The Most and Least Expensive Cars to Maintain

The most expensive thing most Americans own, after their house, is their car. On average, Americans spend 5% of their income on purchasing a car. Another 5% goes towards ongoing maintenance and insurance costs.

But not every car costs the same to keep it running. And different cars have varying risks of leaving their drivers suddenly immobilized.

At YourMechanic, we have a massive dataset of the make and model of the cars we have serviced and the type of maintenance done. We decided to use our data to understand which cars break down the most and have the highest maintenance costs. We also looked into which types of maintenance are most common to certain cars.

First, we looked at which major brands cost the most to maintain over the first 10 years of a car’s life. We grouped all years of all models by brand to compute their median cost by brand. In order to estimate annual maintenance costs, we found the amount spent on every two oil changes (as oil changes are generally done every six months).

Which Car Brands Cost the Most to Maintain?
Based on estimates of total car maintenance over 10 years
Rank Car Brand Cost
1 BMW $17,800
2 Mercedes-Benz $12,900
3 Cadillac $12,500
4 Volvo $12,500
5 Audi $12,400
6 Saturn $12,400
7 Mercury $12,000
8 Pontiac $11,800
9 Chrysler $10,600
10 Dodge $10,600
11 Acura $9,800
12 Infiniti $9,300
13 Ford $9,100
14 Kia $8,800
15 Land Rover $8,800
16 Chevrolet $8,800
17 Buick $8,600
18 Jeep $8,300
19 Subaru $8,200
20 Hyundai $8,200
21 GMC $7,800
22 Volkswagen $7,800
23 Nissan $7,600
24 Mazda $7,500
25 Mini $7,500
26 Mitsubishi $7,400
27 Honda $7,200
28 Lexus $7,000
29 Scion $6,400
30 Toyota $5,500

Luxury imports from Germany, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, along with domestic luxury brand Cadillac, are the most expensive. A Toyota is about $10,000 less expensive over 10 years, just in terms of maintenance.

Toyota is by far the most economical manufacturer. Scion and Lexus, the second and third most inexpensive brands, are both Toyota subsidiaries. Together, all three are 10% below the median cost.

Most domestic brands, like Ford and Dodge, are in the middle of the pack.

While luxury cars call for the most expensive maintenance, many budget vehicles rank relatively high. Kia, an entry-level brand, surprises with maintenance costs 1.3 times the median. In this case, sticker prices don't represent maintenance costs.

Knowing the relative maintenance costs of brands can be informative, but it’s also important to consider how car costs change with age. This chart looks at the median annual cost of maintenance across all brands.

how do car costs change with age

Maintenance costs increase as the car ages. A stable, consistent increase of $150 per year in costs exists for years 1 through 10. After that, there is a distinct jump between 11 and 12 years of age. After age 13, costs plateau around $2,000 per year. This is likely because people disown their cars if maintenance costs are higher than their cars’ worth.

Even within brands, not all cars are created equal. How do specific models compare directly to one another? We drilled down by splitting up all cars by model to look at 10 year maintenance costs.

Which Car Models Cost the Most to Maintain?
Based on total car maintenance costs over 10 years
Rank Car Brand Cost
1 Chrysler Sebring $17,100
2 BMW 328i $15,600
3 Nissan Murano $14,700
4 Mercedes-Benz E350 $14,700
5 Chevrolet Cobalt $14,500
6 Dodge Grand Caravan $14,500
7 Dodge Ram 1500 $13,300
8 Audi A4 Quattro $12,800
9 Mazda 6 $12,700
10 Subaru Forester $12,200
11 Acura TL $12,100
12 Nissan Maxima $12,000
13 Chrysler 300 $12,000
14 Ford Mustang $11,900
15 Audi A4 $11,800
16 Volkswagen Passat $11,600
17 Ford Focus $11,600
18 Chevrolet Impala $11,500
19 Honda Pilot $11,200
20 Mini Cooper $11,200

The 20 priciest car models in term of maintenance cost all require, at a minimum, a staggering $11,000 to maintain over 10 years. These estimates include expensive one-off costs, like a transmission rebuild, that skew the mean higher.

According to our data, Chrysler's Sebring is the most expensive car to maintain, which is likely one of the reasons why Chrysler revamped it in 2010. German imports (such as BMW’s 328i and Mercedes-Benz’ E350) along with many manufacturers’ luxury or full-sized models (such as the Audi A4 Quattro) are quite expensive as well.

Now we know which cars are money pits. So which vehicles are a thrifty, reliable choice?

Which Car Models Have the Lowest Maintenance Cost?
Based on total car maintenance costs over 10 years
Rank Car Brand Cost
1 Toyota Prius $4,300
2 Kia Soul $4,700
3 Toyota Camry $5,200
4 Honda Fit $5,500
5 Toyota Tacoma $5,800
6 Toyota Corolla $5,800
7 Nissan Versa $5,900
8 Toyota Yaris $6,100
9 Scion xB $6,300
10 Kia Optima $6,400
11 Lexus IS250 $6,500
12 Nissan Rogue $6,500
13 Toyota Highlander $6,600
14 Honda Civic $6,600
15 Honda Accord $6,600
16 Volkswagen Jetta $6,800
17 Lexus RX350 $6,900
18 Ford Fusion $7,000
19 Nissan Sentra $7,200
20 Subaru Impreza $7,500

Toyota and other Asian imports are the least expensive cars to maintain, with the Prius living up to its well-known reputation for reliability. Along with many Toyota models, Kia’s Soul and Honda’s Fit hold close to Prius’s low-cost lead. Toyota’s Tacoma and Highlander are also on the low-cost leaderboard, even though the list is dominated by compact and mid-sized sedans. Toyota completely avoids the the most expensive models list.

