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How Much to Budget for Car Maintenance?

Written by Matt Jabs - 22 Comments

If you don’t control your money, your money will control you. Today let’s focus on getting control over the cost of auto repair and maintenance.

The cost of owning a car

Here’s a look at all the budget categories you may want consider when attempting to nail down your auto expenses:

  1. Purchase price – payment (cash and/or financing and interest) to acquire the vehicle
  2. Taxes – paid when you buy or sell the vehicle
  3. Fuel – the gasoline/fuel you need to make the vehicle run
  4. Insurance – all levels auto insurance including personal liability, collision, comprehensive, roadside assistance, etc
  5. Tags and registration – state vehicle registration, license plates, and renewal tags
  6. Repair and maintenance – tires, oil changes, and all other repairs and maintenance necessary to keep your vehicle operational

Today we’ll set aside the first five categories and focus solely on budgeting for repairs and maintenance.

Benefits of controlling these costs

Many of the benefits of controlling your auto maintenance costs are similar to those you experience when gaining control over any area of your money, so let’s focus on those that are specific to the topic. Proper budgeting for auto repair and maintenance will allow you to:

  • Have a better relationship and better communication with your auto mechanic
  • Prepare/plan better so you don’t have to race to get oil changes before your next trip
  • Reduce your maintenance expenses going forward
  • Relax in the knowledge that you’re prepared

You can achieve all of these things simply by setting aside enough money to cover your expenses. That way you won’t have to stress or worry about where the money is coming from — if it can be found at all.

A simple, average amount

Before we try to determine specific dollar amounts for your individual situation, let’s talk about a simple, average amount that people can start with. If you want a detailed break down of costs for your exact vehicle and situation… Scroll down to the next section.

Earlier this week, I spoke with my trusted auto mechanic — Sam — about how much the average person should budget for auto repair and maintenance. These are the numbers he gave me:

On average $1,200 per year per vehicle, is a great place to start. This means $100 per month for each vehicle.

Remember that these numbers are averages, so… While there will always be exceptions to the rule, this amount should cover “typical” maintenance expenses. Of course, it’s important to actually have this money set aside so you can spend it in a lump sum if necessary.

Robert Espe, a frequent DebtFreeAdventure, says the he budgets $2,000/car per year, and also reminds us that although there is no exact answer that will work for everyone.

Figure out your total cost of ownership

For all you fellow geeks out there who want to nail down costs to the exact penny… This section is for you! Rather than guessing at or estimating monthly amounts, use this information to figure out exactly how much it will cost you to purchase, own, operate, and maintain your vehicle over the entire life of ownership.

Here are a few tools to help you figure out exactly how much you are spending to help you get an idea of how much you need to budget:

The Edmunds tool is only for current car models, whereas the other one works regardless of your situation. Also note that these tools are very comprehensive, even taking into account depreciation. I recommend setting aside some time and playing around with these calculators so you can nail down the real cost of owning and maintaining each of your vehicles.

What about you?

Do you budget for automotive expenses? If so, how much do you set aside for these expenses each month?Do you check your free credit report to budget your automotive expenses?

Published on November 5th, 2009
Modified on December 11th, 2011 - 22 Comments
Filed under: Automotive

About the author: is a thirty-something IT manager and blogger who wants to help himself and others get out of debt. He writes about personal finance and debt-free living at Debt Free Adventure.

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22 Responses to “How Much to Budget for Car Maintenance?”

  1. 1
    Jeff Says:

    I currently have been putting $50 per month in a slush fund to handle car repair, appliance repair, misc home repair, etc. I realized I need a better plan. I just go hit with some major repairs on one of my cars.

    I believe that by looking at the resources you’ve sited above, a better budget amount can be allocated. I’m in the process of reviewing the previous owners receipts and filling in the service manual so I can forecast the future repairs required. Then I can have the money ready when it’s needed and NOT tap into the EM fund.

    As with everything you continue to talk about Matt, “Without a good plan, you’ll get hosed” (my quote). Thanks for continuing to remind us about the need for a plan and how everything involving money needs one.

  2. 2
    Dan Says:

    No. My car is at the end of its useful life (but will hang on for awhile because I only drive it 12 miles each day). Instead of dropping $3k on “needed” repairs, I’m simply saving the money for a downpayment on a new (er, replacement) car. When it dies, it dies.

    I’m torn on this one — this car is the first one I’ve ever owned, I’ve had it since 2001 (‘99 model year), and it’s generally speaking been a good car. I know it, and its quirks, well. But the Blue Book value on it is only about $1000, and consumer reports reviews this model year as one to avoid. I’m also concerned because there seem to be some recurring maintenance issues. Things I’ve paid good money to fix before are creeping up again. I also have no true idea if I’m throwing good money after bad — I can drop that $3k now, but if CR is any indication, will it just be a future money drain?

