Perhaps as significant as the purchase price of a vehicle is, it’s equally important to consider how much one costs to maintain over a length of time. Cars and trucks are not cheap beasts by any stretch of the imagination, and after repairs, gas, insurance, and other costs are considered, they end up being one of the biggest expenses that a family or individual might have to contend with.
Wall St. Cheat Sheet spoke with a couple of representatives from dealers with makes spanning from Chevrolet to Mercedes-Benz, to determine just what the most common and costly vehicle repairs were. The answers were somewhat surprising — the major repairs that make or break the life of the car are no longer all that common, and precautions have been in place that make them less costly than before as well.
The good news is that the parties we spoke with all agreed that new cars are indeed far better than they’ve ever been, and largely, they don’t need repairs in the same way that they once did. Major labor-intensive needs like fixing a blown head gasket or other big overhauls that cost thousands of dollars either don’t happen with the same frequency or are often covered under expanded powertrain warranties, which is hugely beneficial for the buyer.
The bad news, though, is that maintaining a car is still quite expensive, no matter what make the vehicle is, thanks to all sorts of high-tech systems and additional features that aren’t cheap to maintain. Fortunately, armed with some pre-emptive knowledge ahead of time, you can now prepare for the kinds of havoc — routine or otherwise — that your car might throw at you.
1. Tires and rims
Believe it or not, tires (and rims, also) were the unanimous culprit for being the most costly and common routine maintenance item on modern vehicles. Given that tires tend to last for just two to four years, the rate of replacement is higher than virtually all other components on the car, and a good set of tires can easily breach $400-$600, and even more for bigger sets, like truck tires.
On that note, John Dubrul, who helps manage a Honda, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Mini dealership, said that this time of year in particular is really rough on tires and rims in colder-climate states, as potholes form. Dented or damaged rims and wrecked tires have become so common because of poor road quality that there are actually isolated insurance policies available to cover the wheels and tires for that particular reason.
He further explained that as cars trend towards larger rim sizes, the equipment and materials with which to maintain them also gets more expensive. The machine for processing 15- and 16-inch rims is a different one than is used to process 17- and 18-inch units, and larger tires are reportedly more labor-intensive to change over, leading to longer repair times and therefore higher charges.
Like tires, brakes are both common and costly due to their need to be changed out at regular intervals, according to Rick Bokan, the fixed operations manager at a General Motors (NYSE:GM) dealership that carries all four GM brands. He explained that replacing brakes all around the car (front and rear) can cost north of several hundred dollars, even breaching into the thousands in some cases.
Brakes have one of the most stress-intensive jobs on the car, as well as one of the most important. As drivers, the stress on the brakes — both the pads and the rotors — can be minimized with a little discretion on the pressure applied to the pedal; constant hard braking, common in city and urban driving, will cause the brakes to wear through faster, resulting in more several-hundred-dollar changeovers.
2. Tire pressure monitoring systems
They seem like rather trivial parts of the car, and most cars didn’t have them until a few years ago, but tire pressure monitoring systems — or TPMS — can be a real thorn in drivers’ sides, Dubrul said. He explained that on a rather frequent basis, drivers pull into his dealership with the TPMS light lit up on the dash thinking there’s something wrong with the tire pressure, when in fact the tire is fine — it’s the sensor that’s causing problems. A sensor, he said, can cost around $100 just for the part, before labor costs are factored in. At the end of the day, after any necessary diagnostics work, a new TPMS sensor could set you back a couple hundred bucks.
4. Timing belts
They don’t need to be changed out often, thank god, but when they do, it’s certainly a cost worth knowing about ahead of time. For timing belts, the part itself isn’t necessarily expensive, but the labor required to get the old one out and get the new one in will take some time, Bokan said. He added the depending on the make and model of the vehicle, the costs can go up or down, depending on the ease at which the tech can remove and replace the belt.
5. Suspension components
Unlike the other bits and pieces that need to be changed out on a regular basis, suspension components shouldn’t needed to be swapped out at regular intervals. However, after a few tens of thousands of miles, the parts will start to wear, given their job to protect the rest of the car from bumps and bruises in the road, take the blunt of the force from a sharp turn, and cope with the everyday wear and tear that driving brings.
Suspensions, unfortunately, are not made up of a solitary spring or shock, but include several smaller pieces and components that can wear and break as well, such as tie-rod ends and bushings. Even if you’re only replacing one of these on one particular wheel — and the type of driving you do most will likely determine how long it might be before one of these parts wears out — you could be looking at a couple hundred dollars.