The Mystery of Misery

Viewing Auto Ownership

Larry Jewett - November 12, 2012 10:49 AM


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When the item first showed up in my mailbox, I instantly took offense. It read, in part on the subject line “Automotive Misery Index”.

Wait a minute, I thought, I don’t want to think about automotive and misery in the same idea.

Upon further review, misery could be considered a pretty strong word, but there are elements of truth to it. These cars have broken our hearts on more than one occasion, no matter whether it was during restoration, modification or use. This, however, had nothing to do with underperformance or ill-fitted parts, but dealt with the cost of ownership. When money is involved, misery is sure to follow.

A study by
has recently been completed to devise the “misery index”. The new analysis of insurance and gas costs compared to household income showed that some places pay a substantial portion of their expendable income on maintaining their cars.

Now, let it be known that those of you who utilize the classic car insurers tend to get a far better deal on insurance than the average Joe. Granted, we don’t drive our cars umpteen miles and the cost of all of this should be down anyway. This survey pertains only to those daily drivers, and if you have a classic as a daily driver, be careful about deceiving these insurance companies. This will bite you big time. It’s not nice to defraud those who are only trying to help you.

If you have a classic in the garage, you probably have a car or two that you use to get to the daily grind, and that’s where this comes into play. It is amazing how geography plays such a role. The study took the cost of keeping a car on the road, discounting the car’s original price. The Automotive Misery Index weighs a state’s average household income against the cost of gas, number of miles driven and price of insurance coverage. Now, for the insurance coverage, they used a brand new Honda, so obviously results will vary. I can’t say how, because I have never owned, insured or gassed up a Honda.

Each state had an assigned value for each entity. For example, the average cost of a gallon of gas was factored in. On September 1, regular 87 octane had an average of $3.60 in South Carolina and $4.34 in Hawaii, with the national average being $3.83. They then took the average number of miles driven in each state and found Wyoming drivers put on more than 20,000 miles per year, which is twice as much as those who live in Alaska. The average was a respectable 14,133 miles. Insurance costs were a true wild card because there are many determining factors. For the purpose of the study, the lowest rates were found in Maine and, somewhat surprisingly (unless you live there), the highest were in Louisana. The national average was $1,479 per year.

All of these figures were then compared to the average household income of the state according to the 2010 Census. The average household income in Mississippi is $36,821 while Connecticut is at the top at $66,187. For this study, the national average was placed at $50,022.

If you live in a poor state, you are more likely to be higher in the Misery Index. It held true for Mississippi, where 11.6 percent of the income is spent on the car. Oklahoma was next at 10.7 percent with Louisiana (thanks in part to the high insurance) at 10.5 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, one would think Connecticut, with its highest income honor, would be at the bottom, but that isn’t so. It is actually better in New Hampshire, where residents spend 4.4 percent of their income on their cars. Alaska was next at 4.6 percent. Connecticut finally checked in at 4.9 percent and those three states are the only ones that pay less than five percent of their income on auto maintenance.

Folks, this is for one car. Think how many families you know that have more than one car that they use on a daily basis.

To find your state on the Misery Index, visit

If there has ever been a study that proves how important our cars can be, this is it. A recent survey found many people pay more for their cell phone than groceries. You can put the cost of maintaining your car right there as a threat to the groceries as well.

Through it all, owning a car is not misery, but a necessary evil, but if costs keep going up, I might have to sell the golf clubs.