Considering insurance, gas, maintenance and repairs, most drivers are well aware of how expensive cars are to buy and maintain.
In fact, the average cost to own and operate a new vehicle is $9,282 a year, according to an annual study by AAA.
However, the largest expense that comes with buying a new car largely falls under the radar, the automotive group said.
Of all costs, depreciation, a measure of how quickly a car loses value, remains the single biggest cost of ownership, accounting for more than a third, or 36%, of the average annual cost, according to AAA.
New cars typically depreciate the minute you drive off the lot. By the time it's a year old, the vehicle has lost nearly one-third of its value, according to Edmunds data.
The secret to minimizing depreciation costs: "Keep your car for a long time and keep it well-maintained or even consider buying a quality, pre-owned vehicle," said Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA Northeast.
For those currently car shopping, in addition to the purchase price and the rate you'll pay to finance a car, consider the length of time you plan to own your car, Sinclair advised.
New car buyers who stretch a car loan over five, six, or even seven years may effectively lower their payments, but owners may end up owing more than the vehicle is worth.
By buying a pre-owned vehicle in good condition, you can keep your costs way down over that time. (A certified pre-owned vehicle, usually one coming off a lease, often includes warranty coverage, which greatly reduces the worry that can also come with buying a used car.)
Five years of strong new car sales have created a large supply of "gently used" off-lease vehicles, and these are priced at a significant discount, according to Cox Automotive. Many potential new-car buyers looking for good value will be drawn into this used market, the company said.
About 35% of new cars are priced below $30,000, compared with 54% in 2012, according to another Cox Automotive report. Separate data from Edmunds show that the price of a 3-year-old used car — the age of most autos coming off leases — averages $13,535 less than a new car. In 2010, the difference was less than $9,000.