Buying a car is a big financial decision, whether you’re taking out a car loan, paying cash, or leasing a new car. You may have budgeted for the upfront cost and any recurring car payments, but how much will monthly maintenance cost you?
It’s important to factor in expenses like oil and fluid changes, fuel, repairs, and tires too. Then there are other ownership costs like your car insurance premium, yearly registration fees, and parking.
All in all, the monthly and yearly costs of owning a car are much more than just the price you pay at the dealership. It’s important to understand all the regular costs of car ownership before you jump into a bigger financial commitment than you anticipated. Let’s break down the costs.
Maintaining a car adds extra expenses to car ownership, on top of insurance and any car payments
According to AAA, the annual cost of car maintenance is $792 per year (or $66 per month)
The cost of routine maintenance will depend on the make, model, and age of your car
Before buying a car, budget out the cost of regular upkeep to make sure you’re prepared for the extra expense
How much will car maintenance cost me?
In addition to your car payments and your insurance premiums, you also have to pay to maintain your car and keep it in good working order. According to AAA  , car maintenance cost drivers about $792 a year in 2016, or about $66 a month.
That obviously depends on the type of car you drive — older cars may need more costly visits to the repair shop, while newer, safer models can run well for years with just basic upkeep. Consider that most cars will need some attention every 5,000 miles or every six months, whichever comes first. Routine maintenance can include:
Along with these regular costs for upkeep, other common car issues can come up, like leaks, alternator replacements, issues with windows, and fuel pump replacements.
The newer the car, the less attention it will need — conversely, the older it gets the more often you’ll likely have to see your mechanic. Of course, some car makers tend to be more reliable than others, and some car brands tend to have certain mechanical issues over time.
Type of maintenance
Older cars required oil changes every time you hit a certain number of miles, but newer cars have internal monitors that will tell you when you need an oil change. That’s typically every 5,000 to 7,500 miles but sometimes much longer, especially if you use all-synthetic oils.
Without rotation, your tires may not wear evenly, especially because your front tires assist you in braking more than your back tires. Front-wheel-drive vehicles must also claw in order for there to be traction. Experts recommend looking at your owner’s manual to see the manufacturer’s suggestion for changing your tires.
Radiator coolant can build up contaminants, causing corrosion, generating rust, and collecting debris over time. A coolant flush forces several gallons of cleaner, water, and new antifreeze into your car’s cooling system to get rid of these contaminants and lubricate your water pump. The right additives can prevent future leaks which can cause your engine to overheat shortly after the flush. You should get a coolant flush every 2-5 years.
Similar to a coolant flush, a transmission flush pumps new transmission fluid into your vehicle’s transmission cooler to remove sludge and grime. To perform a transmission flush, you or a mechanic will need to disconnect the cooling lines that connect the cooler to the transmission, and connect them to the flushing machines instead. Then, the engine is run and the chemicals are released to start the cleaning. Experts recommend performing a transmission flush every 2–3 years or 24–36,000 miles.
Brake pad replacement
The right time to replace your brakes depends on how often you use them. It also depends on how far you drive and the terrain or type of driving environment. If you drive in an area where there are lots of stop signs and traffic lights, you may be using your brakes more frequently than someone who drives on the highway everyday. You can also look for signs that your brake pads need to be changed, like a screeching or scraping noise and a brake pedal that trembles or feels like a cushion.
What are the cheapest and most expensive cars to own?
The website YourMechanic.com analyzed its data to estimate the cost of maintaining a new car over the first 10 years of owning it and found that the most expensive car brand to maintain was BMW, with a total estimated cost of $17,800 in maintenance over the first 10 years, and the cheapest was Toyota, with a total estimated cost of $5,500 over the first 10 years — a dramatic difference in upkeep.
Cost to maintain over 10 years
How much does it cost to own a car in general?
The annual cost of car ownership for any given driver will depend on multiple factors, like where in the U.S. you live, how much you drive, and how old your car is. But the make and model of your car will play a large role in determining yearly costs.
AAA’s 2019 Your Driving Costs study broke down the average annual costs associated with nine different types of vehicles, factoring in the costs of gas, maintenance, repairs, tires, car insurance, fees, car payments, and depreciation, in order to calculate the annual cost of ownership for different types of vehicles.
Their study included nine categories: small sedans, medium sedans, large sedans, small SUVS, medium SUVs, minivans, pickup trucks, hybrids, and electric cars.
Based on a driver with regular car payments who drives 15,000 miles a year and has what’s referred to as full coverage car insurance — meaning it includes comp and collision coverage — here are the annual ownership costs for each type of vehicle:
Type of car
Annual cost of ownership
How much is car insurance?
Estimating the cost of car insurance for an average driver is difficult because car insurance is based on individual factors like the driver’s age, address, driving history, credit score, coverage limits, and the make and model of car they drive. But a 2021 report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that the average annual cost of auto insurance in the U.S. was around $1,190 per year in 2018.
That national average broke down very differently state-to-state, however. According to the NAIC, the most expensive state for auto insurance was Louisiana, with an average cost of $1,751.37 per year, and the least expensive was Maine, with an average annual cost of $782.72.
The best way to find affordable car insurance is to compare quotes through an independent broker like Policygenius, so you can choose affordable coverage that meets your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is owning a car so expensive?
It can be expensive to own a car for a number of reasons. A new car will cost a lot more upfront than a used one, but used cars may require pricey repairs. Then there’s also the cost of insurance, which can vary widely depending on where you live and how much coverage you buy. Routine maintenance can also cost you hundreds of dollars a year depending on the make and model of your car and your driving habits.
What is the average cost of owning a car per month?
According to data from the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average cost of owning a sedan is around $713 per month. It costs a little more to own a minivan, at around $772 per month, and SUVs can cost $855 per month. These costs include depreciation, maintenance, insurance, gasoline, your license, taxes, and registration, and final charges.
What is the cheapest way to own a car?
The cheapest way to own a car is to buy a used car, get your state’s minimum amount of liability insurance, and skip out on comprehensive and collision coverage — but we don’t recommend this. You should purchase more liability coverage than your state’s minimum, so you’ll be covered if you cause damage that exceeds those limits. And without comprehensive and collision coverage, you’ll have to pay for repairs to your car out of pocket. (However, comp and collision coverage require a deductible of usually $500 to $1,000 which you would need to pay for out-of-pocket anyways.)