    It starts like a charm, and I don’t worry about it getting me to work. So, I’m just going to hang on. If it dies a premature death, I can easily finance (dirty word, I know) a replacement. But if it hangs on for two more years, I can pay cash for a new one.

    ETA: As far as “routine” maintenance costs go, I’ve only spent $3k at the “shop”. Probably another $2k and Jiffy Lube above and beyond the oil changes. So all in all, I’ve only spent about $50/mo over the years. Given that this is a car to “avoid” did I get lucky?

  3. 3
    John DeFlumeri Jr Says:

    Makes you wonder whether you should keep replacing the car every 5 years or so.

  4. 4
    KC Says:

    I estimate $2200/year for each car we own (mine is an 01, my husband’s an 07). these are for annual expenses – things we pay each year – this includes everything you listed above except #1 & #2. But it includes about $150 per car for property taxes – something you didn’t list and not every state pays.

    I wouldn’t recommend replacing a car every 5 years because of the sales tax you pay. That’s money out the window any way you look at it. Most everything else on a car you’d have to pay regardless of how new or old it was – oil changes, insurance, gas, tires, etc. My 2001 vehicle has cost us about $700 more than my husband’s 2007 vehicle. We had a timing belt changed at 90k miles and recently repaired an oil leak. I have bought new tires for the older car, but eventually will have to do that on the newer car, too.

    On a side note (sorry for the long post) I had a neighbor – a young country boy – who used to trade in his truck about every 6 months. I’m not kidding – he had at least 10 different cars or trucks in the 5 years we were there. He kept saying “I just want to keep my car payment the same.” What he didn’t understand was the sales tax was eating him up with each purchase, not to mention his loan terms kept getting longer and longer.

  5. 5
    Brad Says:

    I have 5 lines in my “transportation” budget:

    1) Parking – I have to pay $50 a month where I work.

    2) Fuel – Currently $150 a month. This has the greatest variability with the price of gas and how often we take a trip.

    3) Repairs/Car Replacement – This was $75 a month, but I recently increased it to $200 a month to save for a car replacement. This has been way more than I need. I have done a couple of things to keep this low. First, I bought two cars which tend to be very reliable (Acura and Honda). This minimizes the probability of having an expensive repair. My Acura has 220,000 miles on it and the Honda has 135,000 miles on it and this has generally been the case. Second, I do my own repairs. This saves a huge amount on maintenance costs. Invest in a good service manual (the ones the shops use) and some research on related car forums and you find the repairs are very straightforward and not too costly. The balance is placed in an ING savings account.

    4) Registration Fees. I small amount gets accrued each month so the money is there when it is due. Fortunately, Ohio has low fees so I think it is around $10 a month.

    5) Insurance. Just like registration, I put an amount in there each month equal to my annual cost/12. This gets paid in full at renewal time so I don’t incur any finance charges.

  6. 6
    Bodark Says:

    Haynes Manuals. If you own an automobile, buy one for that car (usually $15 on amazon). Notwithstanding bodywork – just about everything else on a car is “plug and play”. Blown motor, tranny, joints, shafts, pads, on and on … Junk yard parts will keep you on the road. They will always be second hand and will perform like second hand. But only racing (and European parts for some reason) parts cost thousands of dollars.

    If it’s American or Japanese you can fix it for $500 or $1000. Any mechanic that tells you other wise is overcharging you. YES that include computers for brakes and engine management and that weird part to make the air-conditioner work again.

    If you can type on a computer, you can exchange a chevy V8 motor. No, you don’t need a lift, or hoist or an ASE guy to certify you. A tree and a come-a-long will work just fine. Then one thing you cannot violate with mechanics is gravity. If you jack a car up, and crawl around under it… plan for gravity to do it’s job and you will be just fine. Springs, gasoline, anti-freeze etc.. are no more dangerous than a credit card.

    Besides, a car is “Cool” so swap em, paint em, wreck em .. just pay attention to gravity b/c she ALWAYS wins!

  7. 7
    Craig Says:

    It’s difficult to judge how much to budget for maintenance. I just have one standard emergency fund that case if something happens I pull from there. I don’t have a separate account specifically for my car for unexpected maintenance. Regular stuff like gas, car wash, oil change I just keep in with my regular expenses.

  8. 8
    LeanLifeCoach Says:

    If you measure maintenance cost over the vehicles life and it is more than $75/month you have the wrong car. When budgeting on a yearly basis you cannot take an average if you are following recommended maintenance schedules. The average consumer drives about 15,000 miles each year. For most cars there is a recommended service at 30K and 60K miles that is much larger than any other routine service. Therefore every couple years your expenses may be significantly larger than other years.

