The Cost of Car Ownership Over Time

Expenses can skyrocket when warranty and free maintenance periods are over

car mechanic GettyImages-1155250359

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 differ by brand, we asked members in our 2020 Annual Auto Surveys to tell us how much they paid out of pocket for their total maintenance (oil changes, etc.) and repairs during the previous 12 months.

We found that there are significant differences in costs between 5- and 10-year old models, underscoring how cars need more maintenance and repairs over time. Below are the average costs over the past 12 months across 27 brands from our surveys.

  • 5-year-old (2016 model): $205
  • 10-year-old (2011 model): $430
More on Car Ownership

We looked at three-year costs, but those were muddied because a number of brands, including BMW and Toyota, offer 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.

By the time the vehicles are 5 years old, the costs of free perks have phased out and maintenance costs have risen. But it's really at the 10-year point when there are significant differences among the brands, with Lincoln being the cheapest and BMW the most expensive, followed by other German luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi. It's 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 3-year-old model. The difference is typically within $100.

In addition to the significant savings you'll find by buying a pre-owned vehicle, 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.)

Below we detail those average 12-month costs for owners of 2016 and 2011 models for the 27 brands for which we have survey data. These costs provide an insight into the expenses owners will incur over the life of their vehicle.

If you’re a Consumer Reports member, this data is available to you. If you're not a member, click below to join and access the full review and all of our exclusive ratings and reviews for each vehicle we buy and test. Membership also gives you full access to exclusive ratings for the other products our experts evaluate in several categories, including electronics and home appliances.

Become a member to read the full article and get access to digital ratings.

We investigate, research, and test so you can choose with confidence.