Ah, summer. It's that time when temperatures rise, tourists hit the highways and gas prices inevitably soar.
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The price of gasoline gets a lot of attention at this time of year, even though it's only part of the equation when determining the overall cost of operating a car. Other factors such as taxes, insurance and repairs can have an even bigger impact on your bottom line. Bankrate's first-ever Car Cost Index, in fact, shows that in some states, lower operating costs more than offset high gas prices.
The index compares the cost of car ownership for every state. Bankrate determined these costs using average car insurance costs provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, average repair costs from CarMD.com, and taxes and fees from Kelley Blue Book. Gasoline spending was estimated using average pump prices for 2012 from GasBuddy.com. Bankrate didn't include data on vehicle depreciation in its analysis, since geography isn't a major factor in determining that cost.
Here are the five cheapest states to own a car, in order from most to least expensive. And, guess what -- they're not cheap because of the gas.
No. 5: Indiana
Indiana motorists paid $3.63 per gallon on average for gasoline in 2012. That's just above the national average of $3.62 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.com. Yet the Hoosier State is one of the cheapest in the country when it comes to overall operating costs, at $2,698.
Kelley Blue Book estimates that Indiana drivers paid an average of $558 per year in automobile taxes and fees. That's the sixth lowest in the U.S.
The average annual insurance premium of $621 is also the 10th lowest, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. And repair costs are the country's 12th lowest in the country at $329.
No. 4: Montana
Montana also is one of the cheapest states in the country to own and operate a vehicle, coming in at $2,660. But, thanks to extraordinarily long commutes in the Big Sky Country state, drivers also pay more than the national average for gasoline.
Relatively low state taxes and fees help make Montana one of the cheapest places in the country to own a car. At a combined average of $521 per year, taxes and fees in Montana are less than half the national average. Auto insurance is relatively cheap in Montana as well at an estimated $661 per year, or 13% below average.
The savings from lower taxes, fees and insurance premiums make up for an annual gasoline bill that's nearly $100 higher than the U.S. average.
No. 3: South Dakota
Like Montana, South Dakota drivers spend more than the national average on gasoline every year. Still, with an annual tab of $2,343, the state ranks as one of the cheapest in the country for car owners.
South Dakota drivers enjoy some of the lowest operating costs in the country. Compared with the national average, repair bills in the state were 12% lower at $312, while insurance premiums were about 31% lower at $524, and taxes and fees were 61% lower at $415.
Altogether, this more than offsets the high amount of gasoline spending in the state.
No. 2: Alaska
Gasoline is an especially precious commodity in the remote, snow-swept communities of Alaska. Alaska's service stations charged more than $4 per gallon throughout 2012, according to GasBuddy.com.
Yet Alaska remains one of the cheaper states to own and operate a car, coming in at $2,227. The state gives drivers a break by forgoing sales taxes.
Also, motorists drive less than their counterparts in the lower 48, with just 6,719 highway miles driven for each person in the state, according to 2010 statistics from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That's the lowest in the nation -- the average is about 10,110 -- and it helps Alaska drivers pay one of the lowest overall gasoline bills in the country at $771 per year.
No. 1: Oregon
Oregon tops Bankrate's list as the cheapest place in the country to own and operate a vehicle. Drivers here pay $2,204 to own and operate a car each year. That may be a surprise in a place where gas prices have frequently jumped above $4 per gallon.
The Beaver State gives drivers a break with no state sales tax. Kelley Blue Book estimates the combined vehicle fees in the state amount to just $157 per year. That's the lowest in the country.
Oregon motorists also drive less than in most other states. That drives down what they spend on gasoline each year. The average yearly cost of gasoline in Oregon was $942 per driver in 2012, while it was $1,020 nationally.
Insurance premiums are also relatively low at $724 per year.