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The Cost of a Road Trip: New York to Los Angeles


In 1984, Clark Griswold and his wife, Ellen, set off with their kids, Rusty and Audrey, on a 2,400 cross-country trip from their home in the Chicago ‘burbs to “Walley World” in California.

If you’re thinking about making a road trip of similar distance, whether cross-country or down the East Coast, it pays to consider the costs (and prepare for any potential trouble) you’ll encounter along the way.

Fuel Economy and the Cost of Gas

As beloved as that brand-new Wagon Queen Family Truckster was, let’s assume you’re driving something a little less Partridge family. We’ll use a 2012 Honda Accord, for its best-in-class fuel economy (28 mpg assumes mostly highway miles). Be sure to plug in the actual mileage of your vehicle when you do the math, because mileage varies significantly among models.

In ’84, gas was $0.92 a gallon (wow). Today, a gallon of gas will set you back about $4.61 (taking the average between the cost of gas in New York and in California). The distance from New York to Los Angeles is 2,789 miles. If our Accord gets 28 miles per gallon, we’ll need about 100 gallons of gas (2789 miles / 28 mpg = 99.6 gallons of gas). 100 gallons of gas times our average of $4.61/gallons gives us a trip gas total of $459.16 (as opposed to the $92 it would have cost in 1984).

Travel Costs and Incidentals

Suppose you’ll be driving at an average speed of 65 miles per hour on this trip. That’s nearly 43 hours of driving. If you’re going it alone, it’s safe to assume you’ll not be driving straight through. But let’s say you plan to be on the road for nine hours a day. Presuming you’ll arrive at your destination on the fifth night, you’ll need a hotel for four consecutive nights. The average cost of a hotel room is $200/night, bringing your hotel room total to $800.

Eating on the road for five days will run you about $40/day per person. Since the average road trip includes four people, let’s guess you’ll be traveling with at least one other person. That brings your meal budget to no less than $400.

The Griswolds took a few side trips along the way, stopping to see the world’s second-largest ball of twine (yep, it’s a real thing) in Cawker City, Kansas. They also spent a few seconds at the Grand Canyon (best not to linger, the hotels and food will cost 3x-4x more there), and paid a visit to Cousin Eddie. Be sure to add additional mileage and cash for souvenir t-shirts to your budget (a visit with cousin Eddie will only cost you a bit of pride).

So far, you’ve spent $459.16 on gas, $480 on hotel rooms, $400 on food, and another $150 or so on side trips, for a total of about $1,490.

The Best-Laid Plans…

This total assumes that nothing goes wrong with your car during the trip. Even if this were true, it’s worth considering the wear and tear of putting 2,800 miles on your car (tires, oil, brakes, wipers, etc.). Let’s assume a minimal cost of $100 for wear and tear as well as normal depreciation at 10¢ per mile. That’s an additional $380 (now you’re at $1,870).

What are the chances that something could go wrong? According to car insurance statistics, road trips in 2021 alone resulted in:

  • 30% of cars sustaining damage or repairs costing less than $1k
  • 30% of cars sustaining damage that cost more than $1k
  • Nearly two in 10 drivers getting lost
  • 15% suffering a single-car accident
  • 14% suffering an accident with another car

The potential for issues increases exponentially the longer you’re on the road. So if you’re traveling eight hours a day for five consecutive days, there’s a decent chance that you’ll experience a flat tire, a mechanical failure, a fender bender, or simply get lost for a few hours.

Even though Clark’s Truckster was brand new, it suffered a few mishaps. In St. Louis, they “lost” all four hubcaps ($50 each at Auto Zone) and risked crime and road rage along the way.

And in Monument Valley, Utah, Clark got lost, crashed the car, and had to pay $500 for a tow and four new (old, bald) tires. While you might not be as accident-prone as Clark, it’s easy enough to bend a rim hitting a bad pothole or an animal along the way.

Time is Money

We’ve covered nearly all the potential costs and looked at a variety of possible scenarios, but the one thing we’ve not assigned a value to is your time.

A road trip down the East Coast can be an amazing experience if you have the time to make a trip of it. But if your end goal is the destination, and work awaits, you might be more inclined to choose a no-hassle, worry free way to get your vehicle from one side of the country to the other.

Bottom Line

At the end of the trip, it’s no less expensive to drive yourself than it is to have moveauto handle your auto transport. Following our estimation, driving yourself will run you approximately $1,870. Having moveauto transport your vehicle the same distance would cost about $500 less, not to mention provide peace of mind and keep you from putting 3000 empty miles on the odometer of your car.

Want to find out exactly what it will to cost transport your vehicle? Contact us for a free quote!

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