Expenses can skyrocket when warranty and free-maintenance periods are over . . . for some brands

Car ownership costs go far beyond what you pay for a car. A key question is whether you can afford the drip, drip of maintenance and repairs for as long as you own it.

To better understand how costs increase over time and how they differ by brand, we asked members in our 2019 Annual Auto Surveys to tell us how much they paid out of pocket for the total maintenance (oil changes, etc.) and repairs during the previous 12 months.

We found that there are significant differences in cost between 3-, 5-, and 10-year old models, underscoring how cars need more maintenance and repair over time. Below are the average costs over the past 12 months across the 25 brands in our surveys.

  • 3-year-old (2017 model): $83 
  • 5-year-old (2015 model): $200
  • 10-year-old (2010 model): $458

The three-year cost is kept low because a number of brands, ranging from BMW to Toyota, include free maintenance periods on new cars. And usually cars need very little work in the first couple of years beyond an oil change and tire rotation. Nearly all new car warranties last at least three years, and repairs, if needed, are covered. During that period, the brands with the greatest reported costs on 2017 models are Dodge ($170), Acura ($163), and Infiniti ($152). And there was no cost for most BMW, Cadillac, and Volvo owners.

By the time the vehicles are 5 years old, the costs have risen, but it is really at the 10-year point when there are dramatic differences among the brands, with Chrysler being the cheapest and BMW the most expensive, followed by other German luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi. It is clear that costs can skyrocket when the warranty and free maintenance periods are over.

Whether you’re shopping for a car or deciding what to do with the one in your garage, take a hard look at the short- and long-term maintenance and repair costs in these years of ownership. But also bear in mind that the costs associated with 5-year-old models isn’t that much more than those of a newer 3-year-old model. The difference is typically within $100.

In addition to the significant savings you’ll find by buying pre-owned, reduced insurance and registration costs can more than make up for the extra maintenance needed as the miles increase. Just choose the used car with an eye toward those 10-year costs and reliability track record. (See the used cars that give the most for your money.)

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