  9. 9
    Kevin@OutOfYourRut Says:

    Glad to see someone taking this topic on Matt! I’m guessing it’s one of the main reasons keeping an emergency fund full is so difficult.

    I think the amount you budget for repairs and maintenance depends much on the age of the car. On a relatively new vehicle you might get away with $500/yr and that’s mostly for routine maintenance. 5 yrs and up and you’re looking at closer to $2000 since repairs will be needed. If the car is paid for, that’s still a good bit cheaper than buying a new one every few years.

    Might help to take a course in routine maintenance to do some of the basic upkeep yourself. Failing that, hooking up with someone who can isn’t a bad idea either. Finding a good mechanic who won’t see you as an ATM machine isn’t the easiet of tradesman to find these days.

  10. 10
    David C Says:

    I try to budget around $1,000 a year for each of our vehicles, my 13 year old Toyota and my wife’s 7 year old Ford. So far this year, the Toyota has cost less than a quarter of that, but the Ford is over by about $250.00. I just count these costs in with normal monthly expenses. Anything big does have to come out of the emergency fund however.

    Bodark is absolutely correct. A Haynes manual will pay for itself in no time at all. I used to think that working on some of the newer cars was rocket science, but the principles are still the same. While there are some jobs that I still shy away from, my teenage son and I handle all of the routine maintenance and minor repairs to our vehicles.

    A good OBDII code reader can pay for itself rapidly too. And it keeps your mechanic honest as well.

    Definitely practice safety. I have know too many people who have been injured by not utilizing proper jack stands when working under a car.

  11. 11
    Mr. Not the Jet Set Says:

    Gotta know your car. [searching for wood to knock on] Ours have always been quite reliable, requiring little more than routine scheduled maintenance.

    That said, we typically have budgeted around $30-60 per month to cover oil changes, filters, and tires. Once we have $2-300 built up in savings for car repair, then we re-allocate it elsewhere.

    Anything bigger would have to come from the emergency fund.

  12. 12
    Matt Jabs Says:

    I have a Haynes manual for both our autos. I have a 2000 Jeep Cherokee and she has a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix. I do as much of the maintenance/repair as my time and/or knowledge allow and after that go see my trusted mechanic.

    Interestingly enough… based on the different amounts allocated by people who have commented so far, the average amount reported is $93/month/vehicle – which lines up perfectly with the “average” amount of $100/month/vehicle my mechanic suggested.

  13. 13
    The Amazing Spider-Ads Says:

    The government allows for a mileage deduction for businesses of between 45-50 cents per mile, which is supposed to account for your gas, insurance, all car costs.

    If you drive an average of 12,000 miles a year, that comes out to about 5-6,000 dollars a year, including gas.

  14. 14
    Nickel Says:

    The mileage deduction also accounts for depreciation (as you put more miles on your car, it loses value). Thus, this is an overestimate relative to maintenance costs.

  15. 15
    Jim Says:

    Wow. Consider me a maintenance minimalist. I do all my own maintenance. I change the oil every 5k miles with synthetic. Cost of filter and 5/6 quarts of oil: Approximately 25-30 dollars. Rotate tires myself. Every 3-4 years I buy new tires at around $800. Combined yearly average for maintenance is about $450?

  16. 16
    Hank Says:

    I always budget $100 a month for car repairs. I constantly find myself going months without a repair bill and then getting hit with $500-600 bills.

    One of the best ways to find out exactly how much you should be saving is to look at what you have spent in the past. This is one example where past performance usually mirrors the future.

  17. 17
    JB Says:

    I drive a 1999 car and save $60 a month for car repairs, oil changes, tires, etc. I save $200 a month separately for my next car. It’s come in handy many times, and planning ahead makes unexpected car repair less stressful. I do none of my own work.

  18. 18
    Rosa Says:

    We don’t budget for the car except for insurance & tags, really – repairs, gas & upkeep get paid for out of cash-on-hand and if they are too big, they wait.

    Bikes & bike parts, on the other hand, are part of our commuting costs, because we use them every day. The car we only use 3 days a week, or so.

  19. 19
    Michelle @ CheyenneAutoGlass Says:

    I had a full size Chevy and at that age and mileage it cost $844 per year to keep running.

  20. 20
    Led @ maxliner-usa Says:

    Of all those categories listed above, I strongly believed that car maintenance budget is the one we could control the most. Checking your car regularly for any possible repair would save you a lot of money.

  21. 21
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  22. 22
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