How Much to Save for Car Maintenance?

by | Jan 7, 2020

Next to your home, your car is probably the second-most expensive item on your budget. Once you factor in the cost of routine car maintenance it can almost feel like you’re making a second mortgage payment every month.

Although the make, model, and year of your vehicle will play leading roles in determining your budget, there are steps you can take to reduce the costs associated with vehicle ownership. On the other hand, you should be careful not to cheap out on your maintenance routine and find yourself broken down on the side of the road. Therefore, it’s crucial that you find that sweet spot between pragmatism and frugality when budgeting car maintenance.

If you are wondering how much to budget for car maintenance, we’ve got some answers for you. In this article, we take a deep dive into the world of auto maintenance to find out where you can save money, and how much you should shell out every year to keep your ride on the road.

Budget-Building 101

Since car maintenance is both periodic and unpredictable, you never know when you will need to shell out the money for repairs. Therefore, you must always be financially prepared to pay for maintenance costs whenever they arise. 

To ensure that you’re financially ready, you’ve got to build a car maintenance emergency fund. Every month, set aside a predetermined sum and put it in a separate savings account. 

According to AAA NewsRoom, the average new vehicle costs roughly $1,200 annually to repair and maintain. To hit this target, you should set aside $100 every month to ensure that you have the funds available to pay for repairs whenever they’re necessary. 

Car Maintenance Costs

There are plenty of routine maintenance procedures that add to the overall cost of your vehicle over its lifespan. Below, we’ve listed some of the most significant repairs and maintenance measures that you should prepare to pay for every year.

  • Oil and Filter Change: $50-75 every 6,000 miles
  • Tire Rotation: $75-100 every 5,000 miles
  • Cabin Air Filter Replacement: $70-100 every 15,000 to 20,000 miles
  • Engine Air Filter Replacement: $30-50 every 15,000 to 30,000 miles
  • Brake, Belt, and Fluid Inspection: $90-120 every six months

On top of the procedures listed above, you should also plan for non-routine (i.e., unexpected and unscheduled) car maintenance jobs. As your car ages, you should expect the unexpected by saving for the following sporadic replacements and repairs.

  • Tire change
  • Battery replacement
  • Brake replacement
  • Headlamp and tail light replacement
  • Wiper blade replacement

How long any individual car part will last depends on the quality of the build and your vehicle’s make and model. For a standard early-2010s Honda Civic or Toyota Camry, you can expect to start replacing parts once you cross the 60,000-mile mark. 

Dealer vs. Manufacturer

The maintenance estimates provided by your car dealership often won’t match the estimate provided by the manufacturer in the owner’s manual. Often, dealers partner with local garages, or they operate a garage themselves and benefit from frequent visits by their customers. 

To save your money from unnecessary expenses, always trust the manufacturer’s recommendations over your dealer’s. When you eventually do take your vehicle to the garage for routine maintenance procedures, it might also be a good idea to visit another mechanic to get a second opinion. This way, you can stave off scammers and upsellers.

The Per-Mile Method

There are several ways to calculate how much you should save for car maintenance costs. One of the more popular methods advocated by AAA is the “per-mile method” which forecasts your annual spend based on the mileage of your vehicle. 

This model holds that for every mile driven on your vehicle, you should expect to pay 5.1 cents in maintenance charges. So, if you drive your car 20,000 miles in a year, it would be prudent to save $1,020 for routine and unscheduled car maintenance. The average driver puts in about 13,500 miles on their vehicle every year—for them, $700 is their annual maintenance cost.

Changing Your Brake Pads

Your brakes are one of the biggest money pits when it comes to vehicle maintenance. However, there’s no denying that you can never afford to cheap out on your brakes. Without well-maintained brakes, you’re endangering yourself as well as everyone else on the road. 

Having your brake pads replaced by a professional mechanic should cost about between $200 and $300 per axle. To have both axles of your car serviced, you should put away about $600 to ensure you have enough money saved to cover the parts and labor. 

You should expect to change your vehicle’s brake pad every 40,000 miles or so. However, city driving (which involves heavy brake usage) will likely result in an early brake replacement than highway driving.

If you’re unsure whether your brake pads need replacing, you should take your car into the mechanic’s garage whenever you hear screeching when you apply the brake or if you feel a tremor in the steering wheel.

Can You Cut Back on Car Insurance?

One relatively easy way to cut back on the cost of your vehicle is to save money on insurance. In nearly all states, car insurance is necessary, but there are steps you can take to reduce its financial burden. For example, bundling multiple insurance policies or scoring a discount from your workplace can go a long way toward reducing this recurring expense.

How To Cut Back on Routine Car Maintenance

Luckily for you, there are plenty of tips and tricks for saving money on car maintenance. In most cases, it starts with knowing the basics of do-it-yourself auto repairs. Investing in a weekend crash course on DIY car maintenance may pay dividends in the long-run by arming you with the knowledge required to look after your vehicle. 

Ultimately, it’s never a good idea to cut costs when it comes to vehicle maintenance. If you put off a brake pad replacement, tail light repair, or tire rotation you can endanger the lives of other drivers, ruin your vehicle, and break the law. To be on the safe side (and to save you money in the long-run), you should always pay for routine vehicle repairs at your earliest opportunity.

Finding the Perfect Budget For Your Ride

Owning a car is expensive. As if purchasing a new car wasn’t pricey enough, late-model vehicle owners should expect to put away roughly $1,200 every year to pay for routine and unscheduled car maintenance.

An alternate method of calculating how much you need to budget for car maintenance is to multiply the number of miles you drive throughout the year by 0.051 (i.e., 5.1 cents). This method, advocated by AAA, can provide you with a more accurate estimate of the dollar amount you should set aside for car maintenance in any given year. 

Although there are ways to cut back on vehicle costs by learning, for example, how to change your car’s oil and filter, you’re better off leaving most repairs to the professionals. After all, you can’t put a price on peace of mind.

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