You've narrowed your choices to three new vehicles, all highly rated luxury compact SUVs with roughly comparable prices. But how will you know which will cost you more to operate in the long run?

Anyone faced with a similar choice — in fact, anyone who is shopping for a new car — should use the Edmunds True Cost to Own® and Car Depreciation Calculator, which reveals car ownership costs over a five-year period. When you're car shopping, you tend to pay a lot of attention to vehicle features, the purchase price and warranty, but perhaps you aren't as attentive to what the day-to-day costs of the car will be once it's in your garage.

But even cars that cost the same can have different depreciation, fuel costs, maintenance, insurance and repair expenses. This Edmunds car ownership calculator can be a valuable research tool when you're comparing vehicles, whether they're of the same type (two sedans or two SUVs, for example) or of very different types. In addition to using this tool on Edmunds mobile and desktop sites, you can find ownership cost information on the Edmunds car-shopping app for iOS and Android devices.

For the most powerful application of this car ownership information, look for it in the Compare Cars feature on Edmunds. Select two or more vehicles and then click "Ownership Costs" on the top navigation, or just scroll down. You can easily scan across the screen and see the ownership costs, side by side. Additionally, the chart lists an average cost-per-mile figure.

You can use this tool to help you decide between very different vehicles. Let's say you want a sports car — maybe a 2018 Corvette coupe. Your significant other wants a luxury sedan — maybe a 2018 Cadillac CTS. You can dive into the comparative ownership costs of both vehicles for more clarity on the decision.

The Corvette is more expensive: an MSRP of $66,490 versus the CTS' MSRP of $52,990. When you review the Edmunds car ownership data, you find that over five years, the Corvette will cost more to fuel and insure. The CTS, however, has higher estimated repair costs and maintenance. The CTS also loses more value over five years than the Corvette. But on an average cost-per-mile basis, they're within a penny of each other: $1.07 for the Corvette and $1.06 for the CTS. Now the decision is down to what's best for your lifestyle.

Perhaps even more valuable are the comparisons you can make when you've narrowed down your choices within a car type.
For this example, let's look at three common competitors among luxury compact SUVs: the 2018 Acura RDX, the 2018 BMW X3 and the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300. While all three have similar prices, the estimated five-year cost of ownership ranges from $55,538 for the RDX up to $71,580 for the X3. The GLC 300 sits between the two, at $65,793.

The cost-related pros and cons of each are visible at a glance, from fuel costs (the RDX is the priciest; its fuel economy is not as good as the other two) to insurance (the GLC 300 hits the wallet the hardest) to depreciation (the X3 falls furthest).

Components of TCO

Edmunds True Cost to Own takes eight car ownership costs into account:

  • Depreciation: how much value the car loses each year
  • Interest on financing: the amount of interest paid over five years
  • Taxes and fees: the total of all sales tax, fees and registry costs each year
  • Insurance premiums: the average cost of insuring the car
  • Fuel: how much you have to pay for the type of fuel that the car requires — regular or premium gasoline or diesel fuel
  • Maintenance: the total cost of performing all the scheduled maintenance found in the vehicle's owner's manual
  • Repairs: the projected cost of fixing common mechanical problems for this vehicle
  • Federal tax credit: the amount of any tax credit available for alternative fuel vehicles

The TCO page for each vehicle breaks information down into the following two sections: TCO Summary and Five-Year Details. We'll use the 2018 Toyota Camry SE as an example.

1. TCO Summary Section

The summary shows the results of the TCO calculations. It gives you two figures:

  • The True Cost to Own figure. This is all of the ownership and operation costs for five years.
  • The Total Cash Price for new cars is the sum of a vehicle's True Market Value® (TMV®) price, along with typically equipped options, destination charge, base tax for the state, and any applicable luxury or gas-guzzler taxes. For used vehicles, the total cash price shown is the sum of the vehicle's private-party TMV price in "clean" condition, plus typically equipped options and base tax and fees in your state.

2. Five-Year Details

This section gives a breakdown of how the vehicle's expenses change over the five-year period. It shows the car's depreciation, meaning its decline in value. This information would be important if, for example, there were a sudden drop-off in value after the third year. Knowing this, the owner could sell the car before the cliff and avoid the subsequent loss of its value.

The other parts of the breakdown show the typical expenses related to the purchase of this vehicle, including such items as fuel, insurance, maintenance costs and repairs. These are costs that people sometimes overlook when they're buying a car. Seeing them listed, and then totaled, can help you plan for this large purchase.

By looking at Edmunds car ownership data, you get a snapshot of the car's costs over time. You will see the big picture, not just today's price tag.