The Cheapest (and Most Expensive) Cars to Maintain, Ranked
Buying a new car can set you back a pretty penny, especially given the spike in car prices as a result of ongoing inflation and supply chain shortages. And there’s more than just the sticker price on the car to contend with — you’ve also got to budget for sales taxes and title fees.
But the cost of a car goes far beyond whatever down payment and fees you fork over on day one. If you finance the car, you’ll have monthly payments that include interest. You’ve also got to budget for rising gas prices and insurance premiums (these usually go up with a new car).
Another big part of your ongoing car budget: routine maintenance and repair work. While the cost to maintain a car shouldn’t be the top factor affecting your purchase decision, drivers on a budget should at least consider how much they’ll have to spend to keep their car running smoothly in the years ahead.
We used data from CarEdge, an automotive research company, to determine the cheapest cars to maintain over 10 years — and the most expensive. Because we’re looking out for drivers on a budget, we excluded data about luxury vehicles. The sticker price alone of such vehicles makes them bad choices for car buyers making financially savvy decisions.
10 Car Models That Cost the Least to Maintain
For 2023, the cheapest car to maintain is the Toyota Prius. Over 10 years, the average Prius driver can expect to spend $4,008 on car maintenance.
In fact, the top six cheapest cars to maintain are all Toyotas — and the full top 10 come exclusively from Japanese automakers.
Here’s the full list of the cheapest cars to maintain over 10 years:
- Toyota Prius: $4,008
- Toyota Yaris: $4,027
- Toyota Corolla: $4,087
- Toyota Prius Prime: $4,098
- Toyota Camry: $4,203
- Toyota Avalon: $4,407
- Honda Fit: $4,195
- Mitsubishi Mirage: $4,939
- Toyota Supra: $4,950
- Honda Civic: $5,245
10 Cars Models That Cost the Most to Maintain
So what about the most expensive car to maintain? For 2023, that title belongs to the Ram 3500, a heavy-duty pickup truck that’s not practical for the average driver anyway. Ram 3500 drivers can expect to spend $25,844 on maintenance over 10 years.
In fact, all 10 of the most expensive vehicles to maintain come from American brands, with Ram holding down seven spots. But that shouldn’t be surprising: Ram’s vehicles are designed for tough jobs. Their heavy usage pushes them to their limits — and leads to more maintenance over the years.
Here’s the full list of the most expensive cars to maintain over 10 years:
- Ram 3500: $25,844
- Ram 2500: $25,464
- Ram 5500: $25,202
- Ram 4500: $25,134
- Ram ProMaster Cargo Van: $20,061
- Ram Promaster City: $19,870
- Ram 1500: $17,677
- Ford F-450 Super Duty: $15,479
- Ford F-350 Super Duty: $14,973
- Ford F-250 Super Duty: $14,929
The Average Cost of Car Maintenance in 2023
According to AAA, drivers spend an average of 9.68 cents per mile on car maintenance, repairs and tires, calculated over five years and 75,000 miles.
We can estimate the average cost of car maintenance is $1,452 a year, or $7,260 over five years.
That means the Toyota Prius — and all of the top 10 most affordable cars to maintain — have significantly cheaper maintenance costs compared to the average car.
And those Ram and Ford trucks? They’re significantly more expensive to maintain.
Overwhelmed by the cost? Here’s how to budget for car maintenance.
How to Calculate the Total Cost of Owning a Car
When you buy a car, your costs will go far beyond what you pay at signing. So how much does it actually cost to own a car? According to AAA, $10,728 a year.
Here are some factors to consider when calculating how much it costs to own a car:
The Price of the Car Itself
First and foremost, consider the actual cost of the car. In 2023, that’s nearly $50,000 on average.
When buying new, you can research the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) online, but some dealers may list the price higher, depending on demand. You can always try to haggle for a lower price, but dealers currently have the upper hand due to the supply shortage and high demand.
When buying a used car, do your research, including reviewing the vehicle history report and having a trusted mechanic inspect the car. This can help you determine if the asking price is fair.
Unless you’re buying a low-budget used car, you probably won’t be paying cash in full. Instead, you’ll make a down payment and then finance the rest of the cost with a car loan.
You’ll continue making monthly loan payments, including interest, until you’ve paid the car off. Choosing a shorter loan term can reduce what you’ll pay in interest — but your monthly payments will be higher.
Before signing, look at your monthly budget to see how much you can afford.
Hate making monthly payments and seeing those interest charges add up? Check out our strategies for paying off a car loan early.
Sales Tax, Title Fees and Registration
When you buy a week’s worth of groceries or a new pair of shoes, the sales tax isn’t probably enough to catch your attention.
But because sales tax is a percentage of the purchase price, you’ll likely notice it when buying a $50,000 piece of machinery. For example, a 7% sales tax on a $50,000 car is $3,500. Ouch.
You’ll also pay to title and register your new vehicle — and you’ll have to keep up with vehicle registration costs each year. Dealerships may also sneak in other fees for things like preparing the documents (gee, thanks) that affect your final cost.
And don’t forget: In addition to renewing your registration each year, you’ll need to pay to renew your driver’s license every few years. In some states, you may also have to pay for annual emissions tests.
