So you’ve decided to take the plunge into new car ownership! Did you like the idea that yours was the only rear end to ever leave an imprint on the driver’s seat? Or do you plan to keep your car for more than five years making a new car a good investment? Or maybe you just like the smell? Regardless of your motivation, before you sign on the dotted line there are some things you need to think about. Sure, you’ll want to find a car you think is cool (and this will vary widely based on your personal definition of “cool”). You’ll need to decide what color you want, how many high-dollar options you are going to add, whether you want the ash tray or the coin holder. These are all important considerations when buying a new car. But there are other things you may not be thinking about. One of the most often heard reasons a car owner says he or she regrets buying a certain model is the cost of ownership after they leave the showroom floor. If you calculate your payment tightly, what will you do if you end up with an average of an extra $200 a month in maintenance costs?
The cost to maintain a vehicle varies by make and model, and not just by a little. Some cars can be maintained for the entire first 5 years of ownership for less than $2000. Others are triple that for a similar vehicle! It’s very important to consider maintenance cost when buying a new car or truck. These days new vehicles have very strict maintenance schedules that must be adhered to or you risk voiding your warranty. An old fashioned maintenance schedule isn’t enough anymore. There are a number of carmakers that periodically offer full maintenance packages included with the cost of the vehicle. This can be a real value since not only will your maintenance be free, you’ll be sure to actually get it done since, well, it’s free! There are a number of websites that discuss maintenance cost and compare this to the cost of a vehicle when new, but I’ve found the most informative to be Consumer Reports. They regularly compile repair and maintenance data for scores of makes and models of car and truck. The downside is you need a subscription to get to the newest info, but when you are thinking of spending $20,000+ on a new car, it’s money well spent. A quick perusal of Consumer Reports’ chart for the Top 10 best selling vehicles immediately surprised me. The number one seller, the Toyota Camry, costs almost double in regular maintenance cost than the number-two ranked car, the Honda Accord. That was very interesting, because it brings the actual price of these two cars a little closer together. The same comparison is there for Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. It’s information like this that can make a close car buying decision sway largely in one direction or another.
In addition to maintenance costs, most data crunchers will also think about other costs of ownership like average cost of repairs and depreciation. These are important to think about, too, because both can equate to real dollars flowing out of your pocket. Consumer Reports and others include this information in many of their value calculations.
Whether buying a new car or a used car, maintenance costs are a serious consideration. Sure, you can change your own oil and maybe flush the radiator yourself, but when you’re talking about maintaining a valid warranty, the manufacturers regular recommended service schedule must be adhered to. New car drivetrain warranties are getting better and better, but it can turn into a smoke and mirrors game when the money you think you’re saving flies out the window in the form of high maintenance costs and big, big repair bills.