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The price of vehicle ownership adds up. When the time comes to purchase your next car, you must consider the true cost of vehicle ownership — trips to the mechanic included. While getting your oil changed or tires replaced both range in cost, AAA found that drivers put an average of $9,666 toward their cars in 2021. This is a $279 increase from the previous year, and as gas prices rise, it is important to prepare for vehicle costs when budgeting for which car is right for you.
Key car maintenance statistics
- The average cost to operate a new car in 2021 was $9,666
- The average driver spends $1,771 per year for full coverage car insurance
- License, registration and vehicle taxes cost $699 per year
- Drivers of newer vehicles should get their oil changed every 5,000 to 7,500 miles
- 1 in 3 drivers can’t afford unexpected vehicle repairs
- 7.9 percent of drivers have delayed their vehicle’s routine maintenance
Routine vehicle maintenance keeps your car running the way it should and, by extension, keeps you and your passengers safe. Maintenance costs vary by vehicle type, age and your location, but there are some basics that almost every car needs.
Typically, your vehicle will need a visit to the mechanic for overall upkeep every 5,000 or so miles. But check your owner’s manual for specifics on your car’s needs.
While mechanics are there to help you, they are also aiming to make money. So while most maintenance does require professional help, consider what you can handle at home to save money.
|Oil change||Every 5,000 to 7,500 miles||$35 to $75|
|Basic inspection||Every 5,000 miles||$150 to $250|
|Tire rotation||Every 5,000 to 8,000 miles||$24 to $100|
|Wiper replacement||Every six months||$10 to $45|
|Brake pad replacement||Every 10,000 to 20,000 miles||$115 to $300|
You will almost certainly have to replace some parts on your vehicle, either due to general wear-and-tear or larger issues.
No matter the reason, the price tag for a replacement is dependent on the part that needs replacing. Two common factors that influence cost are vehicle type — luxury vehicles carrying higher costs for parts — and the market cost. Consumers are also directly impacted by an increase in cost from inflation and the availability of vehicle parts.
Mechanics often do not simply have extra batteries, transmissions or brakes on hand and instead must order them. Shortages have affected repair times, and there are still long waiting periods for parts. News reports across the country continue to cite delays in shipments of parts, and Cars.com reports continued inventory shortages at dealerships and mechanics.
Unfortunately, you should prepare for higher-than-normal replacement costs due to an increase in the price of vehicle materials. Just as pandemic-related supply chain issues have created fewer available cars, parts have been on the decline as well.
|Vehicle part||Frequency||Expected cost|
|New tires||Every six years or 25,000 to 80,000 miles||$45 to $250 each|
|Air filter replacement (engine and cabin)||Every 15,000 to 30,000||$35 to $80|
|Brake pad replacement||Every 10,000 to 20,000 miles||$115 to $370|
Common delays have been reported for brake pads, batteries, filters and some tires. With fewer available parts, expect to pay more — a 20 percent increase from 2021, according to Michael Chung, market intelligence director at Auto Care Association. Inflation has also been an issue — in addition to delays, the price of vehicle parts has also increased.
Surprise costs are bound to come up in vehicle ownership. This could be an unexpected spill that stains the interior of your car or something more serious like a fender bender. Either way, it is important to have extra money saved in case unexpected repairs pop up.
AAA found that nearly 1 in 3 drivers cannot afford to pay a bill for an unexpected repair. While these costs are mostly out of your control, you can save future stress by budgeting for that worst-case scenario.
It is also wise to shop around and find a repair shop with a good reputation and fair prices. Reach out to your insurance company and see what is covered before spending money on a repair. Here’s an outline of common repairs that may come up and the costs that are associated with them.
|Unexpected repair||Expected cost|
|Flat or blown tire||$10 to $250|
|Transmission issue||$1,200 to $6,000|
|Weather-related damage||$1,000 to $3,500|
|Minor collisions||$50 to $3,000|
|Engine overheating||$100 to $1,500|
|Dead battery||$45 to $350|
|Broken starter motor||$80 to $1,100|
Cost by brand
The out-the-door price of a higher-end vehicle is higher than that of a standard car — and the maintenance that comes with it will carry a higher cost, too. Your warranty may even require you to handle maintenance at a specific dealership, even for simple things like oil changes and mileage inspections. The dealer experience tends to be more expensive but does carry the comfort of mechanics that specialize in your car’s make and model.
While it may seem obvious that mid- and high-end vehicles require high-end upkeep, this is not always the case. Take Dodge, for example. Although it is a mid-tier option, the annual maintenance cost reaches close to the level Mercedes drivers must pay.
Consider the value that comes with a vehicle, which can come down to how many times you will have to take it to the body shop. But even regular costs — like gas — can be more expensive if you have to opt for premium fuel. Research the average annual costs of vehicle brands to estimate how much a car will cost you over the course of ownership.
|Vehicle brand||Annual maintenance cost for a 10-year-old car|
Cost by vehicle type
Although the brand of the vehicle clearly influences the cost of maintaining it, the type of vehicle is also a large determining factor. Broken down below is the average cost of ownership for a vehicle over five years and 75,000 miles.
AAA found this cost by calculating the depreciation, finance, fuel, insurance, license, registration, taxes, maintenance, repairs and tires. The lowest cost for vehicle maintenance goes to electric vehicles, while the half-ton pickup is the most expensive to maintain.
|Vehicle type||Cost of ownership in cents per mile|
As these prices show, vehicle maintenance is based on a number of factors, and there is no perfect recipe for finding an inexpensive car. But an electric vehicle or smaller vehicle tends to cost less. Electric vehicles are becoming more available across the market and can be a great option for drivers looking for lower maintenance costs.
The bottom line
Maintenance is an unavoidable part of vehicle ownership. But by understanding average costs, you can accurately budget for routine maintenance and surprise repairs. Research mechanics and consult your owner’s manual to confirm you are following the specific needs of your vehicle.