Yes, cars need fuel and car insurance, but one of the highest costs of car ownership is maintenance. While the cost of maintaining a vehicle can add up over the years, keeping your vehicle in good running condition as the car ages helps lower your driving costs by reducing the number of repairs it needs and maintaining fuel economy.
The average cost of maintenance for a car varies with the type of car. To help you plan for these expenses, we look at the more critical maintenance items and how much they cost on the average car below.
There are several maintenance types for all vehicles, and the main differentiator is the frequency in which they’re required. Let’s look at these types.
Regular maintenance procedures are recommended multiple times yearly to keep your vehicle in top condition. These include simple and inexpensive procedures like oil changes, tire rotations, and tire balancing.
Annual maintenance is similar to regular maintenance, but you generally only perform it once yearly. This will include things like an alignment check and adjustment, engine air filter replacement, and cabin air filter replacement.
Irregular maintenance is anything that doesn’t follow an annual schedule, so it may be every three years or 58,000 km. Irregular maintenance could include things like a transmission fluid flush or coolant exchanges.
There are also some irregular maintenance items that you may only do once in the typical lifetime of a vehicle, such as a timing belt, which can have up to a 160,000-km lifespan.
Understanding and following a vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule is key to ensuring it remains in the best possible condition. Plus, following this schedule keeps any manufacturer’s warranty valid. Not all maintenance schedules are the same, as manufacturer recommendations will vary between cars. For example, Audi may recommend oil changes every six months or 12,000 km, whereas BMW may recommend every 12 months or 20,000 km.
In some cases, you may even see differing manufacturer recommendations between models within an automaker’s lineup. For example, an automaker may recommend more frequent oil changes on its performance car than its family sedan.
So, where can you find your vehicle’s maintenance schedule? It’s in the back of your owner’s manual in the “Maintenance Requirements” or “Maintenance Schedule” section. This area will also include the types of fluids your vehicle uses and its fluid capacities.
With a firm understanding of maintenance schedules and why they are so important for new and used cars alike, let’s look at the average maintenance cost for cars.
Though regular maintenance is generally the cheapest to do, it adds up over the years of owning a car. Let’s look at the cost of these maintenance procedures.
Likely the most well-known regular maintenance item is an oil and filter change. This is when you drain the oil that keeps the internal engine components lubricated, install new oil, and replace the oil filter.
Oil change prices will vary depending on the quality of oil you use — conventional oil, synthetic blend oil, or full-synthetic oil. A conventional or synthetic blend oil change ranges from $20 to $75, whereas a synthetic oil change averages $40 to $90. The top-end price range could increase if your vehicle has a higher oil capacity.
For an average driver, you’ll change your oil two to four times per year, making your annual costs $40 to $360.
A tire rotation is important to ensure your tires wear evenly. In this maintenance procedure, the technician will move the rear tires to the front and the front to the rear. Depending on the vehicle type, the tech will also crisscross the tires as they move them to the front or rear.
The one major exception is when your vehicle has staggered tire sizes, meaning the front and rear tires are different sizes. In this case, the tech will rotate the tires side to side.
The typical tire rotation costs $24 to $50, depending on the size of the wheel and other factors. Some shops will include tire rotations with their oil changes, allowing the technician to look over your brakes and suspension for any necessary repairs.
You generally need your tires rotated every 9,000 to 10,000 km, which translates to about twice per year for most drivers. This would cost you $0 to $100 annually on average.
The tire manufacturing process is imperfect, so tires aren’t in perfect balance. When that imbalanced tire gets up to highway speeds, you may start feeling mild to severe shaking. This is why repair shops always balance new tires before putting them on your vehicle. But this isn’t a once-and-done procedure.
As your tires wear, the natural heavy spot can shift, causing them to fall out of balance again and cause vibrations. Generally, you should have the shop balance the tires at every rotation interval to avoid vibrations.
You can expect to pay $40 to $50 for a four-wheel balancing, but the good thing is there will be no additional charge for the tire rotation since the wheels must come off for the balancing. Because you’ll do this twice a year, you can expect to pay $80 to $100 per year.
On top of routine maintenance, there are annual maintenance items you must perform to keep your vehicle in great condition for years. Let’s look at the cost of some of the common yearly maintenance items.
