Photo: Dynamic Graphics/Creatas Images

Wheels of Fortune 

Recent gas prices of well over $3 a gallon inflicted plenty of pain on drivers. But fuel isn’t the only cost of owning and operating a car, and the overall outlay can vary widely from city to city. Things aren’t too bad in Chicago, which ranks 29th out of 110 U.S. cities in the cost of driving, according to a 2005 survey by Runzheimer International, which measured annual depreciation, insurance, fuel, registration, and maintenance costs. Driving a fully loaded 2006 Ford 500 SEL 15,000 miles in the Chicago area would cost $8,018 a year, the survey found, nearly $4,000 less than in Detroit, the most expensive city, where the same vehicle would cost $11,844 a year to operate. (The cheapest spot: Knoxville, Tennessee, at $7,399 a year.)

The biggest variable in the cost of driving is insurance-the study included liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage-says Runzheimer spokesman Lee Czarapata. That’s why motorists in the three most expensive cities for driving-Detroit, Philadelphia, and L.A.-pay the most for insurance. Chicagoans get a break, paying, on average, $1,707 a year in premiums, ranking 34th, compared with $5,072 in Detroit. (Cities with the highest insurance rates tend to have “more accidents, costlier accidents, and more thefts,” says State Farm spokesman Kip Diggs.) When it comes to taking care of their cars, Chicagoans pay 6.05 cents a mile in maintenance costs. Although that figure ranks seventh highest in the study, Chicago doesn’t come close to San Francisco (ranked eighth overall), where maintenance costs are highest, at 7.35 cents a mile.

To save money on insurance, Czarapata recommends keeping a clean driving record, and looking for a car that’s easy to insure based on repair costs and theft rates. Also, consider upping your insurance deductibles.

Most Expensive Cities for Motorists*
  Overall Insurance Maintenance

1. Detroit  

$11,844 $5,072 5.52 cents per mile
2. Philadelphia   $10,672 $3,779 5.82 cents per mile
3. Los Angeles   $10,361   $3,167    5.65 cents per mile
4. Hempstead, N.Y. $10,216   $3,127  6.38 cents per mile
5. Newark, N.J.   $10,115    $3,381  5.98 cents per mile
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
29. Chicago   $8,018 $1,707  6.05 cents per mile
*Based on fully loaded 2006 Ford 500 SEL (driven 15,000 miles/one year)

Bubble Economy

Apparently Chicagoans don’t wait for New Year’s Eve to crack open the bubbly. Some 21 percent of locals drink Champagne or sparkling wine during the course of a year, compared with 17 percent nationally, according to Experian’s market research company Simmons. And a cork-popping 271,000 of those who live in the Windy City consume three to four glasses within a 30-day period, 44 percent higher per capita than the national average. Chicagoans don’t drink cheap: imbibers here are 54 percent more likely than average to drink Dom Pérignon, which can run more than $100 a bottle.

Tom Verhey, owner of the Lake View mainstay Pops for Champagne-where sparkling wine ranges from $20 to $90 a bottle and Champagne runs $40 to $500-says you don’t have to have a huge bank balance to enjoy Champagne. Instead, he says, check out the efforts of some of the new grower/producers such as Jacquesson, Paul Bara, or Vilmart, and start with a glass. “It doesn’t matter if it’s just one glass,” he says. “The minute you see the bubbles, the celebration has begun.”

Chances Are

Chicagoans are a tad less likely than the average person in the U.S. to have bought a lottery ticket within a 30-day period, according to Scarborough Research, with 61 percent of Chicagoans abstaining, compared with 60 percent nationwide. When it comes to buying multiple tickets, 11 percent of Chicagoans bought five or more times in 30 days, compared with 12 percent nationwide. Of course, for that $60-plus a year for five tickets or more a month, you might have better luck playing the ponies at Arlington-and a lot more fun.