If your immediate response to seeing a check engine light is, “I’ll just ride it out and hope it goes away,” you’re not alone – far from it. According to a survey from Kelley Blue Book, about 25% of drivers ignore the check engine light. Another study from Reviews.com found that only 36.1% take their car in within the first week of seeing it turn on. It’s not hard to see why – the thought of shelling out money for repairs (and the inconvenience of losing your car for a while if the problem’s serious) can be a kick in the gut. That’s where today’s blog comes in. Understanding the average car repair cost – and how much to budget for car maintenance – can help you care for your car without breaking your wallet. 

How Much Should I Budget for Car Maintenance Per Year?

According to the American Automobile Association, your budget for car maintenance should be about $50 a month ($600 a year). However, due to rising inflation, you may want to lean closer to setting aside $700-ish a year (roughly $60 a month) for car care. 

Always save your receipts anytime you get work done at an auto shop. At the end of the year, tally up your annual expenses and divide them by 12 – that should help give you a more accurate estimate of the average car repair cost for your specific vehicle. 

While saving around $600-700 a year for unexpected car repairs or maintenance is a good baseline, how much you “should” budget for car maintenance also varies depending on the make and model of your vehicle. For example, an older car may have higher repair costs than a newer one. Similarly, a car that requires special components may cost more to upkeep than something with a simpler design. 

Knowing the average car repair cost for different types of maintenance can help you budget more effectively. Let’s look at some examples of car repairs you should prepare to cover.

Get an Oil Change: Every 3,000 Miles ($35-125)

Around every six months or for every 3,000 miles you drive, you’ll want to get an oil change. The average oil change can cost between $35 and $125, depending on the type of oil your car uses. 

If your car uses synthetic oil, an oil change will cost significantly more, but you’ll also need an oil change much less frequently – about every 7,500-15,000 miles – so it evens out. 

You’ll also want to change your oil filter every second time you get your oil changed. Oil filter replacements usually cost about the same as an oil change. 

A mechanic performs an oil change.
Remember: If oil looks dark or gritty, it’s probably not good.

Switch Your Wiper Blades: Every 6-12 Months ($23-38). 

Plenty of people are content to let their wiper blades disintegrate into uselessness before replacing them – and make driving in bad weather more dangerous by doing so. 

Every six or so months, check your wiper blades. If they look worse for wear or “chatter” against your windshield when you use them, it may be time for a replacement. Replacing wiper blades is fairly easy, but if you pay a mechanic, you can expect to shell out between $23-38. 

Tip: If you live in a place with bad winter weather, you may want to install winter wiper blades before the snow starts to hit. 

Rotate Your Tires: Every 5,000 Miles ($25-125)

Rotating your tires helps balance out how they wear down. The average U.S. driver covers around 12,500 miles per year, so you may need to rotate your tires a couple of times a year if you want them to last. 

Of course, how quickly your tires wear out depends on your car type and what kind of tires you have. If you also switch out your tires seasonally (using winter tires in the winter and summer tires in the summer), you may also need to rotate them less frequently. 

Smiling, happy mechanic. Going to a mechanic consistently can help lower the average car repair cost.

Replace Your Brake Pads: Every 10,000-20,000 Miles ($300)

Given how much distance the average U.S. driver covers annually, needing a brake pad replacement every year or year-and-a-half isn’t out of the question. The average brake pad replacement will run you around $150 per axle, for a total of $300. 

If your brakes make a squealing noise, they’re probably wearing thin, and you should schedule a checkup. Alternatively, if you hear grinding, get an appointment as soon as possible – “grinding” noises usually indicate a pad that’s about to wear out. If your brakes feel “soft” or unresponsive, that’s another sign you want to get them looked at. 

Change Your Tires: Every 25,000-50,000 Miles ($525-725)

While many sources suggest changing tires every five-ish years, you may need to replace yours earlier if you drive a lot or on poorly maintained roads. 

Replacing your tires may be one of the more expensive types of car maintenance you invest in – especially if you live in a climate that makes seasonal tires more of a necessity than a choice.

To test the tread on your tires, take a Quarter and place it “upside down” into the tread grooves at several different points (so that Washington’s head is facing down into the groove). If the tread just touches or covers the top of Washington’s hair, your tires are in fine shape (if not brand new). If the tread covers Washington’s hair entirely or reaches his eye, it’s time to start thinking about a tire replacement. 

Remember: Replacing your tires before they wear out can help you stay safe on the road.

Replace Your Battery: Every 4-6 Years ($50-250)

Battery replacement costs can vary widely based on the type of car you own. As a general rule, you’ll probably need to replace it every four to six years. However, if you go for long periods of time without driving your car, your battery may die faster. 

Expensive (& Fortunately, Less Common) Car Repairs

If you consistently get your car serviced and take good care of it, you should (hopefully) be able to avoid major car repairs. However, accidents happen, and parts wear out. Let’s run through a quick list of some more uncommon (and expensive) types of car repairs:

  • Alternator replacement ($500-1,000). You’ll need to replace your alternator every 50,000-100,000 miles – keep an eye out for engine stalling and electrical issues such as lights failing or dimming. 
  • Catalytic converter replacement ($1,000-1,500). Catalytic converters are one of the more commonly-stolen car parts, and can cost a significant amount to replace. If you suddenly notice your car sounding exceptionally loud, emitting smoke and a sulfurous smell, and performing more poorly, check your converter. 
  • Head gasket replacement ($2,000). Nobody wants to blow a gasket. Look out for engine overheating, white smoke coming from your oil tank, and/or a “knocking” coming from your engine. 
  • Suspension replacement ($2,500-3,500). If your vehicle keeps bouncing after hitting bumps, “dips” while braking, or your steering generally becomes less predictable, it’s time to get the suspension looked at. 
  • Airbag replacement ($2,500-4,000). Airbag failure can be hard to diagnose. Look out for a recall from your vehicle manufacturer, or the car “sagging” to one side. The airbag light on your dashboard should also turn on if the airbag becomes unusable. 
  • Transmission replacement ($4,000-5,000). If your car doesn’t switch gears smoothly, makes noises in neutral, slips gears, grinds or shakes while in motion, or you notice a burning smell, check the transmission. 
  • Engine replacement ($7,000-10,000). Most engine problems are fairly obvious, but keep an eye (and ear, and nose) out for a loss in power, a “knocking” sound coming from the engine bay, rough idling, and fluid leakage. 

Hopefully, you never need to pay for any of these repairs – but if you do, knowing how much you may need to shell out can help you decide whether attempting to salvage your current vehicle is worth it.

A mechanic analyzes a car issue to calculate the average car repair cost.

How Often Should I Take My Car in for Maintenance?

Car maintenance is a lot like dental care – people dread it, and it can cost a lot of money if anything goes wrong, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. On that note, you want to see your mechanic about as often as your dentist. Take your car in for general checkups twice a year if you want to be safe, or once a year at minimum. 

Ask your mechanic to check your fluid levels, tire pressure, and general components. Different fluids run out at different rates (read more about that here), so keeping them topped off isn’t a bad idea. 

How much you should budget for car maintenance – and the average car repair cost – can vary quite a bit from person to person. Hopefully, this blog helps you budget for car care more accurately. 

This month, we’re all about helping you take good care of your car – stay tuned for more car maintenance tips and tricks all throughout October. 

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