How much does car maintenance cost?

Aivaras Grigelevičius

Aivaras Grigelevičius

Finding the vehicle you want at a reasonable price is exciting. However, car buyers should remember that the cost of buying a vehicle is one thing – maintaining it can be a whole different deal.

We’ve put together a helpful guide that will give you a better idea of how much car maintenance costs, so you can make smarter decisions in the marketplace.

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Costs of car maintenance vary due to many factors

Car makers are working to optimize production by utilizing identical components across multiple models. This strategy contributes to lower maintenance costs, but this doesn’t guarantee that servicing vehicles like the Toyota Corolla and the Toyota RAV4 will cost the same.

A significant factor in maintenance cost is weight. For example, since the Toyota RAV4 is heavier, it will use more fuel and require more frequent tire changes. Therefore, the difference in maintenance cost between the 2 cars will be quite significant in the long run.

Unexpected repairs could cost more

Car maintenance cost, changing tires
Source: Benjamin Brunner / Unsplash

All vehicles require routine maintenance. Even the most reliable car in the world can only reach a high mileage because of regular scheduled maintenance, which helps reduce the risk of unexpected breakdowns.

Regular car maintenance demands a considerable portion of your income. However, any attempt to save money at the expense of servicing critical vehicle components may result in various breakdowns:

  • Skipped oil changes may lead to engine replacement or overhaul.
  • Ignoring any issues with struts, shocks, tie rods, ball joints, or other suspension parts will lead to increased tire wear and more.
  • Not paying attention to possible leaks could lead to expensive engine, transmission, or cooling system repairs.

Cost of car maintenance depends on the car brand

Vehicles with complicated electrical systems and other technological intricacies have more things that can break down, and are therefore more expensive to maintain.

Certain car brands are known for building more technologically-advanced vehicles, which is one of the main reasons maintenance costs will vary by brand.

The most expensive car brands to maintain (maintenance cost over 10 years of ownership)

  1. RAM – $16,802
  2. Jeep - $11,476
  3. Chrysler - $11,364
  4. Dodge - $11,079
  5. Ford - $9,860
  6. Chevrolet - $9,625
  7. Fiat - $9,100
  8. Buick - $9,063

The cheapest car brands to maintain (maintenance cost over 10 years of ownership)

  1. Toyota - $5,996
  2. Mitsubishi - $7,787
  3. Honda - $7,827
  4. Mazda - $8,035
  5. Nissan - $8,088
  6. Mini - $8,155
  7. Volkswagen - $8,166
  8. GMC - $8,429

Routine car maintenance costs

Car maintenance cost, engine mechanic
Source: Kate Ibragimova / Unsplash

Maintenance schedule guidelines are meant to assist you with timely oil changes and other routine car maintenance to avoid unexpected breakdowns and expensive repairs.

Car maintenance cost example

A car's maintenance cost varies depending on its make, model, and where you have your vehicle serviced. For a better understanding of the potential costs, here's an example of the scheduled maintenance costs for the Toyota RAV4 SUV.

5,000 miles (8,000 km) mark:

10,000 miles (16,000 km) mark:

  • Oil change – $80 to $140
  • Regular inspection of fluids, wiper blades, brake system – from $60
  • Tire rotation – from $30
  • Engine and cabin air filter change – $50 to $100

15,000 miles (24,000 km) mark:

  • Oil change – $80 to $140
  • Tire rotation – from $30
  • Suspension, steering gear, exhaust check-up – from $70

20,000 miles (32,000 km) mark:

  • Oil change – $80 to $140
  • Brake fluid change – $120 to $180
  • Tire rotation – from $30
  • Engine and cabin air filter change – $40 to $100

25,000 miles (40,000 km) mark:

  • Oil change – $80 to $140
  • Tire rotation – from $30
  • Suspension, steering gear, exhaust check-up – from $70

30,000 miles (48,000 km) mark:

  • Oil change – $80 to $140
  • Spark plugs change – $120 to $190
  • Brake pads change – $110 to $270 per axle
  • Tire rotation – from $30
  • Engine and cabin air filter change – $40 to $100

Cost of rotation or replacement of tires

New tires can be a costly purchase, especially if you drive a truck or SUV. However, there is a way to reduce the average tire maintenance costs. Average miles driven per year should also be taken into consideration here.

By rotating a vehicle's front and rear tires, you prolong their life, reducing costs. Leading tire manufacturers like Michelin recommended rotating tires every 6 months or 6,000 to 8,000 miles (10,000-13,000 km).

Another thing you can do is choose tires with a smaller diameter. For example, Honda recommends using 3 tire sizes for their Civic: 215/55 R16, 215/50 R17, and 235/40 R18. While the R18 diameter tire gives cars a more aggressive stance, it's more expensive to buy and own due to decreased fuel efficiency. If you genuinely want to save money on tire maintenance, purchase low-rolling-resistance tires that will improve fuel efficiency by 3 to 5%.

Oil change price

Typically an oil change isn’t expensive, but depending on several factors, the cost may vary:

  • Whether you're doing it yourself or employing a mechanic
  • The type of oil used
  • Quantity of oil
  • The vehicle's make and model
  • Engine type and displacement

Brake maintenance costs

Brake pads are the most often replaced part in a vehicle's braking system. They could wear out in 12 months or just a few years, depending on your driving style. However, you should also regularly check and replace other parts in the brake system:

  • Brake calipers
  • ABS control module
  • Disc brakes
  • Master cylinder
  • Wheel speed sensor
  • Brake booster

Other car maintenance costs

Although tire rotation and oil changes are some of the most important areas of car maintenance, it's important to keep in mind the other parts that will require relatively frequent replacement:

Other car ownership costs

Keeping a car in good shape costs a lot of money. However, there's also a constant flow of other expenses:

  • Insurance costs
  • Parking fees
  • Fuel costs
  • Window washing fluid, motor oil, etc.

Since car maintenance costs depend on various factors, maintaining scheduled service intervals is crucial. This way, you will reduce the risk of vehicle breakdowns and keep a high resale value.

Potential cost of buying a poorly maintained vehicle

The mileage of a vehicle tends to serve as the reference point for helping to determine its maintenance requirements. When buyers encounter the same model with mileage readings of 30,000 and 80,000 on the clock, they will naturally lean towards the car with the lower mileage, even if it comes at a slightly higher cost.

However, these differences in mileage can be misleading. A vehicle with low mileage, along with nearly perfect service book records and an enticing price, can often signal hidden faults within.

carVertical report: Honda Odyssey
Source: carVertical

Mileage and service book records are frequently manipulated by unscrupulous sellers who aim to conceal noticeable defects and present the vehicle as flawless.

Unfortunately, many car buyers remain unaware that they are on the brink of acquiring a poorly maintained vehicle, which will require a substantial upfront investment. Unless buyers take the initiative to decode the VIN number of the car they're interested in.

Odometer readings in carVertical report
Source: carVertical

By doing so, potential buyers can confidently evaluate the actual condition of the vehicle, mitigate the risk of purchasing a problematic vehicle, and avoid the subsequent regret that often accompanies the acquisition of a vehicle plagued by recurring issues.

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Aivaras Grigelevičius

Article by

Aivaras Grigelevičius

Aivaras has been excited about cars since he was a little kid. Later, this passion for drivable objects (and everything that surrounds them) grew into work as an automotive journalist. Since then, Aivaras has written for several different magazines, covering anything with an accelerator pedal. He has a soft spot for cars with an Alfa Romeo badge.