It can be an expensive business owning a vehicle, particularly if you’re using it for work. Even so, a lot of UK drivers have a hard time keeping track of what they’re actually spending each year to keep the wheels from falling off. In fact, surveys show that a surprising 2 in 3 have no solid idea what their car is costing them.

They could be in for a bit of a shock when they crunch the numbers, too. Those same surveys are suggesting that 2 out of 3 people who do keep track of it say their car’s the second-biggest money drain in their lives. That puts it right under mortgages and rent in their monthly outgoings. So what’s the damage when you take to Britain’s roads these days? More to the point, what can we do to bring it down?

Owning a car

Obviously, what you’re spending on your car or van each year depends partly on whether or not you own it outright. People who aren’t currently shelling out for car finance spend an average of just over £3,400 a year putting their rubber to the road. That average leaps up to over £5,700 for those still making finance payments, though.

Cost of fuel

There are some pretty wide variations within the numbers, of course, with men burning not far off twice as much fuel per year than women (spending £98.70 compared to £55.30). Location also seems to make a major difference, particularly when you look at the yearly mileage numbers.

London drivers, for instance, put an average of over 11,000 miles under their wheels each year, compared to barely 5,000 miles for drivers in the East of England. London, of course, has the added weight of the congestion charge to factor in, partly accounting for the fact that it’s the most expensive place in the UK to run a car (almost £500 a month). In Wales, by contrast, those monthly costs drop to around £160.

So, with an average mileage of close to 7,800 miles per year draining the fuel from the UK’s wallets, you start to get the basic picture. That picture’s far from complete, though.

Insurance and breakdown costs

Let’s take a look at insurance costs next. Again, it’s London drivers carrying the most weight here, at an average of over £80 a month in insurance premiums. Once more, it’s Wales at the other end of the scale at about £43 a month.

Obviously, there are lots of other factors that go into calculating your vehicle insurance premiums, but location is always a major one. Since insurance is all about working out risk, it’s also worth mentioning what happens when things go wrong.

1 in 5 UK drivers have lumped themselves with debt in the last year because of repairs or service costs for their vehicles. Those costs can be unpredictable, obviously, but you can often keep them under control with warranty schemes and breakdown cover.

Managing the costs

There are some fairly simple ways of keeping your car costs more manageable - but they all start with working out what you’re actually paying, and what you can afford. Firstly, you want to make sure you’ve got the right vehicle for the job. A lot of us have more expensive cars than we strictly need, which can lead to a whole range of inflated knock-on costs.

Obviously, whatever you drive, you’re going to want to keep your insurance costs down. Far too many people find themselves coughing up more than they need to on insurance deals that simply don’t offer good value. Price comparison sites can be your friend here – but keep in mind that a single site won’t always give you the full picture. It’s easy to find the same insurer offering different prices on different sites, for instance. Comparison sites are more like marketplaces than direct comparisons. You won’t know you’ve got the best deal by checking in only one place.

Insurance also has a strange little wrinkle that makes when you check prices almost as important as where. When you’re comparing quotes, for instance, you could easily find yourself with a much better result by looking around 3 weeks before your actual renewal date. Insurers are experts at judging risk, and leaving things to the last minute makes you seem less like the nice, safe bet they’re looking for.

Most importantly, you need to be sure you’re making the best possible use of your money when you’re on the road. That means making every mile you travel for work count. When you fail to claim the yearly tax refund you’re owed for your business mileage, you’re leaving your own cash on the taxman’s table. Your tax refund could be exactly what you need to get the cost of running your car under control –and it all starts with tracking your mileage.

Get in touch about claiming back what HMRC owes you each year. We’re the UK’s leading tax refund experts, so you’re always better off with RIFT.