How Much it Costs When You Ignore Basic Car Care

No matter where or how you drive, you’re going to need to maintain your car to keep it running safely and efficiently. Seeing the cost of a repair estimate can sting, so you might be tempted to put the fix off for a little longer. However, that mindset causes long-term – and even more expensive – damage to your car.

We analyzed the cost of routine car maintenance tasks at three different stages: when they’re due, when they’re delayed by several thousand miles, and in a worst-case scenario if they're ignored entirely. Basing our research on the 2010 Honda Accord V6 sedan, the data shows that it makes the most financial sense to get repairs done right away. Read on to see how much it costs when you ignore taking care of your car.

Oil changes

After fuel, engine oil is the most important fluid in your car. It helps keep your engine running smoothly and prevents overheating. As you drive, oil breaks down and is exposed to contaminants, which reduces its lubricating and cooling properties. While different cars have different oil change intervals, the effective use span of engine oil is usually about 3,000 to 6,000 miles, at which point you have to get it changed.

The good news is that if you follow recommended oil change intervals, there won’t be any troubling symptoms. Oil changes are a simple, inexpensive job – it’s one you may even want to try doing yourself.

On-Time Oil Change
Parts Cost
Synthetic motor oil x 5 qts $26.99
Oil filter $4.69
Oil drain plug gasket $1.78
Labor: $80/hour x .5 hour $40
Total $73.46

However, the longer you delay an oil change, the more problems you’re going to have. Unless your owner's manual specifically states otherwise, anything beyond 6,000 miles is going to cause problems. The oil becomes more viscous, meaning engine parts can’t move as easily, leading to a rough idle and poor acceleration. Tiny particles that build up in old oil act as abrasives, wearing down tight tolerances between engine parts like the crankshaft bearings, camshafts, and gaskets. Overheating becomes a concern too. If you wait this long to change your oil it's hard to say what problems you might face. It may be a matter of changing filters and seals, or the mechanic might recommend replacing multiple worn-out parts, leading to a very expensive repair:

Delayed Oil Change
Reduced fuel efficiency, sluggish acceleration,
oil leaks, smoke from engine
Parts Cost
Synthetic motor oil x 5 qts $26.99
Oil filter $4.69
Oil drain plug gasket $1.78
Valve cover gasket $47.98
Intake manifold gasket $34.78
Head gasket $159.99
Camshaft x 2 $379.98
Camshaft seal x 2 $33.56
Connecting rod x 6 $414
Connecting rod bearings x 12 $186.84
Crankshaft $772.58
Crankshaft seal $22.78
Labor: $80/hour x 18 hours $1,440
Total $3,525.95

If you go more than 8,000 miles without changing the oil, you’re setting your engine up for disaster. It may still work for a while despite the warning signs, albeit not as well. However, eventually thick oil can fully seize the engine, or an overheated or worn part can fail catastrophically, resulting in total engine failure:

Ignored Oil Change
Total engine failure
Parts Cost
Synthetic motor oil x 5 qts $26.99
Oil filter $4.69
Oil drain plug gasket $1.78
New engine $2,950
Labor: $80/hour x 25 hours $2,000
Total $4,983.46

A new engine costs thousands of dollars, possibly more than you would otherwise spend on routine oil changes for the lifespan of your vehicle. Spending the money up front to get oil changes on time keeps efficiency high and long-term costs low.

Brake service

It shouldn’t take much to remind you of the importance of the brakes in your car. Brakes are arguably the most important safety system in any car, which is why it’s so important to maintain them. Your safety – and the safety of people around you – depend on it.

Brake pads are the first component in a brake system that need to be replaced. The pads wear down as they are pressed against the brake rotor when you push the brake pedal. How quickly that happens depends on your particular car and driving style, but brake pads generally last between 25,000 to 70,000 miles.

