Key takeaways

  • 89 percent of U.S. employees are in favor of a hybrid work model, which would reduce weekly travel time. (Bankrate hybrid work survey)
  • In-office policies are being reinstated requiring many people to return to in-person work and resume a daily commute.
  • Preparing yourself and your vehicle will help ease the transition back to commuting.

As companies call employees back to the office, many people face the challenge of adjusting to new routines, including their daily commute. Understandably, this transition may cause some stress. With commute times increasing again, it may be a great time for drivers to reevaluate their insurance coverage to help get the financial protection they need at the best price. Some thoughtful planning and preparation can ease the process of returning to the office and make the road ahead less stressful.

Key return to office statistics

Insurance Auto
As companies implement return-to-office plans, commuting patterns are shifting across the nation. Here are key statistics highlighting the current landscape:
  • On average, Americans spend 52.2 minutes a day commuting to and from work. (Ridester)
  • Bodily injury and property damage auto claim severity have increased 35 percent since 2019. More drivers back on the road may lead to more claims and increased insurance premiums. (LexisNexis)
  • 50 percent of employers require their employees to return to the office full-time. (CNBC)
  • According to a recent Bankrate survey, 68 percent of U.S. adults working full-time or looking for full-time employment support a hybrid work model instead of fully in-person. (Bankrate hybrid work survey)
  • 81 percent of full-time American workers and job seekers support a four-day work week instead of a traditional five-day one. (Bankrate hybrid work survey)
  • Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the most common days workers must come in for office work. (Time)

What to expect with the rise of commuting

From crowded highways to stressed motorists, here’s what to watch for in the miles ahead:

  • Heavy traffic: While still below pre-pandemic levels, expect traffic to increase heavily as more companies adopt return-to-work policies. San Diego, Phoenix and Houston are the cities closest to their pre-pandemic traffic levels.
  • Rushed drivers: Many feel stressed about commuting back to the office, which may lead to impatient driving. Allow extra time in your schedule to avoid a time crunch and drive safely.
  • Increased spending: Car maintenance, fuel costs and parking all add up. The average annual commute expense in the U.S. is $8,466.
  • Career changes: According to Bankrate’s hybrid work survey, 37 percent of U.S. adults would change their job or company to work remotely rather than in an office.

Money tip: More drive time means more wear and tear on your vehicle. If you're commuting again, you may want to leave room in your budget for surprise car repairs. According to the Bankrate credit card debt survey, 10 percent of U.S. adults who carry debt on their credit card point to unexpected car-related expenses as their source of debt.

Getting your car ready

Personal vehicles remain the primary mode of transportation for commuters, with two-thirds of American workers driving their own cars to the office. However, many held off on buying or leasing vehicles during the economic uncertainty of the last few years. According to a 2022 Bankrate survey, 21 percent of U.S. adults delayed leasing or purchasing a vehicle due to the state of the economy.

If you’re returning to the office, it may be time to catch up on some delayed car maintenance. Considering your cost of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, gas and insurance, may help you decide how best to budget for your commute.

True cost to own a car

The cost of owning a car goes far beyond the sticker price. Regular maintenance keeps your car safe on the road and may be necessary to pass inspections in certain states. Maintenance for most vehicles includes oil changes, brake checks, fluid fills and tire inspections. While many cars have maintenance reminders, also watch for odd sounds or lights indicating issues.

A second major part of car ownership cost is insurance. Insurance rates vary widely based on personal factors like where you live, your driving record, your vehicle type and, in most states, your age, gender and credit history. The average driver spends $2,014 per year for full coverage and $622 per year for minimum coverage. You may be able to save on your premium by improving certain personal rating factors or qualifying for discounts. As all insurance companies use their own rating algorithms, shopping around is often the most effective way to find the cheapest company for your coverage needs.

Learn more: How to save on car insurance

Things to consider when buying a car

If you’re commuting every day, you might be considering buying a new vehicle. Whether you’re looking for a more comfortable ride, want better gas mileage or just need a more reliable car, here are a few things to consider before making the purchase.

