The Drift Tax: How Much Drifting REALLY Costs

The “Drift Tax” has really made the prices of drift cars shoot up in the past few years. A good condition 240SX used to be attainable for under $2000, but now you can’t touch a clean one for under $5000. What happened to jack these prices up so high?

This phenomenon has been going on for many years, stretching back into even the late 90’s. The simplest answer is that the “Drift Tax” is just a specific case of supply and demand, as there were only a certain number of a car, for example the AE86, produced. Without new supply, the marked sucked up all the cars, and people are willing to pay more for the fewer cars. People continue to crash these, blow motors, and otherwise irreparably damage them. These cars are quite literally a dying breed, and that skyrockets the price of the remaining few.


With such a crazy drift tax, that makes getting into drifting look really daunting. Fear not! You won’t have to shell out 10k to get some rusted out drift beater, as the drift tax doesn’t affect all cars the same. So, how much will you pay for drifting?

With all things considered, including insurance, tires, repairs, track fees, and gas, drifting costs about $3500 a year, assuming you drift once a month for 8 months. Your car will realistically cost you another $2k, and first time repairs+modification could cost another $500. On average, your first year will cost you about $6000.


Where am I getting these numbers? Well, going to drift events isn’t just for the drifters, spectators can go too! I’ve been to my local track many times in order to talk to the people who drift regularly. Some of them have been going there for over 10 years, and this is what they said about their expenses. Now, keep in mind that these guys are running cars that have upwards of 400whp at the wheels, which is a lot for amateur drifting. If you’re running a cheap car, like an E36 or an MX5, you can get the initial car and repair costs down.

We have to keep in mind a few residual expenses when we’re calculating your answer: Food, Hotel, Gas, Tires, and Repairs (I’ll go over your first-time car purchase at the bottom). Let’s break down the cost of each piece.



1) Food and Hotel Costs – $125/Event


If you’re going to a one-day event, these should both be pretty low. Around me, you can get a decent meal for $10/head, and an acceptable motel for $75/night. Assuming you’re drifting, sleeping, then heading home, you’re eating probably five meals (three day 1, two day 2). So add 50 and one night hotel fee of 75, you’ve got a total food and hotel cost of $125/night.


Most of the time you’re drifting, I wouldn’t expect to stay in anything fancy. Motel 6, Days Inn, Super 8, those are the kinds of hotels I shoot for. These may not be the highest-quality, but the point of the trip isn’t to be in the hotel room. The hotel is just for sleeping, and getting out in the morning. Some hotels offer complimentary breakfast, though, which would lower your food costs by $10 (not paying for breakfast).



2) Gas and Tires – $195/Event


This highly depends on two factors: How good is your car on gas, and how cheap can you get tires? If you’re driving an E36 or an MX5, your gas costs will be almost nonexistent. If you’re driving a 600HP LS3-swapped 240 though, you’ll be chugging fuel pretty fast. Driving smaller displacement engines usually correlates to cheaper fuel costs. Using the MX5, you can expect around 10MPG while drifting, and a cost/day of roughly $75, assuming you’re drifting almost all day. With lower horsepower also comes lower tire costs, as you (hopefully) won’t rip through them as fast. On average, people in lower horsepower cars go through 2-3 sets per day. Assuming you can get scrap tires at $20 a pop, that’s $80 to $120 in tires (2 per set 2-3 times/day at $20/tire).


I’ve heard of people being able to get tires completely free, too. If you have an inside connection, or a really nice scrap guy, you might be able to get tires for free or for pennies on the dollar. Assuming you’re still paying the $20/tire and using 3 sets, your Gas and Tires cost rings up to about $195.



3) Repairs (Oh god) – $125 /Event


This is another expense that really depends on the car that you’re driving. If you’re sliding an MX5, parts are about as cheap as they come. They made tons of these cars, and that means there’s a *huge* aftermarket scene for parts. If you’re driving something like a Lexus RC390, though, there’s not much aftermarket support for them yet. OEM (Original Engine Manufacturer) parts for most cars are really expensive, and Lexus is no exception. When possible, go for name-brand aftermarket parts. These parts will be of much higher quality than their cheaper, no-name eBay counterparts. Paying for the slightly higher-quality part will be cheaper in the long run, as the part is much less likely to fail while drifting.