The first symptom you’re likely to notice when your brake pads need to be replaced is an unpleasant squeaking or squealing noise when you push the brake pedal. Brake pads have a wear indicator built in that starts to come in contact with the brake rotor as the pad wears down, producing a high-pitched noise. You’ll also probably notice your brakes don’t grab as well as they used to. If improving your safety isn’t enough to convince you to swap in new pads, hopefully ending the annoying sound will be.

On-Time Brake Service
Squeaking noise, reduced brake response
Parts Cost
Front brake pads x 2 $57.58
Rear brake pads x 2 $71.98
Brake cleaner $5.14
Labor: $80/hour x 2 hours $160
Total $294.70

If you’re able to endure the noise and continue to drive on worn brake pads, you risk damaging the brake rotors. Brake rotors are the metal discs that the pads clamp down on to slow and stop your car. Rotor lifespan is usually much longer than that of pads, but not replacing your pads on time makes the rotor wear out more quickly.

Replacing brake rotors is a much more expensive and time-consuming job than only replacing the pads. The pad wear indicator can dig into the rotor, creating a gouge. Any gouge or imperfection in the rotor surface increases the chances of warping, at which point they need to be replaced. A shaking or pulsating sensation when you push the brake pedal is a sign of warped rotors, which reduces the stopping power and control you have over your car.

Delayed Brake Service
Overheating, shakes when braking, poor brake response
Parts Cost
Front brake pads x 2 $57.58
Rear brake pads x 2 $71.98
Front brake rotor x 2 $110.36
Rear brake rotor x 2 $64.76
Front brake caliper x 2 $129.56
Rear brake caliper x 2 $201.56
Brake fluid $7.18
Labor: $80/hour x 7 hours $560
Total $1,202.98

The good news is that if you replace all the worn and aging parts in your brake system, your ability to brake safely and reliably will be restored. However, if you never service your brakes and continue to drive on worn brake pads and rotors, your ability to slow or stop your car is only going to decrease. Worst case scenario you could lose braking power entirely. You risk losing your car – and more – if it won’t stop when you need it to.

Ignored Brake Service
No brake response
New car
Legal fees

It’s impossible to put a cost on how expensive it might be if your car won’t stop, but needless to say it could be extremely costly. Clearly, paying to maintain your brakes on time is a worthwhile investment. While service intervals for pads, rotors, and other brake components vary depending on your car and driving style, book a brake inspection as soon as you hear that telltale squeal.

Tire care

Tires are largely responsible for keeping your car on the ground and moving in the direction that you want it to go – two extremely important aspects of safe driving. To keep your tires working, regularly check that they’re properly inflated and wearing evenly. Tires continually wear down as they roll, but how long they last depends on your your specific tires and vehicle, as well as where and how you drive. Unless you’re making frequent trips to the drag strip, they should last many thousands of miles.

The most frequent maintenance you’re going to have to perform on your tires is making sure they’re properly inflated. Underinflated tires wear down faster, reduce your car’s acceleration and handling, and negatively impact fuel efficiency. The good news is that keeping tires properly inflated doesn’t take long and shouldn’t cost anything – simply pump them up with an air compressor at a gas station. Your vehicle’s tire pressure rating is usually found on the tire sidewall, on a sticker inside the driver’s door, or in the owner's manual. Check at least once a month that your tires are inflated to the recommended pressure.

On-Time Tire Care
Flat appearance, reduced fuel economy,
poor acceleration and handling
Parts Cost
Compressed air Free
Total $0

Even if you keep your tires properly inflated, they’re still going to wear down. The tread, which helps tires maintain grip and disperse water, becomes increasingly shallow and doesn’t function as well. Sufficient tread depth is important, and checking will cost you exactly one cent. Get a penny and put it inside the tread, with Abraham Lincoln’s head pointing at the center of the wheel. If you can see the top of his head, it means the tread is too shallow and your tires need to be replaced.

Another issue tires encounter, especially as seasons change, is cracking. Temperature changes and direct sunlight can dry out the rubber, causing cracking which reduces the strength of the tires. If you notice cracks on any of your tires, it’s best to get them replaced.

