Keeping even an old beater on the road anywhere will consume a large amount of that bare-bones income. Gasoline is a big expense, but ultimately a controllable one: You can walk, take the bus, combine your trips, or carpool.But no one will split the cost of your insurance policy, which as a car owner you are legally required to buy in every state except New Hampshire (and even in New Hampshire, most people buy insurance). States set their own levels of acceptable coverage. Maine and Alaska demand the most: $50,000 to cover the injuries of anyone you might hit ($100,000 total for any single accident), and $25,000 to cover the damage to other cars you cause.
- Your driving record: More than one violation or accident is going to hurt.
- Your credit: If it's dismal, you're seen as a bigger risk of a claim and thus charged more in many states. (See "The double-whammy of bad credit.")
- Your mileage: The less you drive, the less risk of your hitting someone. (See "Plug in, drive less, save more.")
- Your insurance history: If you've let your policy lapse, even for a few days, you'll pay about 5 percent more than you would have otherwise, according to Insurance.com.
- Your insurance company: No two insurers offer identical rates, and even on state-minimum policies, premiums can differ by hundreds of dollars a year.