  • Buying a used car versus new: Weighing the pros and cons of new or used can be tricky. If upfront savings are your priority, opting for a pre-owned car might be the way to go. However, a used car may cost you more in maintenance.
  • Choosing your make and model: The make and model of your vehicle determines your fuel efficiency, repair costs, insurance premium and more. You may want to do some research and compare insurance quotes for different makes and models.
  • Gas mileage: Your daily commute length and the car’s fuel efficiency play pivotal roles in determining how often you’ll be at the gas station. Over time, these fuel stops can significantly impact your wallet. If you’re looking to cut down on these expenses, you may want to consider an electric vehicle.
  • Financing a car: Both lenders and dealerships offer auto financing, so doing your research beforehand may help you find the best rate for your circumstances. Lenders typically require you to carry full coverage auto insurance, which will have a big impact on your premium.

Planning for your commute

As many companies roll out return-to-office plans, drivers face shifting landscapes from their pre-pandemic commutes.

“Firstly, it’s essential to expect a resurgence in traffic congestion,” says Jon Morgan of Venture Smarter, a business management consulting company. “This could potentially lead to longer commute times, heightened frustration and a greater need for efficient transportation solutions.”

Looking at your route, estimating timing and anticipating challenges may help you feel more in control of your commute. Consider these tips for a more efficient commute.

Plan ahead

Planning your commute route and timing before you get behind the wheel may simplify the process and ensure you’re not late to the office. This checklist may help you get started.

  1. Research the route: Familiarize yourself with the area you’re driving in. Traffic patterns might have evolved over the past few years, so you may want to look at road conditions, traffic density and construction status.
  2. Allocate extra time: Morning rushes can be unpredictable. Giving yourself some buffer time can reduce stress.
  3. Budget for the commute: Commute costs include gas, tolls and parking fees. Additional mileage may also increase your car insurance premium. Tracking these costs may help you budget for them each month.

Monitor driving anxiety

Working in an office can foster a sense of community and enhance collaboration, but a change of routine can also cause anxiety. According to a Bankrate survey, 31 percent of Americans report that work negatively impacts their mental health at least occasionally. Fortunately, some tools and strategies that may help ease commute and office stress. It may be helpful to keep track of areas of your day that provoke anxiety and focus your attention on tools to address these issues.

If finding parking heightens your anxiety, researching garages and their rates before you leave the house may be helpful. Navigation apps can help you find the quickest route based on the time of day you drive and even save you money by avoiding tolls or locating cheap gas stations.

Continue self-care

Maintaining self-care practices is an important part of finding your new in-office routine. Make time in your day for mindfulness practices like meditation, exercise, games, reading or family time. Planning out when you leave and return to the home may help you schedule personal activities. Looking for a gym, coffee shop or park near your office may help you incorporate self-care practices into your lunch breaks.

Consider your options

As the professional landscape evolves, it’s important to assess what work routine aligns best with your well-being and team’s productivity. Engage in open dialogues with your employer and co-workers to strike a balance that’s conducive to efficient work. To mitigate the stresses of commuting, consider cost-effective and eco-friendly alternatives like public transportation, walking or biking.

Frequently asked questions

    • Daily commuting increases your daily mileage, which typically results in higher insurance premiums. Policyholders who drive more may be more likely to get into an accident or experience other covered incidents. To compensate for this increased risk, insurers typically charge higher rates for these drivers. You may be able to help offset this cost by enrolling in a telematics program, looking for discounts and comparing quotes from other carriers.
    • If you’re commuting to work again, you might be considering a new vehicle to make your journey more comfortable or efficient. Buying a new car will likely impact your insurance premiums. Newer cars are typically more valuable and have more complex components. These factors may make your vehicle more expensive to repair after a covered claim, increasing your premium. On the other hand, newer vehicles with updated safety features may be eligible for safety discounts with some carriers. Comparing quotes for any vehicles you’re considering is likely the best way to determine how your premium might change with a new car.
    • Most insurance companies ask questions about vehicle use and mileage during the quoting process. If your vehicle use or mileage has changed, it may be in your best interest to inform your insurance company. If you’re going back to the office, it may also be a good time to compare car insurance quotes and see if you’re getting the best rate for your driving habits and coverage needs.