When considering a car purchase, you have to realize that the price you pay isn't written anywhere on anything you'll see on the financing papers. Aside from buying the vehicle, there are a number of hidden costs that we sometimes don't think about, some of which has to do with the vehicle we buy, but also with our own habits.
For example, let's say you are considering buying a new or used Toyota RAV4, one of the world's most-popular crossover SUVs. Of course, you'll make a down payment and monthly payments on the vehicle itself, but there are some other things that you'll have to pay for, as well. Depending on how much you drive, refueling can get quite expensive. Fortunately, the RAV4 is fairly economical. Don't forget liability and collision insurance, to protect yourself and your car. Then, there are taxes, fees, and repairs.
The Forgotten Cost
Repairs might seem obvious, because you might not be able to drive the car if certain repairs aren't made. Maintenance, on the other hand, seems to be the most-forgettable of all of these costs. After all, you'll get a bill each month for insurance and car payment, and the fuel tank let's you know when it's empty, but it seems so easy to ignore the “Maintenance Required” light. The engine and transmission are still running, so what's the hurry?
Major automobile manufacturers, for the last fifteen years or so, have recommended engine oil and oil filter changes every 5,000 miles or six months. Considering that this might cost you as much as $50 USD, more or less, depending on parts and service quality, couldn't you just save the $50 for fuel? Of course, the oil change is part of the maintenance your car requires. Every other fluid in your car requires at least inspection for proper running until about 100,000 miles. Other adjustments are helpful to keep the car running properly, such as regular tire rotations and proper inflation pressure, which keep your car running at its most efficient.
Staving off Repairs
So, what happens if you hold off on maintenance? According to the car experts at Edmunds.com, a 2008 Toyota RAV4 2.4ℓ with automatic transmission will cost, in the first five years of its life, about $33,750. If you save $5,300 by skipping maintenance and repairs, does your five-year total cost to own drop to $28,450? Far from it, your total cost to own could easily climb past the $45,000 mark. Whoa! What happened?
As mentioned, regular maintenance is critical to the life of your car. Skipping oil changes only sets up your engine for engine oil sludging and eventual failure. Because the new car warranty doesn't cover catastrophic engine failure due to lack of maintenance, it might cost you as much as $12,000 to replace the engine, all because of skipping a few $50 oil changes.
Automakers have been slowly turning back to timing chains, but if your car is equipped with a rubber timing belt, it usually requires replacement around 100,000 miles. It could cost as much as $600, depending on the vehicle, but what if you just save the $600 for when the belt finally does break? Sure, you could do that, and if your engine is a non-interference engine, you might get away with just being stranded and having to pay for a tow truck. On the other hand, if your vehicle is equipped with an interference engine, you're back to the nearly $12,000 to repair or replace the engine.
Of course, high repair costs aren't the only reason to stick with your regular maintenance schedule. Regular maintenance of the engine, transmission, brakes, and tires, also keeps your vehicle running at its most efficient. Efficiency directly affects how much fuel you burn. Even in the best circumstances, you'll spend nearly twice as much on fuel as you would on maintenance and repairs.
However, if you ignore maintenance and repairs, you can expect fuel consumption to increase, meaning you'll pay at the pump more often than necessary. For example, even if the engine seems to be running fine, an illuminated MIL (malfunction indicator lamp) or “Check Engine” light means there is something wrong. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), a faulty oxygen sensor can increase your fuel consumption by as much as 40%! Under-inflated tires can increase your fuel consumption by as much as 3% or 4%, which doesn't seem that bad, but you'll have to buy new tires sooner than if they'd been inflated properly.
What Are You Waiting For?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Perhaps, in automotive terms, he might have said, “A dollar in maintenance is worth a hundred in repair.” We'll never know what he might have said, but the truth is that, unless you have lots of money to spend and you like being stranded, you're always better off spending the money on maintenance.