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5 truths about car maintenance and repair

Tara Baukus MelloAmericans these days are keeping their cars longer than ever before, but as the mileage starts to creep up, drivers worry about the cost to keep the car running reliably. We asked the data team at Edmunds.com to run the repair and maintenance costs for the 10 best-selling cars of 2011 to see just what car owners could expect in out-of-pocket costs. Here are five truths about car maintenance.

Repair costs are similar and not very high. Cars are built well these days and don't require a lot of repairs. Repair costs to 75,000 miles on the 10 best-selling vehicles ranged from $654 to $855 -- far less costly than the $1,669 in average car maintenance costs.

Free maintenance programs can dramatically reduce costs. While free car maintenance programs have been popular with luxury car brands for quite a while, they only started appearing with nonluxury brands in the last couple of years as a way to boost slow car sales.

Both Toyotas on the 10 best-sellers list, Camry and Corolla, offer free regularly scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first, and that dramatically reduces cost of ownership. In 2009, the most recent year when the maintenance program was not offered, scheduled maintenance costs to 75,000 miles for the Camry and Corolla were $2,028 and $2,008, respectively. For 2011, costs were $1,308 for Camry and $1,383 for Corolla.

Maintenance frequency can significantly increase costs. The more frequently a manufacturer recommends oil changes and other scheduled maintenance, the higher the car maintenance costs, assuming you follow manufacturer's recommendations. Of the cars that are among the 10 best-sellers, the Ford F-150 received a more frequent maintenance schedule due to some engine changes. As a result, scheduled maintenance to 75,000 miles on the Ford F-150 went from $1,102 in 2009 to $1,747 in 2011.

Foreign cars are not necessarily more expensive to service than domestic brands. There's a long-held belief that foreign car brands cost more to maintain than American brands, but as with any generalization, one would be wise to beware.

Among the 10 best-selling cars, the Ford F1-50 had the highest scheduled maintenance costs to 75,000 miles at $1,747, followed by the Ford Fusion at $1,549, while the Honda Civic was the least expensive for scheduled maintenance to 75,000 miles at $1,229.

Cars that are direct competitors have similar repair and maintenance costs. Family sedans are the most popular car type, so it's no surprise that among the 10 best-sellers, there are four direct competitors -- Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry -- and their costs to maintain to 75,000 miles ranges from $1,308 to $1,549, a difference of just $241.

What's the take-away from these data? If you are car shopping, it makes good financial sense to look at ownership costs before you buy. And, if you are considering keeping your car for a few more years, it's likely a financially sound choice because ownership costs are most likely going to be far less than the payments on a new-car loan.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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