Delayed Tire Care
Reduced tread depth, cracking in sidewall
Parts Cost
New tires x 4 $640
Labor: $80/hour x 1 hour $80
Total $720

If you ignore replacing your tires and drive long enough on the same set, the tread will eventually wear off completely. Without any tread, your car will struggle for traction on dry ground, and even a little bit of water on the road could cause it to slide or spin. The tough belts that hold tires together from the inside could also become exposed, making them susceptible to punctures and blowouts. Bulges in the sidewall could also form, creating a visible weak point that could fail at any time.

Ignored Tire Care
No tread, exposed belts, bulging sidewall
New car
Legal fees

Worn tires are more of a liability than a safety feature, and the high cost that comes with being in a dangerous situation far outweighs the price of any tires. Since different tires wear at different rates, you need to keep an eye on tire your tire pressure, tread depth, and condition to know when it’s time to buy a new set.

Timing belt

A car engine is a complex machine with hundreds of parts that have to work in perfect synchronization. Many engines have a timing belt, which is one of the main components responsible for keeping all those parts moving in time. Timing belts are usually mounted at the front of an engine and look like a toothed black band wrapped around various cogs and pulleys. After about 80,000 miles it can start to stretch and wear out, or teeth can break off, and if not replaced, can snap and cause catastrophic damage to your engine.

One of the first symptoms you’ll notice as your timing belt ages is a chirping or ticking sound when the engine is running. This happens when the belt is stretched and not tight around the pulleys. Depending on your vehicle, you may be able to remedy this by adjusting a tensioner, but at this point you should be mindful that the belt may be nearing the end of its life.

Another symptom of a worn timing belt is engine misfires. Since the timing belt spins the camshaft, which in turn regulates the combustion cycle, a belt that is stretched or missing teeth can throw the process off and cause misfires. Again, tensioning could be a temporary fix, but the safest bet would be to get the timing belt replaced outright. If you do choose to have the timing belt tensioned, expect about four hours of labor costs.

On-Time Timing Belt Maintenance
Ticking noise, misfiring engine
Repair Cost
Adjust timing belt tension (labor: $80/hour x 4 hours) $320
Total $320

100,000 miles is as far as any mechanic would recommend driving on the same timing belt – delay it any further and you're going to start having more problems. If the timing belt stretches enough, it could make it difficult or impossible to start your car. You might hear the starter motor engage when you turn the ignition, but a stretched belt might not have enough grip against the camshaft or crankshaft pulleys to get the engine spinning. At this point, there’s no option but to get the belt replaced.

Delayed Timing Belt Maintenance
Trouble starting
Parts Cost
Timing belt $330.78
Labor: $80/hour x 4.5 hours $360
Total $690.78

Drive beyond 100,000 miles on a timing belt and the worst case scenario is that it snaps entirely. This can happen with little or no warning other than the early symptoms, and can damage your engine beyond repair. Common problems after a snapped timing belt are bent valves, gouged pistons, cracked connecting rods, and even holes punched in the engine block. Any of these are going to be extremely costly, if not impossible, to repair:

Ignored Timing Belt Maintenance
Bent valves, gouged pistons,
cracked connecting rods, broken engine block
Parts Cost
New engine $2,950
Labor: $80/hour x 25 hours $2,000
Total $4,950

A timing belt replacement isn’t an inexpensive job, but given its critical function in keeping your engine working, it’s one you’re going to have to do. If you plan on driving your car past the 100,000 mile mark, a new timing belt will help ensure reliability for many miles to come.

For most drivers, a car is an investment they want to keep for as long as possible. Performing routine maintenance is necessary to keep it working efficiently and safely. While the cost may sting, it won’t hurt nearly as bad as losing your car to avoidable problems. As the data shows, ignoring your car's maintenance needs is always more costly in the long run.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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