So what, specifically, makes some brands more expensive than others? Some brands have a higher incidence of routine maintenance. But some cars tend to have the same problems time and again.

We looked at which brands have maintenance requirements that occur unusually often for that particular brand. For each brand and issue, we compared the frequency to the median across all the cars we serviced.

Unusually Common Car Issues
Based on issues found by YourMechanic and compared to the median car
Car Brand Car Issue Issue Frequency
Mercury Fuel pump replacement 28x
Chrysler Exhaust gas recirculation/EGR valve replacement 24x
Infiniti Camshaft position sensor replacement 21x
Cadillac Intake manifold gasket replacement 19x
Jaguar Check Engine Light is on inspection 19x
Pontiac Intake manifold gasket replacement 19x
Dodge Exhaust gas recirculation/EGR valve replacement 19x
Plymouth Not starting inspection 19x
Honda Valve clearance adjustment 18x
BMW Window regulator replacement 18x
Ford PCV valve hose replacement 18x
BMW Idler pulley replacement 18x
Chrysler Overheating inspection 17x
Saturn Wheel bearing replacement 17x
Oldsmobile Not starting inspection 17x
Mitsubishi Timing belt replacement 17x
BMW Drive belt tensioner replacement 16x
Chrysler Camshaft position sensor replacement 16x
Jaguar Battery service 16x
Cadillac Leaking coolant 16x
Jeep Crankshaft position sensor replacement 15x
Chrysler Engine mount replacement 15x
Mercedes-Benz Crankshaft position sensor 15x

Mercury is the brand that suffered most chronically from a design flaw. In this case, Mercury cars most frequently had fuel pump issues (Mercury was discontinued by parent company Ford in 2011).

We can see some issues cross from brand to brand within the same manufacturer. For example, Dodge and Chrysler, which are both part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) conglomerate, can’t seem to get their exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valves working correctly. Their EGRs need to be fixed at roughly 20 times the national median rate.

But there’s one problem customers care more about than any other: which cars will simply refuse to start? We answer this question in the below chart, which limits the comparison to cars 10 years old or less.

Car Brands Most Likely Not to Start
Based on service by YourMechanic and compared to the median model
Rank Car Brand Frequency of
Car Not Starting
1 Hummer 9x
2 Mercury 6x
3 Chrysler 6x
4 Saturn 5x
5 Dodge 5x
6 Mitsubishi 4x
7 BMW 4x
8 Suzuki 4x
9 Pontiac 4x
10 Buick 4x
11 Land Rover 3x
12 Mercedes-Benz 3x
13 Chevrolet 3x
14 Jeep 3x
15 Ford 3x
16 GMC 3x
17 Acura 3x
18 Cadillac 2x
19 Scion 2x
20 Lincoln 2x
21 Nissan 2x
22 Mazda 2x
23 Volvo 2x
24 Infiniti 2x
25 Kia 2x

Although this could be a reflection of some owners' diligence just as much as the cars' build quality, the results of this list are quite damning: three of the top five brands were discontinued in the last several years.

In addition to the now-defunct brands, the premium segment (such as Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, and BMW) is represented in this list. Notably absent are many of the brands from the least expensive list: Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai.

But the brand doesn’t reveal everything about a car. We dove into the particular models that don’t start with the greatest frequency.

Car Models Most Likely Not to Start
Based on service by YourMechanic and compared to the median model
Rank Car Model Frequency of
Car Not Starting
1 Hyundai Tiburon 26x
2 Dodge Caravan 26x
3 Ford F-250 Super Duty 21x
4 Ford Taurus 19x
5 Chrysler PT Cruiser 18x
6 Cadillac DTS 17x
7 Hummer H3 11x
8 Nissan Titan 10x
9 Chrysler Sebring 10x
10 Dodge Ram 1500 10x
11 BMW 325i 9x
12 Mitsubishi Eclipse 9x
13 Dodge Charger 8x
14 Chevrolet Aveo 8x
15 Chevrolet Cobalt 7x
16 Mazda MX-5 Miata 7x
17 Mercedes-Benz ML350 6x
18 Chevrolet HHR 6x
19 Mitsubishi Galant 6x
20 Volvo S40 6x
21 BMW X3 6x
22 Pontiac G6 6x
23 Dodge Caliber 6x
24 Nissan Pathfinder 6x
25 Saturn Ion 6x

The worst cars failed to start 26 times as often as the median, perhaps explaining why some of these models got the axe: the Hyundai Tiburon, Hummer H3, and Chrysler Sebring (all in the top 10) were discontinued. Some premium models make it into the shameful list as well, including BMWs and several Mercedes-Benz models.

For as long as cars have existed, Americans have debated car ownership and the questions of cost and reliability. This data reveals which companies live up to their reputation for reliability (Toyota), which brands sacrifice reliability for prestige (BMW and Mercedes-Benz), and which models deserved to be discontinued (the Hummer 3).

Still, car maintenance is about much more than the median cost. Factors such as how well a car is maintained, how often it is driven, where it is driven, and how it is driven all affect maintenance costs. Your mileage may vary.


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