Cost of Parking at Workplace:
6.  Annual Cost of Tolls for Commutes:
7.  Average Cost of Gas for Year (per gallon):
8.  MPG of Commuting Car:
9.  Cost of Replacement Tires:
10. Miles Between Tire Changes:
11.  Cost of Oil Changes:
12.  Miles Between Oil Changes:
13.  Annual Cost of Repairs:
14.  Total Miles Traveled Per Year:
15.  Total Purchase Price of Car (with sales tax):
16.  Lifetime Mileage of Car (from purchase until scrapped):

17.  Annual Cost of Parking for Commutes:
18.  Annual Cost of Tolls for Commutes:
19.  Annual Cost of Gas for Commutes:
20.  Annual Cost of Tire Wear for Commutes:
21.  Annual Cost of Oil Changes for Commutes:
22.  Annual Cost of Repairs for Commutes:
23.  Annual Cost of Depreciation for Commutes:
24.  Your Total Out-of-Pocket Annual Commuting Cost:
25.  X Percent of Commuters Have Shorter Commutes Than You:
26.  Hours Per Year You Spend Commuting:
27.  Work Days Per Year You Spend Commuting:
28.  Your Annual Time Cost of Commuting:
29. Your Grand Total Annual Commuting Cost (line 24 + line 28):



Pie chart: if you hover or click your mouse over the pie slices, cool animations ensue.

Line 25: this line is based upon data from the American Community Survey (ACS) as expanded by a process of linear interpolation for reported commutes between 5 and 89 minutes in length and linear extrapolation for reported commutes of 90 minutes in length. Conducted by the US Census Bureau, the ACS is a massive annual survey that involves more than two million interviews. The results reported here are limited to workers age 16 and over who did not work at home. To review the ACS data for yourself, click here.

Note: for all commutes less than 5 minutes long, line 25 reports a static percentile of 2.89. Similarly, for all commutes more than 90 minutes long, line 25 reports a static percentile of 97.43. This approach limits the calculator’s use of extrapolation, which involves greater uncertainty than interpolation.

Line 26 = (line 1 * line 3) /60.

Line 27 = line 26 / 8.

Line 28 = line 4 * line 26.

*   *   *

The Commuter Computer is designed to help you nudge yourself just a little further into the habit of frugality. This site hosts other calculators that seek to do the same thing. To see the full collection in all its parsimonious glory, click here.

If you have questions or remarks about this calculator, don’t keep them to yourself. Please leave a comment below.

Photo by Tom Hilton

* I chose this depreciation formula for several reasons.

First, this method treats your car like the wasting asset it truly is. Whether you buy new or used, eventually your car’s worth reduces to salvage value.

Second, this website is about frugality. Frugal owners tend to drive their vehicles until the wheels fall off. Given this tendency, a wasting asset formula better depicts depreciation than a formula based on fair market value (market values are irrelevant if the owner never sells).

Third, even for owners who plan to eventually resell their cars, the wasting asset formula provides a good proxy for lost market value, especially for cars that are over four years old and have already lost most of their fair market value.

Fourth, the wasting asset formula is easier to use than fair market value estimators such as Kelly Blue Book.

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2 Responses to Commuter Computer: What the Rush Hour Really Costs You

  1. Mrs. Picky Pincher February 27, 2017 at 9:20 AM #

    Ugh. I hate traffic. I’m fortunate to have two work from home days a month at my job, and I LOVE them. It means more sleep for me, less morning stress, and zero wear on my vehicle for my 15-minute commute. I’m fortunate that we chose a home close to my job, so I don’t experience horrible traffic most of the time. But it’s important to think about how much money we pay and time we lose just for the right to earn money at a job. It’s a lot more than we care to think about.

    • A Noonan Moose February 27, 2017 at 9:41 AM #

      So true MPP—the only good commute is a short commute!

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