How to Budget for Car Maintenance

You’re going about your day when you see it: the check engine light. Your heart sinks as you wonder what big repair bill is waiting for you. 

You can prevent the headache and hassle of unexpected car repairs by creating a car repair and maintenance budget. With the right budget, you won’t have to worry about how to pay for necessary repairs.

The most accurate way to create a car maintenance budget is to look back at past spending. This way, you can feel confident in how much you’ve put away for the upcoming year without worrying that you’re saving too little or too much. Follow these easy steps to create your budget:


1. Gather Receipts and Maintenance Records

Collect all of the receipts from the work you’ve had done on your vehicle over the past year. If you don’t have receipts, call your auto shop for maintenance records. Oil changes, car repairs, tires and replacement parts all fall into this category. Make note of what’s an annual expense, like oil changes, or what was a one-off expense, like a new serpentine belt. 

Add together all of these expenses. Take that total amount and divide it by 12. This monthly number is your savings goal for the upcoming year. For example, if you spent $1,500 on car maintenance last year, plan on saving $125 every month.


2. Adjust Based on Your Car’s Condition

Think about what your car may be due for in the upcoming year. How old is your car and how many miles does it have? By referencing the owner’s manual, you can plan for necessary replacements that are expected within the next year, such as a fluid flush or new tires. Take that expected expense and add it to your monthly budget. If you call them, many shops will provide free estimates for services so your estimate is more accurate.

Conversely, if you paid for something like a new transmission or drive belt, subtract that number from your monthly budget since you won’t have to pay for that specific work again in the upcoming year.

The Edmund’s True Cost to Own calculator is a great resource for budgeting. Simply add your car’s make, model and age and it can help you with an accurate yearly expense total.


3. Plan for Unexpected Repairs


Your monthly budget should now be set up to cover planned maintenance and any major upcoming expenses — but everyone is at risk for an unexpected repair. If you’re able to, saving a little extra to create a cushion can help reduce the stress of a surprise visit to the repair shop.

Once you have your budget set, do your best to keep that money set aside and earmarked for car maintenance and repairs. At the end of the year, you can always use leftover funds for other expenses or roll it over into the next year’s budget. 


How to Save on Car Maintenance

Once you’ve created your budget for the upcoming year, you may be wondering about different ways to save on maintenance costs. Shopping around for quotes or doing some jobs yourself are good strategies, but the best way to keep your expenses small is by committing to regular car maintenance.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the cost of routine car maintenance will save you money overall. Preventative maintenance costs a fraction of what you’ll spend on catastrophic car repairs. 

While the exact number varies based on your specific car, AAA reports that the average cost to maintain a car is about $766.50 per year. When compared to the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a broken transmission or snapped belt can cost you, maintenance really doesn’t cost that much.

Regular car maintenance allows an expert technician to inspect your car and notice if any parts are wearing down or ready for replacement. They can help you prepare for upcoming expenses and minimize costs through preventative measures. This way, you won’t have to worry about unexpected repair costs.

When drivers put off maintenance until something breaks, they may save money in the short-term, but in the end will pay much more than if they had taken their vehicles in regularly.It’s tempting to avoid maintenance appointments when it seems like your car is fine, but in reality you’ll waste a lot of time when your car is in the shop for days for extensive repairs. Add in the cost of a tow truck and alternate transportation, and you’ll be paying much more.

That’s why it’s so important to have an auto repair shop you can trust. A positive relationship between you and your technician will make it much easier to stay on top of routine maintenance  — keeping you safe on the road and within budget.


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