Thousands of car accidents that occur every year in the United States are due to a lack of proper auto maintenance. Even back in 2004, the nonprofit Car Care Council estimated the total cost of collisions resulting from unperformed maintenance was more than $2 billion.
Plus, as we all know, maintenance extends the life of your car.
You may understand as a car owner that maintaining your car is a good idea both from safety and investment perspectives. However, you may also have difficulty budgeting for upkeep costs if you do not have a large income. Here are a few ideas on budgeting for car maintenance. First, we review two options on budgeting. Then we discuss how the maintenance schedule within your owner’s manual is the centerpiece to better understand your maintenance costs years in advance.
Option 1 – Budget using your past payment records
You can build a strong budget using your past spending. You will create a clearer picture and more reasonable idea of how spending will occur by looking at your historical costs. Here is a four-step process to build your budget:
- Organize all your car maintenance documents from the past year. Gather your checkbook or credit card statements or receipts, whatever applies to your situation. Note that you are not concerned with payments toward insurance or the car itself but any upkeep (oil, tires, repairs, etc.).
- Get a sum of your maintenance costs. Now add up all your maintenance receipts. Then, to get the average monthly cost, divide the figure by 12. You may have spent $720 in the last twelve months on maintenance, in which case you would want to set aside $60 per month for maintenance moving forward (assuming no adjustments).
- Modify the budget to reflect the vehicle’s condition. When a car is older, you should expect that major repairs will be a likelier event. That is the tradeoff of an older car: by keeping it, you avoid purchasing a new one but also may incur sizable maintenance costs. If your car is older and you have not had any major replacements lately, add another $50 per month. However, if you had substantial work performed and expect this year to be lighter, you could reduce your per-month budget accordingly.
- Divide your car maintenance money from everything else. If you are afraid that you will spend the money that you would like to have saved for car issues, it is a good idea to have it in a different location, such as your savings account rather than checking. For this system to work, you need to transfer in the budgeted amount every month. Then when a big expense arises, you have the money on-hand.
Note that you may find it more helpful to have the money based on your pay cycle. If you are paid weekly or biweekly, divide by 52 or 26 instead of 12, respectively. Fitting the car maintenance amount to your paycheck means that it is simple to take out the amount set within your budget each time immediately after you get paid.
Finally, once the money is there, be aware that it is easy to remove it before it has served its purpose. Try to be religious about not touching this car-maintenance fund.
Option 2 – Budget using a standard monthly figure
If you have a new car for which you do not have a year of receipts, or if you otherwise do not want to put in the time for a specific budgeting amount, you could just use a standard average figure. Citing a mechanic named Sam, FiveCentNickel.com puts the approximate amount that should be allotted for a vehicle’s maintenance each year at $1200 – or $100 per month.
Maintenance schedule as a guide for budgeting
Finance advice writer Nicole Arata says that a key way to protect yourself and keep to your budget is to become familiar with your owner’s manual – and that really is true because it gives you guidelines that fit your car. Your manual will include a car maintenance schedule that gives you an idea when certain services should be performed. Standard services, with common mileage intervals, include:
- Oil/filter change – 5000-7000 miles
- Tire rotation – 3000-7000 miles
- Multipoint inspection – Each visit
Car components will often have a very long life: they “are meant to last and last and last, and they typically don’t fail unless you’ve ignored something downstream,” says CarMD communications director Kristin Brocoff. Even though that’s the case, replacements will often still need to be made for the car to stay in proper working order. Other types of maintenance your car might need are:
- Brake pad replacement – 30,000-50,000 miles
- Engine air filter replacement – 20,000-60,000 miles
- Tire replacement – Interval varies
- Wiper blade replacement – 6-12 months
Become familiar with proper care of your vehicle
The easiest way to get a grasp of the proper maintenance treatment of your car is to look in the manual. The manual is helpful, as indicated above, because it will give you specific details for when certain services should be performed. For instance, the manual for a 2010 Toyota Corolla states that when you have owned the car for three years or have driven it for 30,000 miles, you should have the following tasks completed:
- cabin air filter replacement
- driver-side floor mat installation check
- engine air filter replacement
- fluid check and filling
- oil filter & engine oil replacement
- tire rotation
The extent to which you will need various replacements and adjustments are directly related to the way you drive your car. Expect to have to get maintenance more often if you live in an extremely hot or cold climate; use the car for towing; or idle regularly. Nonetheless, most car owners will be able to use the standard schedule that is described within the manual, per Edmunds.com vehicle testing director Dan Edmunds.
Knowing the service schedule will help you be prepared for upcoming expenses, but it could also keep money in your pocket. When you are informed about your model’s service schedule, it will be harder for a less-than-transparent mechanic to sell you an automatic transmission flush or similar service that the car does not need.
When a mechanic says that they recommend something that you know is contrary to the standard schedule, you can just let them know you want to stay with the factory-advised schedule (unless there is a legitimate reason to make the replacement immediately).
As indicated above in the discussion of older cars, you should expect to pay more for vehicle maintenance if the car has more than 100,000 miles on it.
An honest mechanic to save on car maintenance
Keeping your budget for auto repair under control starts with making sure you are getting straight talk from your mechanic. According to surveys conducted by RepairTrust, nearly three quarters of car owners (70%) say that they are worried about being excessively charged for a car repair. In fact, two in five consumers (40%) said that they had experienced overcharging from a mechanic in the past!
Are you in need of honest auto repair in Boulder? At Independent Motors, we believe great service starts with open, honest communication. Then, we back up that line of communication with sheer expertise. See our history and beliefs.