Ongoing maintenance and major repairs become bigger and bigger expenses as a car gets older. An average American household can expect to spend about 1.5 percent of its annual income, or about $817 a year, on car repairs for its two (or more statistically accurate, 1.9) vehicles.1
To help you prepare for those inevitable repairs, here's a look at how to keep them to a minimum - and where that money actually goes. It's always better to be proactive instead of reactive.
Preventive maintenance is the key to minimizing maintenance costs over a car's lifetime. It might seem counterintuitive to fix or replace parts before they're actually needed, but being proactive is much better than ending up with unexpected repairs. Car owners who don't keep up with preventive maintenance can expect to have more emergency repairs than they otherwise would. Find out what you should look for at each car maintenance milestone
to keep your vehicle running smoothly. Some parts are designed to wear out - so prepare for them.
Keeping track of wear parts
is an important element of preventive maintenance. Wear parts are components of a car that are designed to wear out as they're used. In other words, doing their job is what wears them out. These parts should be replaced regularly and generally after a certain timeframe or a mileage interval, although hard use can cause them to wear out much faster. Some average prices for wear parts include:
- Engine air filters2: $35
- Brake pads3: $80
- Headlight bulbs4: $10
Many wear parts need to be replaced at specific intervals
, based on their lifespan and how you use your car. Check the maintenance schedule in your owner's manual so you won't be caught by surprise when parts are nearing the end of their useful life. Wear parts that tend to fail unexpectedly, like headlight bulbs, are often inexpensive, but you can still get a good deal by shopping around or ordering replacements online.
Longer-life components are unlike wear parts in that they don't need to be replaced at specific intervals but will still break or wear out from time to time. Examples of average costs include:
- Alternators5: $240
- Radiators6: $200
- Strut assemblies7: $365
- Catalytic converters8: $795
Typically, replacing these long-life parts is more expensive than replacing wear parts, although they shouldn't wear out until well into a car's lifespan, and replacements should last several years or more. In many cases, staying on top of the wear parts (for example, engine oil and filters) will directly prolong the life of heavy-duty components (such as the engine). Emergency repairs are a certainty - plan ahead for that rainy day.
To take the sting out of unplanned repairs, set money aside ahead of time to cover these emergencies. Otherwise, it's tempting to skimp on the repair or put it off, which can make problems even worse over the long run.
The amount you should tuck away will vary a lot based on your car. First, the make and model of your car has a lot to do with it. Typically, brands like Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota are the cheapest to maintain, while premium brands, like Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, are the most expensive to maintain for the first 75,000 miles.9
Why bring mileage into the mix? Because mileage is how average maintenance costs are measured. For instance, for the first 25,000 miles, the average car owner can expect to pay $1,400 for maintenance. And then, for every block of 25,000 miles travelled thereafter, the average maintenance costs continue to grow. That pattern holds true right up until the 100,000-mile mark, where average maintenance costs still increase, but at a rate that's a little less dramatic.9
The costs examined above might sound like a lot, but most experts say it's still cheaper to maintain an older car
than it is to buy a new one
. By some estimates,1
owning a new car for a single year costs about the same as maintaining a paid-off, older car for five years, and something as simple as mastering these preventative maintenance steps could reward a car owner with about eight years (or 150,000 miles) of loyal service.