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The True Cost of Putting Off Car Maintenance

The True Cost of Putting Off Car Maintenance

car maintenance

We’ve mentioned the importance of car maintenance before. On the face of it, auto maintenance keeps vehicles running better and helps them last longer, but at what cost? Across the country, average annual maintenance costs run around $550, depending on year, make, model, and usage. This includes typical auto services, such as oil changes, brakes, tires, alignments, and shocks, to name a few. Car owners are encouraged to keep an auto repair savings amount, set aside for regular maintenance, yet a recent AAA (American Automobile Association) survey revealed that about a third of Americans don’t have enough money set aside for unexpected auto repairs .
Following the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” we might say, “an oil change, every 5,000 miles, is worth an engine rebuild.” In other words, regular car maintenance saves owners money over the life of their vehicles. What is the true cost of putting off car maintenance? Considering that the average owner pays around $550 per year in auto maintenance, here some of the consequences of putting it off.

Putting Off Car Maintenance: Save a Buck Now, Spend Ten Tomorrow?

Oil Changes

oil change

Engine Oil Changes cost an average of $120 per year, depending on how much you drive and what kind of oil you use. Oil changes are important, because engine oil gradually loses its ability to lubricate and protect the engine from wear. True, modern engine oil blends last longer than traditional blends, particularly synthetic oils, but they still need to be refreshed on a regular basis. One might consider “saving” $120 this year in oil changes, but could be setting themselves up for an engine rebuild or replacement next year, costing anywhere from $1,000 to upwards of $4,000, depending on how much damage is done.

Tire Rotations

tire rotation

Tire Rotations might be free, if offered by your tire installer, or around $100 per year, depending on your annual mileage. Front tires and rear tires wear in different ways, because they experience different stresses on the road. Tire rotations, at least on vehicles with four equal tires, helps tires last longer, by distributing wear patterns over the whole set of tires. One might think of “saving” $100 per year, or at least a couple hours per year, just getting it done for free, but set themselves up for early tire replacement. True, tires only last so long, but why spend $350 every year on new tires that could have lasted several years?

Timing Belt

timing belt

Timing Belt replacement, every 90,000 or 100,000 on many vehicles, averages out to about $85 per year. While many newer engines have switched to timing chains, there are still plenty of vehicles on the road with timing belts, the de facto standard for quiet power transmission between the crankshaft and camshafts. Timing belts generally last 100,000 miles, but spending around $600 seems like a big hit. One might “save” $600 by not doing it at 90K, but rest-assured, the timing belt will break, and it won’t be covered by a powertrain warranty. On some engines, this will simply leave you stranded with $100 towing charge, and about $600 to replace the timing belt. On many engines, this will require significant engine repairs, up to $2700 to replace bent valves.

Brake Pads and Brake Shoes


Brake Pads and Brake Shoes wear down over time, and averages $60 to $150 per year. Brake Rotors and Brake Drums don’t wear down nearly as much, and can last over twice as long as their pads or shoes. A Brake Inspection is usually free or part of the engine oil change service, and brake pads or brake shoes should be replaced before they wear to within 1 mm thickness. Any more wear, and the danger of irreparable damage to the rotors or drums increases, requiring replacement instead of simple machining. If one lets the brakes wear down all the way, a simple pad or shoe change can easily double or triple in price, costing up to $600.

The PCV Valve

pcv valve

The PCV Valve is a simple unassuming character, just $10 per year to protect the engine. Unfortunately, the PCV valve is often forgotten, leading to burning oil, oil leaks, or sludge formation. After a couple of years, depending on the extent of the damage, “forgetting” the PCV valve could result in up to $1,500 in engine repairs.

Spark Plugs

spark plugs

Spark Plugs tend to last around 100,000 miles, but they don’t only affect how smooth the engine runs. A strong consistent spark is necessary to extract as much energy as possible from every molecule of fuel, but worn spark plugs can fire erratically, weakly, possibly not at all, leading to increased fuel consumption and misfiring. Left alone, aside from running poorly and costing more in fuel, neglecting to replace spark plugs could cost upwards of $1,000 to replace an abused catalytic converter.

Car Washing

car wash

For some, weekly Car Washing costs $625 to $1,050 per year, though not everyone is so diligent. Corrosion is like cancer, and washing is key to preventing corrosion from taking hold of your car. To prevent rust from taking hold of your vehicle, wash and wax regularly, and repair chips and dings as soon as possible. Failing to keep your car clean could result in rust remediation expenses, from as little $50 to repair a rusted paint chip, to over $2,500 to replace a rusted body panel.

Maintenance Records

maintenance records

Whenever you maintain your vehicle, keep Maintenance Records in a special folder. When it comes time to sell or trade, those records tell a hidden story of the maintenance of your vehicle, something not easily seen or proven from the outside, on a test drive, or even by a skilled technician. In the end, having a complete record of vehicle maintenance improves the resale value of your ride.

Additional Costs of Vehicle Neglect

While of some of the above maintenance items might seem obvious, there are costs associated with vehicle neglect that one might not think about. Consider that the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Administration) recognizes about 94% of car crashes are caused by human error , about 5% of due to neglect, and we’re guessing the last 1% is just dumb luck. This means that 5% of car crashes, and subsequently almost 3,000 fatalities and 100,000 injuries, could be prevented if owners simply maintained their vehicles. How much does it cost?
Every year, aside from increased repair costs and lost fuel economy, car crashes due to vehicle neglect costs Americans more than an additional $2 billion. Lost wages exceed $650 million, medical expenses exceed $200 million, vehicle repairs cost almost $750 million, and insurance costs another $500 million.

Timely Vehicle Maintenance Saves Everyone Time and Money

Every vehicle owner needs to realize a critical fact: One way or another, we all pay for auto maintenance. Either we pay for car maintenance, oil changes, tire rotations, timing belts, and brakes up front, or we pay extra to fix things when they break. Given the way that insurance and taxes work to protect us, failing to pay for vehicle maintenance simply inflates the cost of taking care of the injured and repairing or replacing vehicles. Taxes and insurance premiums go up, and everyone ends up paying more. Be part of the solution by keeping your vehicle regularly maintained and repaired promptly.