What It Costs To Maintain Your Car

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 towards their cars in 2021. This is a $279 increase from the previous year and as gas prices rise as well it is important to prepare for vehicle costs when budgeting for which car is right for you.

Key car maintenance statistics

  • 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 vehicles routine maintenance

Routine maintenance

Arranging for 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 and age, 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 and continuing from that point. But it is smart to do your own research and check your owner’s manual for specifics on your car’s needs.

While vehicle mechanics are there to help you, they are also aiming to make money. So, even though much of the maintenance requires professional help, consider what you can handle at home to save money.

Maintenance Frequency Expected cost
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

Replacing parts

Throughout the lifetime of your vehicle, it is likely that you will have to replace specific parts. This could be 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. This cost is based on a number of factors. Two of these factors 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. 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 market intelligence director at Auto Care Association, Michael Chung. Over time the price of vehicle parts has also increased.

Unexpected repairs

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 one-in-three 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. You will also likely have to handle maintenance at a specific dealership when it comes to fixing a luxury vehicle, rather than a more local, privately opened option. 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. And check out the average annual costs accompanied with varying vehicle brands to best understand how much a car will cost you over the lifetime of ownership.

Vehicle brand Annual maintenance cost for a 10-year-old car
BMW $1,033
Chevrolet $342
Dodge $719
Ford $321
Honda $377
Kia $392
Mercedes $774
Nissan $376
Subaru $480
Toyota $338

Consumer Reports 2020 Annual Auto Survey

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 and taxes and maintenance, repairs and tires. The lowest cost for vehicle maintenance winner goes to electric vehicles while the half-ton pickup is the most expensive to maintain.

Vehicle type Cost of ownership in cents per mile
Small sedan 48.20
Medium sedan 62.44
Subcompact SUV 53.45
Compact SUV 56.63
Medium SUV 66.45
Midsize pickup 62.77
Half-ton pickup 77.25
Hybrid 66.06
Electric 61.96

AAA 2021 Your Driving Costs

As these prices exemplify, vehicle maintenance is based on a number of factors and there is no perfect recipe for finding an inexpensive car. But an EV 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.

Bottom Line

Vehicle maintenance is an unavoidable reality that comes with vehicle ownership. But by understanding average costs associated with routine maintenance and repairs, replacing vehicle parts and how price varies by brand and vehicle type you can accurately budget for these costs. This is especially true in the current car market that is saturated with inflated costs and expensive parts. Do your research when it comes to mechanics and always consult your owner’s manual to confirm you are following the specific needs of your vehicle.—