For many of us, cars are a basic necessity. We drive them to work, school, the doctor, the grocery store, and to visit friends and family.
Car maintenance costs are predictable, but building them into a monthly budget is challenging because you don’t pay them every month.
Unexpected repairs are more problematic: You never know when your car will break down and how much it’ll cost to fix.
Never fear! Our guide to auto repair costs will take you through some of the most common car maintenance and repair expenses, with tips for building both into your budget.
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Average cost of car repairs
According to AAA, car maintenance costs roughly $800 a year, or about $66 a month.2 This includes routine maintenance like oil changes, tire rotations, and multipoint inspections.
Unexpected repairs – following a collision or malfunction – can be harder to predict. On average, AAA says unexpected issues cost $500 to $600 to resolve,3 but prices can reach $10,000 or more for major repairs, such as replacing an engine.4
If you drive a newer model, your warranty or maintenance plan may cover car repair and maintenance costs. Older models are less likely to be covered – and more likely to need more repairs.
Note: Ongoing inflation may lead to higher costs than AAA’s estimates for car maintenance and repairs.
Types of car maintenance and costs
So what are some typical car maintenance costs you should budget for? Here are the most common types of routine car maintenance, plus some unexpected repairs you may encounter while driving.
Routine maintenance costs
To run efficiently and safely, your car requires regular oil changes, tire rotations, and brake pad replacements. Spending $100 for an oil change every six months isn’t fun, but keeping up with maintenance tasks will help you avoid more costly repairs later.
Pro Tip: Driving more miles every month (and more aggressively) means your car will need routine maintenance more often.
The table below breaks down some of the most common routine maintenance tasks your car needs, how often to schedule maintenance, and what you can expect to pay.5-13
|Routine car maintenance||When to get it||How much it costs|
|Oil change||Every 5,000 – 7,500 miles||$35 – $125|
|Tire rotation||Every 5,000 – 7,500 miles||$20 – $100|
|Multipoint inspection||Every 5,000 – 7,500 miles||$150 – $250|
|Wiper blade replacement||Every 6 – 12 months||$10 – $45|
|Brake pad replacement||Every 10,000 – 20,000 miles||$100 – $300|
|Air filter replacement||Every 15,000 – 30,000 miles||$35 – $80|
Note: Many mechanics and service departments offer oil changes, tire rotations, and a basic inspection for one flat rate.
Unexpected car repair costs
Predicting routine maintenance costs isn’t that hard – they’re routine, after all. But cars can have a lot of unpredictable issues over the years, either from general wear and tear or an unexpected collision.
In the event of a collision, the cost of car repairs might be covered by insurance (after your deductible). Still, if your car’s components naturally malfunction over time, you could be on the hook for the total cost to fix it.
While car repair costs can vary tremendously depending on what model you drive, where you live, and the extent of the problem, the table below gives a general idea of what you’ll pay.5-13
|Unexpected issues||How much it costs to repair|
|Dead car battery||$50 – $300|
|Tire replacement||$400 – $1,600+ (for all four tires)|
|Transmission replacement||$1,200 – $6,000|
|Alternator replacement||$400 – $1,000|
|Catalytic converter replacement||$1,000 – $1,500|
|Engine replacement||$4,000 – $10,000+|
|Timing belt replacement||$400 – $900|
|Suspension replacement||$2,500 – $3,500|
|Wheel alignment||$50 – $170|
|Body damage*||$100 – $2,500+|
*Body damage can refer to superficial scratches and dents or entire bumper, windshield, or door damage that requires replacement.
How to budget for car repair costs
With an average of $800 a year in car maintenance costs alone – plus the always looming threat of unexpected vehicle repair costs – how can you ensure you have enough money to cover the bill?
Add a maintenance line item to your budget
Cars require routine maintenance to keep them going, but the expenses only hit our wallets two or three times a year. So how do you account for them in a monthly budget?
Think about how much you’ll likely spend on maintenance every year – either by looking at last year’s expenses or using AAA’s $800 annual estimate. Then divide that number by 12.
Each month, set that amount aside in a savings account (it’s $66 if you’re using AAA’s estimate), and then pull the money out when you need it.
Start an emergency fund
You can easily account for routine maintenance in your monthly budget, but what about those unexpected expenses?
The best way to budget for car repair costs is to start an emergency fund in a high-yield savings account.
Most experts recommend saving six months of expenses in your emergency fund. That means you could cover all your costs for half a year without earning any money.
Saving that much money takes time, especially if you live paycheck to paycheck. Keep going even if you can’t reach that goal right away. Every bit of savings helps.
