Personal Loans

What Does It Cost to Repair a Car Over Time?

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Owning a car can be more expensive than you might think. While you might consider the cost to buy the car, and covering financing charges, you probably don’t think too much about how much it will cost to keep the car going. Ongoing maintenance and repairs can add up over time.

In fact, the longer you own your car, the more it’s likely to cost in repairs. Over time, cars age and parts wear out. Repairs and replacement can become expensive. Before you buy a car, it’s important to understand what you’re likely to pay in terms of repairs — and be prepared for the costs.

Typical repairs you may need to make

Expect to keep up with regular maintenance, which over time, includes oil changes, flushes and filter changes. However, you’ll also start to need to make repairs. In many cases, you’re not likely to need to make repairs until the car is three years old.

A 2018 Ford sedan, for example, is likely to have repairs amounting to $106 when it’s three years old. The fourth and fifth years could cost $252 and $367, respectively, for repairs, according to Edmunds. As time goes on, though, more systems break down.

What you pay for repairs depends on the make and model of the car, as well as how old the car is and the way you use it. If you use a car for heavy commuting each day, it’s likely to wear out much faster than a car that doesn’t get driven as much.

It’s also important to seek out a mechanic you trust. Ask for recommendations for someone who performs good work at reasonable rates. Understand that you’ll be charged for the actual parts, and also charged an hourly rate for the labor.

Here are some of the common repairs you’re likely to run into over the course of your car ownership and what they might cost, according to Liberty Mutual:

Repair Cost
Engine coolant temperature sensor replacement $100-$150
Spark plug replacement $100-$200
Windshield replacement (front or rear) $100-$300
Radiator replacement $500
New all-season tires (including installation) $600-$800
Timing/serpentine belt replacement $500-$950
Head gasket replacement $1,000-$1,500
Transmission replacement $1,500-$3,000
Suspension system replacement $1,500-$3,500

When your car is relatively new, you don’t have to worry as much about major systems replacements unless something goes wrong. But the longer you own the car, the more expensive the repairs are likely to get. Part of car ownership is understanding at what point repairs are more expensive than they’re worth.

Buying new? What your warranty may cover

When you buy a new car, there’s a good chance your car’s manufacturer has a warranty that can help you cover repairs during the first three years or 36,000 miles. Some even have longer warranties that might last up to 50,000 miles or even a limited 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

There are also dealers and manufacturers that offer free scheduled maintenance for a certain period of time, so you might get free oil changes and basic factory-recommended maintenance when you first buy your car. This can be a valuable way to ensure that your car stays up-to-date with maintenance — lengthening the life of your car and reducing the chance that your car will need major repairs for a longer time.

Some of the items that you might find included in a limited warranty for a new car include:

  • Powertrain components
  • Roadside assistance
  • Corrosion
  • Bumper-to-bumper comprehensive repairs
  • Courtesy transportation

However, it’s important to understand the terms involved. Make sure you know how long the warranty lasts, as well as the mileage limits. Additionally, some of the longest warranties are only available to the original owner, so if you’re buying the car second-hand, you might not get the full warranty.

Is an extended warranty worth it?

For the most part, an extended warranty is rarely worth the cost. Car salespeople get hefty commissions, but there isn’t much benefit for the car owner. In many cases, the standard warranty will take care of unusual problems that may crop up during ownership.

However, if you feel like you might want a longer warranty, especially if you have a shorter three-year factory warranty, you can decide if the car is likely to be unreliable. In that case, it might be worth it to purchase a plan that extends your warranty.

Paying for car repair costs over time

At some point, you’re likely to have to repair your car, warranty or not. There might be some circumstances where your warranty doesn’t cover the repair, or you might just have the car for a long time and eventually need to make repairs as the car ages. Here are some things you can do to pay for car repairs.

Work car repair costs into your budget

The best thing you can do is work car repair costs into your budget. On average, you can expect the annual cost of car ownership to be about $8,849. Add up your car payment, insurance, registration, and fuel costs. Subtract that total from that $8,849.

Let’s say you spend:

  • $400 per month on your payment ($4,800 per year)
  • $1,000 per year on insurance
  • $1,500 per year on fuel
  • $500 per year on registration, taxes, and fees

Your total is $7,800. Subtract that from your average annual car ownership cost, the remainder is $1,049. You probably won’t have to pay that much in the first few years, but you can divide it up by 12 to come up with a monthly amount to budget for car repairs.

Consider setting aside $87.42 each month in a high-yield savings account designated for car repair costs. You can tweak the numbers to match your budget and needs, but making a regular contribution each month can help you build up a fund especially for car repairs and maintenance, allowing you to be prepared.

Use your emergency fund

Maybe you don’t have a special car repair fund, but you do have a more traditional emergency fund. Rather than borrowing to pay for your car repairs, it can make sense to take money from your emergency fund. However, if you do this, make sure that you have a plan for replenishing your fund over time. Figure out how much extra you need to set aside for the next few months to build your emergency fund back up.

Consider a personal loan

One of the realities of car ownership is that, 1 in 3 car owners can’t pay for an unexpected repair bill. Maybe you haven’t had time to build up your car repair fund, or the unexpected repair is especially expensive. No matter the reason, you might not have enough money to cover the cost. If you have good credit, it might be worth it to get a personal loan.

A personal loan can be used for almost any purpose, including car repairs. Plus, if you have good credit, it can be inexpensive, and allow you to cover the cost of the repair and then pay it off in manageable chunks over time. If you’re in a tight spot, a personal loan can bridge the gap and get your car back on the road as needed.

Credit card

For many small repairs, especially if they cost less than $1,000, it can make sense to just use a credit card. Keep a credit card free for emergency use, and this can be one way to cover your costs. However, you need to be aware that interest rates can be higher than what you’d get with a personal loan.

The exception is if you can get a credit card with a 0% APR introductory rate. If you have excellent credit, you can pay off your car repair without worrying about paying financing fees. As long as you pay off your emergency charges before the promo period ends, it can be a good solution.

Create a plan to pay off the credit card within a few months. Pay more than the minimum so you reduce the amount of interest your pay.

Repair shop financing

Some repair shops offer access to financing to help you manage your payments. If you want a low-rate personal loan, you usually need good credit to get the best terms. But what if you don’t qualify for a personal loan?

In many cases repair shop financing is available to those with fair to poor credit. You might be able to get a loan with a reasonable monthly payment. However, it’s important to pay attention to the terms, since the interest rate for repair shop financing can be quite high.

Payday alternative loans

Payday alternative loans are made available by credit unions as an alternative to expensive payday loans.

You can gain access to money quickly, borrow a small amount, and pay off the loan over a few months on a set repayment schedule. These loans have capped fees, so are often more affordable than other alternatives. But, you have to be a credit union member to qualify for one.

Car title loan

If you own your car outright, and you have poor credit, you might be able to get a car title loan to help you pay for your repairs. It’s often better to save this type of loan as a last result. With a car title loan, your car acts as collateral, so if you miss payments, your car could be repossessed. Additionally, interest rates on these loans can be 36% APR or more.

Bottom line

Your car is a depreciating asset, and there’s a good chance that, at some point, you’re going to have to make repairs. Since you know that repairs are inevitable when you buy a car, it makes sense to plan ahead. Make it a point to set up a car repair fund immediately and put money into it each month. Automatic transfers can make this easier.

When you plan ahead for the unexpected, you’re less likely to be taken off guard, and your pocketbook will thank you for lower car repair costs.


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