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It Costs How Much? How Not to be Surprised When it Comes to Servicing Your Car

Years ago, my spouse at the time decided to purchase a new vehicle. It was a surprise as I was hauled to the Fiat dealership for the big reveal of something I didn’t know was a potential, or even possible, purchase. The car was bellissima, but knowing where our finances were, I asked quite plainly, “Can we afford this?”

That newly financed $16,000 beauty, with its $260 monthly car payment, needed full coverage insurance until it was paid off. And, as you also live in Michigan, you know how expensive that can be (especially if you’re young and your credit is struggling). Therefore, the $260 monthly car payment escalated to almost $450 a month to include insurance. And maintenance was not included in that calculation.

The same went for the next car purchased. There is a surprised exclamation I’ve heard from my ex-spouse, many friends, customers and acquaintances in the many years I’ve been involved with the automotive industry: “I didn’t know it was going to be so expensive to own or fix this!”

In past years I’ve expressed this often: why was there such a lack of resources and education in providing the cost of ownership to car buyers? Why were buyers not looking more into the cost to own their car of interest or the problems other individuals had with their vehicles? Is there a way to build and provide maintenance schedules with costs prior to the purchase so customers can prepare and realistically know what it takes to keep their car in good running order?

Luckily, it is now 2020 and the digital age provides almost too much information on any and everything you need to know about your vehicle. Reviews, forums, manufacturer sites, dealership sites, etc…, can all give a glimpse into the added dollars you are investing into your big purchase.

And investing is a way you have to look at it because it is likely the first or second largest purchase you will make, following a house. So you likely plan on having this vehicle around for a while.

Both Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book have cost-to-own calculators on their sites. They provide breakdowns of costs to include insurance, maintenance, fuel, taxes, state fees and repairs for the total five years. Edmunds.com takes it one step further in creating a breakdown chart showing the cost of each item each of the five years.

For either site, simply select the make, model and year. Edmunds also includes a style selection which can include engine, or other little differences, and zip code to account for average costs in your area.

Curious to test this for myself, I selected each of the vehicles I have been looking at to potentially purchase in the next year. Their average costs were near a $20,000 difference in ownership. Ouch.

NOTE: the costs in purchasing a new vehicle are very different from purchasing a used vehicle, especially if you are looking to do a Craigslist purchase. Those, if you aren’t a selfguided, seasoned car person, are the ones you really want to research before you purchase.

For the used vehicle you purchase, you have to account for the repairs or neglected maintenance items the seller may have decided not to fix prior to selling it. But your local dealership or trusted shop can look over it to help you figure out what is needed after your purchase.

A new vehicle has the benefit of warranty coverage to take care of any hiccups that may come up in manufacturing which are usually, if any, recalls. Typically, though, the first five years will be maintenance items like oil changes and tire rotations, cabin or engine air filters, etc.

And I can’t emphasize this enough: brand will also be a huge influence in cost. If it’s a luxury brand, there should be no surprise of a heftier bill at the end of your routine service visit compared to the same work on more economical brands. For example, my 1999 Mercedes E320 Wagon had a minimum $125 oil change, whereas my 2012 Chevrolet Cruze is around $55.

This isn’t aimed to scare you, but to make you more proactive and aware of what goes into taking care of your ride. This is also a great exercise for buyers, especially teens purchasing their first vehicle so they can understand what to expect in their newfound privilege of vehicle ownership. It is disheartening to hear so many individuals of all ages surprised at how much it costs to take care of their car, but a car is an intricate piece of mobile machinery where moving parts need to be maintained.

Lalita Chemello is a Detroit-born writer newly displaced to the west side of the state. She’s written/edited for New Roads lifestyle magazine and Panorama. Her other passions are photography, motorsports and screenwriting. You can also occasionally find her around town on her vintage two wheels.

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