The engine air filter is responsible for cleaning the dust and debris from the air before it enters the engine. Over time, this filter becomes clogged and can reduce engine performance and fuel efficiency. Most automakers recommend replacing the air filter once a year or every 19,000 to 24,000 km.
On average, you can expect an air filter and the labour to replace it to run you $60 to $170 to replace it.
The cabin air filter is a part of the heating and air condition system that filters out dust, debris, and allergens from the air as it flows from outside and into the ventilation system. Over time, this filter clogs, slowing airflow. Plus, the cabin air filter can sometimes get an odd smell that travels into the cabin.
This is why many automakers recommend changing the cabin air filter roughly every 12 months or 19,000 to 24,000 km. You can expect to pay $40 to $130 to replace this.
Your vehicle’s wheels don’t sit perfectly perpendicular to the road. Instead, they sit at a slight angle to ensure the maximum amount of the tire contacts the road in corners. Over time, wear and tear on the chassis from the road can cause the angles to fall out of the manufacturer’s specifications, leading to uneven tire wear.
Each year, you should have the alignment checked to ensure it’s within specification. Generally, an alignment check will cost $20 to $40. If you need an alignment, that will cost an average of $100 to $200, but you will receive a credit back for the alignment check.
Irregular maintenance is what you can expect when you keep a vehicle for many years. These maintenance items pop up once every few years or at higher mileage intervals. In some cases, you may only perform an irregular maintenance item once in a vehicle’s useful life, as some come every 160,000 km or more.
Here are common irregular maintenance items and their average cost.
The automatic transmission, like the engine, has oil in it. This oil, which is more a hydraulic fluid than oil, has multiple jobs. Primarily, it acts as the hydraulic fluid that allows the transmission to shift gears and lubricates the transmission’s moving parts. However, it also acts as a cleanser and coolant for the transmission, keeping the transmission cool and clean inside.
Over the years, this fluid can lose its ability to lubricate and clean, which is when it needs to be replaced. There are two ways to replace transmission fluid, and each car will be different. Some require you to remove the transmission pan to drain the fluid and replace the filter. Then you refill the fluid. This is known as a pan drop or a fluid and filter change.
The other process is when a technician uses a flush machine to force new fluid into the transmission and the old fluid out. This is called a transmission flush or fluid exchange.
Depending on the process your vehicle requires and other variables, this vehicle maintenance can cost $80 to $250 in Canada. You’ll usually perform this service once every 90,000 to 100,000 km or every five to six years.
Your car’s engine coolant is responsible for regulating the engine’s temperature and cleaning out the coolant passages. Over time, the coolant can become dirty and lose its effectiveness, which is why it usually needs replacing about every 57,000 to 90,000 km or three to five years.
A coolant exchange is a simple process where the technician drains the radiator and removes the lower radiator hose to drain all the coolant from the radiator and engine. Then they refill the cooling system with a fresh mixture of coolant and distilled water.
Some more advanced shops will use a coolant exchange machine that does the same without needing to manually drain the radiator or remove the lower radiator hose.
You can expect this to cost $100 to $125, depending on the type of coolant your vehicle uses.
Brake fluid, like many fluids, absorbs water from the atmosphere. The issue is that brake fluid endures extreme temperatures, and water lowers its boiling point. If the fluid begins to boil, it can damage brake components and introduce air into the system.
The second issue is water causes rust, and the last thing you want in your brake system is rust.
This is why repair shops recommend testing your brake fluid every time you replace your brake pads and exchanging the fluid if the water content exceeds 2 or 3%.
Many automakers don’t list this as a scheduled maintenance item, so you should have it tested every time you have the brakes serviced.
A brake fluid exchange will cost you about $100. Generally, you can expect your vehicle to need this upkeep about once every 90,000 km, or so.
The timing belt is one of the highest car maintenance costs on most vehicles, as it’s an internal belt that often requires partial engine disassembly to replace. Fortunately, it’s also one that you generally only perform once or twice in a car’s lifespan, as it’s generally only due once every 160,000 to 190,000 miles.
If you ignore the timing belt and it breaks while driving, it can cause serious internal engine damage that often results in a costly car repair bill.
The total cost of an average car’s timing belt replacement will be $340 to $2,100, with the majority of that cost being labour. While that may sound extremely high, it’s only a fraction of the potential engine repair costs if that belt breaks while you’re driving.
Remember that not every vehicle has a timing belt. Some use a timing chain or gears that require no maintenance.
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