The Cost of Car Ownership Over Time

We found that there are significant differences in costs as cars age, underscoring how maintenance and repair expenses rise over time. 

The comparison for fresher cars is muddied because a number of brands, including BMW and Toyota, offer free maintenance periods on new cars. And usually, cars need very little work in the first couple of years beyond an oil change and tire rotation. Nearly all new-car warranties last at least three years, and repairs, if needed, are covered. The analysis shows that costs can skyrocket when the warranty and free maintenance periods are over. 

Knowing the typical ownership costs for each brand can help you save money in the long run by avoiding surprises, either by choosing a less-expensive brand to maintain or by budgeting accordingly. 

“The difference to maintain a car on average between some brands can be thousands over a 10-year time frame,” says Steven Elek, Consumer Reports’ program leader for auto data analytics. “Also, expensive luxury vehicles are often quite expensive to maintain as well over time.”

When comparing cumulative costs by brand for years one through five and six through 10, we found that Tesla had the lowest maintenance costs. At the opposite end of the rankings, several German automakers are clustered as the most expensive brands, namely Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche.

“If you are considering a luxury model, it may be wise to purchase one from a domestic brand that may have lower maintenance and repair costs,” says Elek. “For example, over 10 years, Mercedes-Benz models are more than double the cost to maintain and repair as those from Lincoln.”

Understanding how those costs differ by brand can inform how you budget for expenses with your current car and steer your next purchase decision.

Below we show the cumulative costs for years one through five, years six through 10, and total costs for 10 years. The brands are ranked by the full 10-year costs. 

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