If you can set aside $50 to $100 a month, you’ll be in good shape if your car breaks down – but you’ll also have cash for other emergencies, like unplanned vet visits or a broken appliance.
Cut back on other expenses
Building your emergency fund can be challenging when you’re on a tight budget. If you aren’t expecting a raise or additional income soon, you’ll have to reduce other expenses to make room in your budget.
Here are some things you might be able to cut:
- Streaming services: Instead of paying for Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and other streaming services, just choose one – and rotate between them every few months for a wider selection.
- Utility bills: Reducing your water and energy consumption can save a lot on your utility bills each month. Here are nine easy ways to lower your electric bill.
- Dining out: Brewing coffee, cooking dinner, and even having a beer at home is cheaper than grabbing Starbucks, fast food, and a drink at the bar. While you don’t want to completely deprive yourself of fun, reducing the frequency of “treat yourself” moments can leave extra cash in your budget for unanticipated car repairs.
Shop around for car insurance
Car insurance is another expensive part of owning a car, and you might be paying more than you need. Shop around with other providers at least once a year to see how much you can save, and always ask about discounts.
You can lower your current monthly premium by choosing a higher deductible. While you’ll have to spend more out of pocket if you crash your car, the monthly savings on your insurance premium could be worth it.
Stash those monthly savings in your high-yield savings account to cover future maintenance and repair costs.
Get a car with a warranty
Buying a new car comes with a limited warranty covering the cost of malfunctioning parts and systems for a set number of years or miles.
The problem? Not everyone can afford to buy a new car. But you can still buy a used car that has a warranty. They often only come with brief warranties, but you can typically get a traditional warranty if you buy a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle. Learn more about CPO programs and other used car secrets in our guide to buying a used car on a budget.
Another way to get a warranty? Lease instead of buy. When you lease a car, you drive it for a set number of months or years, and the vehicle is under warranty for the entire duration. Your lease may also cover routine maintenance.
Consider credit options
We don’t recommend taking on debt if you don’t have to, but if your car is your only means of getting to and from work, paying for a new car battery or brake pads on a credit card might be necessary.
If the issue is just cosmetic, like a scratch or ding, skip the credit card and wait until you have enough saved to fix it. But if the repair’s crucial to the safe operation of your vehicle, it might be worth swiping your card.
Learn basic repair skills
Taking your car to a certified mechanic is the right call when it has engine trouble. But you might be able to handle the work for simple things like oil changes and wiper blade replacements.
Try learning basic car repair skills online or from a friend who’s savvy under the hood. These essential skills can save you a lot of money over the years.
What costs the most to repair on a car?
Replacing an engine on a car is the most expensive repair. Engine replacements start at $4,000 but can quickly reach $10,000 or more, depending on the vehicle.
For many drivers, replacing the engine isn’t worth the cost. Instead, you may want to shop around for a new vehicle.
How much money should you spend on car repairs?
How much money you should spend on car repairs depends on the extent of damage to your vehicle. Newer cars with a higher value may be worth larger repair costs, but if you have a high-mileage car on its last limbs, the cost of repairs might not be worth the investment.
In general, you shouldn’t spend more than 50% of a car’s value on repair work. For example, if you have a car worth $6,000 that needs a new $4,000 engine, it’s not worth the investment. Instead, you should budget for a new car.
The “half the value” rule of thumb isn’t hard and fast, though: If you regularly have smaller, less expensive repairs or you’re worried about your safety behind the wheel, it might be time to trade up for a newer model.
How much does it cost to fix a car scratch?
You’ll spend from $150 to $1,000 to fix a scratch on a car – or significantly more if your car needs an entirely new paint job.14 If the scratch is small enough, you can save money by polishing it out yourself.
Which car has the lowest repair costs?
According to data from CarEdge, the cheapest car to maintain over 10 years is the Toyota Prius at just $4,008. The next five most affordable cars to maintain are also Toyotas: the Yaris, Corolla, Prius Prime, Camry, and Avalon.
Rounding out the top 10 are the Honda Fit, Mitsubishi Mirage, Toyota Supra, and Honda Civic.15
Budgeting for car maintenance and repairs
Car repairs and routine maintenance are necessary costs of driving a car, but their price tag is challenging to swallow. Setting up an emergency fund and learning basic car maintenance skills can help manage the expenses.
But if the cost of repairs outweighs the vehicle’s value, it’s time to buy a new set of wheels. Here’s the credit score you need to buy a car (and tips for improving your score).