Mike Stevens | Jun 21, 2012

Fuel prices aren't getting any lower, and it's the same message every year: if you want to save on running costs, downsizing could be the key.

It's not for everyone: you might not squeeze three towering teenagers into the back of an Alto, but according to RACQ's 2012 Vehicle Running Costs Survey, the savings suggest it's worth a shot.

Combining a car's list price with other considerations - including rego and insurance, depreciation, loan interest, fuel, tyres, servicing and other on-road costs - the annual survey ranks the running costs of popular models available in Australia.

RACQ's 2012 survey pegs the light Alto as the most affordable car over the course of a year, with the GL 1.0 litre five-speed manual five-door pegged at around $6068 per year.

The most affordable small car is Kia's Cerato S 2.0 litre six-speed automatic hatch, costing around $8540 per year.

Predictably, running costs grow with the size of the car, with the Hyundai i45 the cheapest midsizer at around $10,583 per year, and the large LPG-powered Falcon EcoLPi at around $12,085 per year.

And if you thought an electric vehicle would be the answer to saving thousands (and not just the environment), consider Mitsubishi's pioneering i-MiEV, the first EV to feature in the list, at around $12,816 per year.

The i-MiEV's high running cost is based largely on its $48,000 price tag and correspondingly high depreciation costs.

"The cheapest of the six ‘green’ technology vehicles in our survey was the new Toyota Prius c Hybrid," RACQ's Steve Spalding said.

"Its annual cost of $8309.32 is $1784.83 cheaper than the nearest rival, the Honda Insight VTi Hybrid," he said. "Its $23,990 price was also low enough to contain its depreciation and interest costs."

The giant Toyota LandCruiser GXL turbodiesel proved most expensive overall, with owners forking out around $20,704.29 a year.

"While it may be impractical for motorists who own a LandCruiser to downsize to a small car like the Alto, it is worth noting that the Suzuki owner can operate their car for more than three weeks for the same amount the Toyota owner spends in one week," Spalding said.

The survey found that depreciation remained the single biggest cost component across all categories, but unlike other running costs, the impact of depreciation is felt at the end of the ownership period.

The full survey can be found here: http://www.racq.com.au/motoring/cars/car_economy/vehicle_running_costs (opens in new window).

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