Buying a car may seem like a hefty financial responsibility – even cheap used cars cost big chunks of money. However, the investment doesn't stop with the car payment. Every mile you drive costs money, whether it's in gas, maintenance or repairs.
Typically, most used cars will come from the dealership with an automatic enrollment in a "maintenance reminder" program. This may include letters, notifications by email or even notifications by your car's control panel. Either way, cars are expensive to maintain and repair. Here's a list of just a few of the maintenance expenses you can expect to pay for when owning a used car:
- Oil changes
- Spark plugs
- Transmission service
- Coolant service
- Smog checks
And those are just the beginning. Being able to responsibly maintain your used car is important in order to keep it from stranding you on the road or worse, having a breakdown requiring major repairs or replacement of the engine. While buying the cheapest car on the lot may seem enticing, it's important to investigate whether that car will be more expensive in the long run.
Trusted Choice® has compiled a list of the eight cheapest cars to maintain to give you insight into a few makes and models that can help save your budget and your vehicle from major repair costs. The basis of this list is data from www.carMD.com, which provides yearly statistics on car breakdown trends and cost data for both used cars and new cars. They have been a reliable source of car information for years and have introduced a new gadget that plugs right into the car showing you whether it has no problems (green light), minor problems (yellow light) or problems that need immediate attention (red light). Some of the more expensive vehicles (such as Audi, Lexus and Range Rover) come with free maintenance. However, their price point makes them unaffordable for the average citizen. Let's see how used cars stack up when it comes to ownership costs and maintenance:
Hyundai emerged in the top spot in the CarMD top manufacturers list for the first time in 2013, surpassing longtime top placeholder, Toyota. While their check-engine-light occurrence has remained steady, their low average repair price helped them secure the number 1 spot. Additionally, the 2011 Hyundai Equus sedan comes equipped with an "at your service" maintenance plan that includes many extras, along with a valet service and loaner car during maintenance. According to Edmunds.com, this service is incredibly valuable at a time when many manufacturers are scaling back their maintenance plans.
Toyota held the number top for years in the CarMD top manufacturers list. However, a huge increase (of 52 percent) in check-engine-light occurrences and an increased average repair price of $540.53 docked them into the number 2 spot. Additionally, some Toyota models, such as the Scion, have come equipped with a free maintenance program, which lasts two years or 24,000 miles and includes cabin air filter replacement, tire rotation, fluid top-off and even roadside assistance. Edmunds also cites Toyota's maintenance program as lackluster. The Prius, for example, has a high repair cost. The Prius rivals Kia for the cheapest cars around, but, their repair costs are some of the highest. On the other hand, the 2012 Toyota Camry and 2010 Toyota 4 Runner have average repair costs under $100. The 2012 Camry and 2011 Corolla also took the top places on CarMD's most reliable used car list, giving Toyota a firm overall hold in the number 2 position.
GM has skyrocketed to the number 3 position after being in the number 8 slot, thanks in part to their low repair incidence and their free maintenance programs, which GM first offered in 2011. According to cars.com, Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC have all rolled out with limited-time free maintenance programs for their used cars. GM also has the lowest average repair cost of the top eight manufacturers.
Chrysler jumped to number 4 on CarMD's top manufacturers list, thanks to a repair frequency improvement, despite a repair cost increase. Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep all come with a lifetime power train warranty. However, these warranties are non-transferable if you sell the car, according to Car and Driver. Additionally, you must have the vehicle inspected every five years.
Honda doesn't offer a free maintenance plan; however, their cars are durable and hold their value. While other brands had an average repair price increase of 10 percent over the past year, Honda's average repair price stayed virtually unchanged in the top manufacturers list. When repairs are necessary, however, they are expensive, at more than $469. Honda dropped a spot this year on CarMD's list due to the incidence of check-engine-light warnings.
Ford jumped up in the rankings this year, with their dependable trucks being a favorite among drivers. Their repair frequency and repair costs have improved dramatically in the past year. Unfortunately, their older model vans, such as the Windstar, continue to hurt their overall ranking as these vans are some of the worst on the road and fall at the bottom of CarMD's owner satisfaction ranking. Their warranty is also transferable to an unlimited number of owners, which makes their maintenance easy for a used car.
Older models hurt Nissan's scores, as these models have seen a dramatic increase in repair frequency. However, their warranties are transferable with the used car to new owners and their 36-month/36,000-mile limited vehicle coverage and 5-year/60,000-mile limited power train coverage make them competitive with other brands. When they do need service, however, their average repair cost has increased the typical 10 percent to a little more than $400.
Kia's vehicles continue to be popular. According to Kia, their far-reaching, transferable warranties make maintenance quite easy. However, they also had an increased repair cost over the last year, along with a steady check-engine-light occurrence. While they may have some of the cheapest cars available and even more affordable used car prices, their average repair cost is more than $340, which would be hard for any struggling 20-something to afford.
Should You Buy an Extended Maintenance Warranty with Your Used Car?
When it comes to maintaining a car, cheap isn't always best. While changing your own oil and checking the air pressure in your tires may be fun, if you have a warranty covering your used car, use it. It's there to help maintain your car and if it's a simple, straightforward check or maintenance, it's usually worth it. Be wary of extra services offered at the dealership, however, as many times these can be done by another shop (or by you) for much less.
If you're buying a used car from a dealership, they may offer you an extended warranty of some type. Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you're getting a good deal. Some extended warranties cover as little as two oil changes and two multi-point inspections. These are typically not worth it and work against you to get your car in for extra services that the warranty doesn't cover. When working to maintain your car, there are many services you can do yourself such as checking tire pressure, fluid levels and windshield wipers and replacing the cabin air filter. Read the fine print on any warranty before purchasing it.
If you're looking for other ways to add value to your car and protect your bottom line, the right car insurance coverage can be a big help. Independent agents can help you get the best coverage for the best value by showing you several quotes for coverage before you buy. Trusted Choice agents are ready to help you.