WATCH: ‘Solutionaries: The cost of driving’ | The problem of affordability in a commuter state

Solutions journalism aims to find real answers to today’s problems

ORLANDO, Fla. – With rising gas prices, expensive repair costs, tolls and growing insurance premiums, owning or leasing a car can be extremely expensive.

In a state like Florida, where most commuters travel by car, there is more pressure on fuel prices.

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Data from Forbes shows drivers are paying some of the highest costs in the country, with an average of $4,300 per year for car insurance and about $530 a month in auto loan payments.

So what are the solutions for making vehicles and maintenance more affordable?

First, let’s address why rising gas prices make everything more expensive.

Almost half of the cost of regular fuel comes from crude oil prices, which have been spiking recently due to OPEC cutting its oil production.

Since many items contain plastic and plastic is made from fossil fuels, rising gas prices also have an inflating effect on the price of many other goods.

Reducing the Cost For Drivers

In the spring of 2022, Florida saw record average prices at the pump.

Regular unleaded gas reached an all-time high of $4.89 per gallon, infuriating drivers and pressuring leaders to find a solution.

In October, a monthlong gas tax holiday suspended Florida’s 25 cent tax on regular fuel. While the tax holiday cushioned the blow of price increases, much of those savings were wiped out when OPEC cut its oil production.

In 2023, Florida launched another solution to bring down costs for certain commuters.

A toll rebate program called “SunPass Savings” gives drivers who hit 35 tolls in a month a 50% credit the following month. The program is in effect until the end of the year.

But the price of operating a car is only one piece of the puzzle. What does it take to purchase a car these days?

Watch the video below to understand some of the factors contributing to the dealership sticker shock.

It’s also worth mentioning how much it costs to borrow money for car purchase.

As the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, monthly payments are skyrocketing.

According to data from Edmunds, one in six people who have recently financed a new car committed to monthly payments of $1,000 or more.

Delinquencies for auto loans 60 days or more past due is up 20% from 2022.

Adapting to the Cost of Driving

The tough car market has caused some people to find other ways to get around.

That led to an explosion of bike sales, especially e-bikes. Watch the video below to see how it’s playing out in Detroit.

The Risks of Leasing and Renting

What happens when the dealership you’re leasing a vehicle from closes up shop overnight?

That was the reality for American Car Center customers earlier this year when the company closed all of its locations in Florida.

The Better Business Bureau told News 6 sister station WJXT that customers should continue paying off their loans and leases to Westlake Portfolio Management, which has officially taken over the loans.

The BBB also recommends looking out for illegitimate companies trying to impersonate the servicing company.

What about renting a vehicle from a rental agency?

News 6 Investigator Mike Holfeld got results in two separate cases of nightmare car rentals. One involved getting a refund for a vehicle after a man’s flight arrived late in Orlando and the other involved a leaky rental that unaddressed recalls, prompting an investigation.

Watch the video at the very top of this article to learn more about both stories.

Watch the latest episode of Solutionaries at the top of this article, on News 6+ for your smart TV (Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Google TV), on the Solutionaries YouTube channel, and every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. on News 6.

Solutionaries is a production of the news teams at Graham Media Group stations KPRC-Houston, WDIV-Detroit, KSAT-San Antonio, WKMG-Orlando, WJXT/WCWJ-Jacksonville, and WSLS-Roanoke. On Solutionaries, we’re highlighting the creative thinkers and doers who are working to make the world a better place.

About the Author:

Katrina Scales is a producer for the News 6+ Takeover at 3:30 p.m. She also writes and voices the podcast Your Florida Daily. Katrina was born and raised in Brevard County and started her journalism career in radio before joining News 6 in June 2021.