As a real-world example, the guy I got my S14 from had used a rubber hose for the high-pressure power steering line. He also left it hanging out of its mount, rubbing against the frame of the car. I didn’t realize this until I took it drifting the first time. My first run, when it was just my older sibling and I there, I blew the line. All the rubbing that line had done on the frame weakened the hose. The pressure from drifting was all it needed.


Luckily, that car was set up so the serpentine belt didn’t go to the power steering pump, that was a separate belt entirely. We yanked that belt off (channel locks on the belt, pulled really hard outwards and turned the car over), and we were right back on the track. The day after the event, I went to my local hydraulics shop. They made me a braided, high-pressure hydraulic line for my power steering, and that line hasn’t broke since.



4) Buying Your First Drift Car


This is such a huge topic, this deserves its own article. However, I’ll go into some detail here. If you’d like more information, you can read my article on the Best Starting Drift Cars.


Buying your first drift car is a big decision, there’s no question about it. If you haven’t picked up on the hints in the article already, the MX5 Miata is a good choice. So are the BMW E36s, as long as they’re manual. Pretty much any drift car you’d buy should be a manual, especially for your first one. Drifting an automatic is very difficult, and would severely hinder your learning. There’s a reason you almost never see a pro drifter shredding tires in an automatic.


If you’re trying to get into drifting as cheap as possible, these two cars are your best bet. E36s are a dime a dozen where I’m from, and most would make for good drift candidates. If you’re patient, you can find a decent MX5 for under $1,500. I’ve noticed the prices of Miatas have been climbing recently, so if you buy one cheap, you may make a couple bucks when you sell. However, MX5s have very short wheelbases, making them more twitchy during drifting. If you have quick hands, and a quicker brain, you should be fine. The E36 has a longer wheelbase, letting it be more stable during a drift. If you aren’t confident in your hands being fast enough, go with the BMW. Those motors are almost bulletproof as well, meaning you should have lower repair bills overall.


4a) Tips on What To Look For, And How To Buy


When you’re buying a drift car, you have to be willing to look at beaters. Odds are, you won’t be buying a 20k miles, one-owner, garage-kept E36 for anywhere near $2,000. What you’re mainly looking for is the 180k miles, paint fading, ripped seats E36 that’s had all its maintenance done. You’ll be doing most of your own repairs from now on, so as long as the previous owners have taken care of it mechanically, you’re good to go.


As soon as you guy whichever car you’re going to drift, change the oil. No matter how recently the previous owner said they did it, you’ll want to change it, and once every other event from here on out. Always use full synthetic oil, you can get 5 quarts of 10w40 full synthetic for $30. You should have the timing belt/chain serviced as well. If you jump timing, you have one very expensive paperweight.


As for modifications, you’re going to want to stay light on those. Most people have drift cars that would suit someone with 3x their skill. They blame the car for their lack of skill, then modify it to “drift better”. Learn with a cheap car, develop your skill, then modify your car. For now, you can gut the interior, weld the differential, get a hydro e-brake, and a used bucket seat. Writing this, I looked online and found a universal bucket seat for $63, and a nice padded one for $100. The hydro e-brake was about $40, and welding the differential is $10-20 at your local shop.


4b) Grand Total For One Year of Drifting


Assuming you’ve done everything right in buying your car and modifications, then your worst-case budget is as follows:

  • Car
    • E36 – $2000
    • Oil change – $30
    • Timing service – $50
    • Bucket Seat – $100
    • E-brake – $40
    • Welding diff – $20
  • 1-year expenses, going drifting once/month for 8 months
    • Food and Hotels – $1000
    • Tires and Gas – $1580
    • Repairs – $1000

This brings your grand total, for your first year of drifting, to a worst-case scenario of… drumroll please… $5800. Less than the cost of a nice 240SX! What you end up with won’t be a show car by any length, but it will be a solid, semi-reliable drift car to learn in. If you dump another couple hundred in spray paint, you could completely customize the look of your drift missile as well. Some of my favorite cars are the ones that people took rattlecans to, and made their own.


If you learn one thing from this article, let it be this: Drifting is pay to play, but more money in doesn’t equal more fun out!


As a drift enthusiast, if I've owned the car, you can bet it's been sideways! Honda S2000, Chrysler Crossfire, 1987 Porsche (only once, *never again*), and my babies, my 1995 Notch-top SR 240SX and 1991 Red-top SR 240SX. I've had a ton of fun, and I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences, tips, and recommendations with you all!

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