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Car Brands and Models That Can Save You Money Over Time

Dec 22, 2023

Some cost thousands more for routine maintenance and repairs over the years than others. Here are the best deals.

You think you’ve just met the car of your dreams—it corners well and has great fuel economy and is loaded with all the latest safety features. But before you take the plunge, there's one more thing you should carefully consider: how much it costs to maintain and repair. The difference in routine maintenance and repair costs can be huge among vehicles that are otherwise very similar in price, type, and fuel economy. So choosing wisely can save you thousands over the long run.

"We analyzed data from our Annual Auto Survey, where respondents told us about maintenance and repair costs," says Steven Elek, who oversees Consumer Reports’ auto data analytics program. "Over a 10-year period, some vehicles can be twice as expensive to maintain as others in the same category."

For example, according to CR's data, a Lincoln Nautilus (which was called the MKX until 2019) costs $480 to maintain in its first five years, whereas an Audi Q7—another premium SUV—costs $1,700 over the same period. And cars that are expensive to maintain early on become markedly more expensive as they get older.

Using the annual survey data collected from thousands of CR members, our analysts have determined the routine maintenance and repair costs for both brands and models at five years and 10 years of ownership. That includes regular checkups, such as oil changes and tire rotations, as well as the cost to replace things like brakes, drive belts, and lightbulbs, which all eventually wear out as mileage piles on. (The longer you hold on to a car, the more important these numbers are, because these costs only increase over time.)

The infographics below show the brands and cars that cost the most and least to maintain and repair. Some models are not expensive to own when they’re relatively new but can cost a bundle to keep on the road as they age. That can be especially important to used-car shoppers: The deal you think you’re getting on a used European luxury car may not be so hot once you’ve been handed your first repair bill.

Expensive maintenance and repair costs can eat into the savings offered by a fuel-efficient and reliable car. The most important thing to know is that you can have it all—a trustworthy car with great fuel economy that is less expensive to keep on the road for many years than other models. Here are some truths we uncovered when digging through our data.

1. Domestic Brands Often Cost Less to Maintain and Repair Than Foreign BrandsWhen it comes to routine maintenance costs for services like oil changes and air filter and brake replacements, domestic brands are often cheaper than imports, particularly when it comes to luxury models. "The difference in cost between some European imports and domestic brands is particularly stark," says John Ibbotson, CR's chief mechanic. For example, the prices for the first two scheduled maintenance services for a 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300—a European luxury import—at a dealership in Union, N.J., are $585 at 10,000 miles and $1,050 at 20,000 miles. The price of the first two scheduled maintenance services for the 2023 Lincoln Corsair—a domestic luxury SUV—at a nearby Lincoln dealer is $130 at 10,000 and 20,000 miles.

CR's advice: Among gas-powered vehicles, American, Japanese, and Korean nonluxury models tend to cost the least to maintain and repair. If you want to buy a luxury car, Lincoln and Buick have much lower maintenance costs than most, and Lexus—known for reliability—has maintenance costs lower than the average for luxury brands.

2. EVs and Hybrid Cars Cost the Least to MaintainEVs and hybrids will not only save money on fuel but also cost less to maintain than their conventional rivals. EVs don't require regular oil, filter, and fluid changes—a big part of the maintenance and repair budget for a gas vehicle. On average, hybrid cars cost only slightly more to maintain than EVs over a 10-year period ($2,785 vs. $2,320). And a typical hybrid car owner will save nearly $1,000 in maintenance costs over 10 years compared with a hybrid SUV owner.

CR's advice: An EV is a great way to save on fuel, repair, and maintenance costs. Buying a reliable hybrid car can save you almost as much in maintenance and repairs.

3. Cars With Sport and Premium Trims Cost More to Buy—and to RepairThe larger wheels that come with sport and premium trims give your car a flashier look but come with more expensive tires that are more likely to sustain damage from potholes and other road hazards. You can buy the 2023 Toyota RAV4 with either 17-inch or 19-inch wheels. Replacing the 19s with a set of the same original equipment tires will cost over $200 more—a difference that could snowball if you hit a lot of potholes that damage the tires and wheels. High-tech features that come with premium trims, such as massaging seats and adaptive suspensions, are nice to have, but the more complex the features, the more likely they are to fail, says CR mechanic and longtime master technician Mike Crossen. And that can cost you: The optional adaptive suspension on the Audi Q5 can cost around $2,000 to repair.

CR's advice: Consider whether you really need larger wheels or tires. Chances are you don't. If you want the high-tech premium features that come with some luxury cars and higher trim levels, be sure to choose a model rated high for reliability in CR's ratings.

4. Pay Close Attention to Maintenance and Repair Costs When Buying UsedA reliable new car will run well for years without much more than regular oil changes and occasional tire and brake replacements. But somewhere around 80,000 to 100,000 miles, manufacturers start to recommend replacing things like spark plugs, coolant, and timing belts. These jobs can quickly become expensive if you buy an older car, especially if you purchase a model with higher-than-average maintenance costs.

CR's advice: If you’re buying a used car that is approaching or has reached the 80,000- to 100,000-mile range, check its service records to see which big-ticket items have been—or will soon need to be—addressed.

5. Check Independent and Chain Repair Shops for Lower PricesDealership service departments typically do good work but have historically been the most expensive option. An independent repair shop may be able to do the work at a better price than a dealership service department. Many national chains, such as Goodyear Auto Service, Jiffy Lube, and NAPA AutoCare Center, work on a wide variety of car brands and vehicle types and are often more affordable than dealerships. (See our car repair shop ratings.)

CR's advice: You can find a reputable repair shop in your area with CR's Car Repair Assistant search tool. If you prefer to have your car serviced at a dealership, be sure to shop around. "Dealerships have a lot of discretion on pricing," Crossen says. We found that replacing front brakes on a 2023 Lincoln Corsair cost about $725 at a dealership in New Jersey, while just across the river, in New York, another dealership was offering the same service for $550.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Benjamin Preston

Benjamin Preston has been a reporter with the Consumer Reports autos team since 2020, focusing on new and used car buying, auto insurance, car maintenance and repair, and electric bikes. He has covered cars since 2012 for the New York Times, Time, the BBC, the Guardian, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Jalopnik, and others. Outside CR, he maintains his own small fleet of old cars and serves as a volunteer firefighter, specializing in car crash response and vehicle extrication.

1. Domestic Brands Often Cost Less to Maintain and Repair Than Foreign Brands CR's advice: 2. EVs and Hybrid Cars Cost the Least to Maintain CR's advice: 3. Cars With Sport and Premium Trims Cost More to Buy—and to Repair CR's advice: 4. Pay Close Attention to Maintenance and Repair Costs When Buying Used CR's advice: 5. Check Independent and Chain Repair Shops for Lower Prices CR's advice: Editor's Note: