Moving to Freedom, .Org

12 Years in Orbit: My 1998 Saturn

Here’s my Saturn SL1, off-road in 2004:

1998 Saturn SL1

I drove it off the lot in April 1998 with 30 miles on the odometer. Twelve Minnesota winters, five-hundred fill-ups, and 154,000 miles later, I’m still driving it. I’ll be happy if I can stay with it for several more years.

The numbers from twelve years of overly-meticulous recordkeeping tell me that this car has provided great value.

Chart: 1998 Saturn SL1: Cost per mile from 1998 to 2010

First, there’s the lifetime cost-per-mile to own and operate it. I think this is a beautiful graph.

Lifetime expense is $0.29 per mile. That includes everything: payments, gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and etcetera.

(I initially had a three year lease for $8,000. The spike in 2001 is when I bought the car for another $8,000.)

Chart: 1998 Saturn SL1: Operating cost per mile from 1998 to 2010

Minus payments, the operating cost is currently $0.18 per mile. After stabilizing at $0.11/mile in the first year, it has risen slowly over the years, but $0.18/mile is not bad at all.

You can make good, objective decisions about your car if you have decent numbers.

See the jump in 2008? That was in May/April when we invested about $2,300 in repairs and maintenance. Replacing a leaking head gasket and some brake work were the big items. I think there is a tendency with an older car for people to be concerned about getting “nickeled and dimed” on repair costs, so they’ll go out and buy a newer car. But going by the numbers, it was easy to decide on the repair.

I also keep an eye on the per mile operating cost over a 12-month period. After the big repair bill, that jumped into the $0.35/mile range, but is back down to $0.20/mile now, which is still great. My 40-mile round trip commute costs about $8. I think as long as it stays under $0.30/mile, I can drive this thing indefinitely.

And look! You don’t have to sacrifice hauling capacity with a little car. Mine is rated for towing 1,000 pounds. I added a hitch back in 2002 or 2003 and got a fold-up trailer.

1998 Saturn SL1 with Trailer

Here’s where the money goes:

1998 Saturn SL1 Cost of Ownership
Apr 1998 - Mar 2010















You can keep a car running for pretty cheap. $10 per day in this case.

More numbers:

1998 Saturn SL1, Apr 1998 - Mar 2010



Gallons of Gas


Lifetime MPG


Number of Fill-ups


Avg $/gallon


Lowest $/gallon (Dec ’98)


Highest $/gallon (Jun ’08)


Does this all seem a rather dry and lifeless recitation of numbers? Where’s the romance? Well, it is just a car. It gets me from here to there, and for the most part it has done that reliably. I thought it was interesting to look at some of the numbers, and I hope you did as well.

Previously More Still...