Gas prices have been tumultuous in recent years, which can make it challenging to predict your annual fuel costs. AAA estimates 17.99 cents per mile, but so much of that depends on the fuel economy of the vehicle you drive.
But the real savings come from driving a hybrid or electric vehicle.
Electric cars have their own costs to consider (charging a car at home means a spike in your utilities bill), but for now, some electric vehicles may be eligible for a federal EV tax credit. That’s less money you’ll owe Uncle Sam when you file your income taxes.
Newer cars cost more to insure than used models, but a lot more factors into the average cost of car insurance.
Insurance providers consider things like age (where legal), gender, driving history, location, the car you drive and even credit score when calculating your monthly premiums for coverage.
You can lower your car insurance by raising your deductible, opting into usage-based insurance, bundling with homeowners or renters insurance and asking about discounts.
When financing a car, many lenders require that you carry gap insurance. Once your car is paid off, proactively reach out to your agent to drop this coverage.
Looking for a new policy? Compare your options by using a website called EverQuote. Answer a few questions and within minutes, you could save up to $610 a year.
Maintenance, Repairs and Tires
At a minimum, vehicles need routine maintenance like oil changes, tire rotations and basic inspections. Other common maintenance tasks include replacing wiper blades, brake pads and spark plugs.
During inspections, mechanics may uncover more significant repair work. Some may be covered by a warranty, but once your warranty expires, you’re on the hook for any maintenance and repair costs (unless your vehicle is recalled).
As your car ages, prepare for more costly maintenance and repairs, like installing new tires or replacing the entire engine. At a certain point, you’ll need to consider if the cost of car maintenance is worth it — or if you’d be better off trading up for a new model.
Storage, Parking and Tolls
If you have a home with a garage or an apartment with parking, you won’t have any storage costs. But city dwellers may have to pay to keep their car in a public garage if street parking isn’t an option.
Regardless of the storage situation at home, be prepared to pay for parking when traveling or visiting urban areas. And on certain highways, you may have to contend with toll booths.
Unlike houses, which usually increase in value over time, cars are not an investment. They lose value with every mile.
When you’re ready for a new vehicle, you typically can’t sell your current one for what you paid for it. The difference in value is a car’s depreciation.
Cars depreciate most quickly in their first years. If you buy a car new, drive it off the lot and immediately turn around to sell it back to the dealer, they won’t pay you what you spent on it. It’s already lost some of its value.
How to Save Money on Car Maintenance
Car maintenance can get expensive, especially as your vehicle ages. While it’s a necessary cost, there are a few ways to keep prices down:
- Learn some basic mechanical skills: The easiest way to lower your car maintenance costs is to perform the maintenance yourself. While you should leave tougher jobs to a mechanic, you can tackle tasks like replacing wiper blades and changing the air filter. If you’re a little more handy, try changing your car’s oil. Just watch lots of how-tos and attempt the job with an adept friend on your first go-around.
- Avoid dealerships: There are a lot of benefits of using a car dealership’s service department for your car maintenance. Dealers use manufacturer-supplied parts that match your vehicle for the proper fit and finish; the techs have been specially trained for your brand of car; and they can handle any recall work free of charge. The problem? Servicing your car at a dealership is more expensive than a third-party mechanic.
- Keep up with routine maintenance: It may be annoying to take your car in for an oil change a few times a year, but keeping up with the maintenance schedule will ensure safer, more efficient operation. By avoiding maintenance tasks, you’re suscepting the vehicle to costly damage. Plus, a routine visit to a trusted mechanic means they might spot minor issues — and fix them — before they develop into more dangerous (and expensive-to-fix) problems.
- Lease the car: Leasing a car instead of buying can be expensive over time — and it usually doesn’t make sense for drivers on a budget. But one major perk: Routine maintenance is often covered in the lease contract. You won’t pay a cent for things like oil changes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The cheapest car to maintain is the Toyota Prius at just just $4,008 over 10 years, according to CarEdge.
For our ranking of the cheapest cars to maintain, we didn’t include luxury models, as those are outside of many drivers’ budgets. However, it’s worth noting that the Tesla Model 3 actually has a lower 10-year cost to maintain: $3,587.
However, a new Toyota Prius is $16,500+ cheaper than a Tesla Model 3.
The top 10 most affordable cars to maintain come from Japanese brands: Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi.
Toyota in particular is noteworthy for its dependability. The brand scored above the industry average in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study. The Toyota Corolla — the third cheapest car to maintain in 2023 — even earned the top spot in the Compact Car segment and starts as low as $21,550 new.
American car brands ranked among the most expensive to maintain. Ram’s average 10-year maintenance cost across its models is $16,802, according to research from CarEdge. There’s a large gap between Ram and Jeep (both owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), but Jeep is the second most expensive to maintain at $11,476.
Following closely behind Ram are Chrysler and Dodge (two other Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brands), Ford, Chevrolet, Fiat (yet another FCA brand) and Buick — all American.
Subaru and Hyundai (Japanese and Korean, respectively) round out the top 10.
Timothy Moore covers banking and investing for The Penny Hoarder from his home base in Cincinnati. He has worked in editing and graphic design for a marketing agency, a global research firm and a major print publication. He covers a variety of other topics, including insurance, taxes, retirement and budgeting and has worked in the field since 2012.