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Grade 9-12

Owning a Car

Updated: January 28 2016,
Author: Sue Lynn Sasser

Using a Better Money Habits video, this lesson introduces students to the various costs associated with buying and operating a car, including monthly payments, gasoline, insurance, and maintenance.


Using the Better Money Habits video The True Cost of a Car , this lesson introduces students to the various costs associated with buying and operating a car, including monthly payments, gasoline, insurance, and maintenance. It also stresses the importance of comparative shopping when making a major purchase. This lesson can be used in conjunction with Lesson 18: Financing a Car in Financial Fitness for Life, Grades 9-12.  The video is 4 minutes, and the estimated time for this activity is one 45 minute class period. 

In this lesson, students will be placed in groups and assigned different types of vehicles to compare the costs for each type.  It will require students to use an online calculator or other tools to compute monthly payments, explore insurance options, calculate gasoline expenses, determine basic maintenance costs, and investigate required fees such as registration and car tags.

Financial Fitness for Life  is a comprehensive personal finance curriculum for K-12 students that teaches students how to make thoughtful, well-informed decisions about important aspects of personal finance, such as earning income, spending, saving, borrowing, investing, and managing money. Visit CEE’s Financial Fitness for Life website  for more information on the publication and how to purchase it.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the costs of owning and operating a car.
  • Calculate the potential costs of owning and operating a car.

Resource List

  • Handout 9.1: Owning a Car
  • Computer access, if possible
  • Otherwise: calculator, magazines, newspapers, or other sources of information about vehicles


  1. Ask students if they have ever considered buying a car or if they currently own a car. Have them identify potential costs they may have when owning a car. Explain they will participate in a project where they determine what kind of car is best for their family.
  2. Ask students to discuss some of the reasons so many different types of vehicles are available to purchase today and how the car they drive will meet their needs to get to school or to go to their job. Remind students that different types of vehicles will have different kinds of costs.
  3. Introduce the video Better Money Habits: Car Buying: The True Cost of a Car. Distribute Handout 9.1: Owning a Car. Tell students to use Part A of the handout to record the information presented in the video. After viewing the video, review the handout with the class.
  4. Put students into groups and provide them a copy of Part B of the handout. Assign each group a different type of vehicle (sports car, new truck, used SUV, etc., or have students make their own selection; be sure groups are choosing a variety of vehicles to maximize the purpose of this lesson).
  5. Have students research their selected vehicle, using online or provided sources. Have them record their findings on Part B of the handout.
  6. Ask each group to share their findings with the rest of the class. You may want to put each group’s information on the board or on a bulletin board to better compare their results.
  7. Debrief the activity by asking students what factors or costs seemed to make the biggest difference when comparing the different vehicles. You may also want to remind students that they may choose to save money for a down payment to reduce the monthly costs or save money to purchase a car to save the monthly payment and interest costs.

Note: Alternative to Part B. Have students respond to the following:
Based on your own personal situation, what factors presented in this video are the most important costs for you or your family to consider when buying a car? Be sure to explain the reason for your answers.



To summarize this lesson, remind students that buying a car is similar to buying other goods and services.  It is important to comparison shop and find the vehicle that best meets their needs.  Buying a smaller, less expensive car may not be as stylish as driving a sports car or big truck, but the money saved can be used for future purchases such as a college education.  In addition, the type of car purchased will have an impact on the other costs associated with owning and operating one.

Extension Activity

Have students write a “tip sheet” to share with their friends, including things to consider when purchasing a car.

Have students work in groups to research a specific car they might like to drive.  Have them make a presentation to the class about the potential costs of owning and operating that vehicle.  Invite a bank loan officer, a finance specialist at a local car dealership, or an insurance agent to review their presentations.

Download the poster Better Money Habits: Financing a Car. Have students prepare a summary of what they learned from each section: lender, down payment, terms, interest rates, and depreciation.


Have students select which of the vehicles researched by the groups would best fit their individual or family situation and prepare a written summary explaining why it would be their best choice.

Personal Finance