How much should I budget for car maintenance and repair costs?

Whether you have a new or used vehicle, regular preventive maintenance is essential to making sure your car runs properly. I know it's tempting to ignore these sometimes small but important items. But practicing good maintenance habits today could save you hundreds of dollars and lots of inconvenience down the road.

Here's my list of maintenance basics:

  1. Regular oil change: follow the guidelines in your owner's manual or from your dealer
  2. Check antifreeze and coolant
  3. Replace the air filter
  4. Check and replace brake fluid, if needed
  5. Check tires for proper inflation and alignment
  6. Check the vehicle lights—all of them

What's the best way to budget?

Many experts agree that $1,200 per year or $75 to $100 a month is a good amount to budget for maintenance and/or repair costs. A used car with lots of mileage will probably have higher repair costs than a new car right off the lot, but even new car maintenance costs vary widely by make and model.

If you've been driving the same used car for some time, a good way to budget is to look at your maintenance and repair costs over the past 12 months, calculate the total cost, then divide by 12. If you know that you have a large expense coming up - a new transmission or struts, for example - get an estimate from your mechanic and add that into your overall expense. I try to separate my maintenance funds into a “‘car repair” account so the money is available when I need it.

Stay alert to changes in your vehicle

Being proactive is one of the best ways to stay on top of preventive maintenance. Hear a strange noise? Don't just hope it will go away! Ask your mechanic to give your vehicle a once over or look at it yourself. Ask the garage to check the windshield wipers, power steering fluid, belts and fans, and spark plugs. And be sure to look at your owner's manual for recommended timing/mileage for each of these services.

There are a number of free apps that will keep track of your mileage, track repair costs and maintenance dates, and alert you when it's time for your next auto checkup.

This is intended for informational purposes only.

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