How to Budget for Vehicle Maintenance and Unexpected Repairs

You worked hard and bought the car you have longed for so long, but may have not given thought to the cost of maintenance when considering how your new ride would impact your budget.

Ideally, you would earmark some of your savings for maintenance, and only use the funds for those reasons. If the money is in dedicated accounts, you are less likely to tap into those funds for any other uses.

The hard part is making the commitment to save for maintenance in the first place. It requires a thorough review of your finances and a monthly budget, and sometimes a sacrifice of disposable income to find room for the savings.

Once you have decided to create a maintenance fund, figuring out how much you need to save is the next important step.

Vehicle Maintenance

A survey by AAA found that one-third of drivers in the US could not afford an unexpected car repair. This statistic isn’t meant to scare you, only to highlight the importance of creating and building a vehicle-maintenance fund (and how many people struggle with doing the same).

But just like your home, your vehicle needs repair and maintenance from time to time, and you will save yourself a lot of stress by having money tucked away for eventual vehicle repair bills. Here are a few different ways to calculate just how much money you should set aside for vehicle maintenance.

A General Industry Estimate

AAA recommends that you save at least $50 a month, per vehicle, to cover routine maintenance and prevent you from having to go into debt when your vehicle needs a repair. But a one-size-fits-all estimate for maintenance is somewhat subjective, and certain factors could push that $50 figure upward. Those include:

  • Make and model. For example, a Honda most likely will cost less to maintain than a BMW to own, maintain, and repair.
  • Age. The older a vehicle, the more maintenance it more than likely may require.
  • Condition. The care a vehicle received early in its life could impact future maintenance.
  • Driving behavior. The harder you drive a vehicle, the greater the likelihood of more maintenance issues.

This is a good, budget-friendly baseline approach to getting started on a savings plan. It may also be the riskiest in terms of having enough saved when it comes time to perform maintenance service on your vehicle.  

A Vehicle-Specific Estimate

A better approach is to research the suggested scheduled maintenance for a specific vehicle. Research based on your year, make, and model will tell you what regular maintenance needs to be performed and how often. Your list should include but is certainly not limited to:

  • Replacement tires
  • Tire rotations
  • Oil changes
  • Batteries
  • Brakes and brake pads
  • Factory-recommended maintenance.

Any vehicle’s owner’s manual will let you know when each of those components should receive maintenance. From there, you can get an idea of how much each of those services will cost you by Googling what local garages charge, then use that to estimate about how much you need to save per year for maintenance.

It’s Never Too Late To Start Saving

Maintaining your car is important to ensure the life of the vehicle. You could be left stretched thin if you don’t plan for it ahead of time, which is why it is important to start saving early for maintenance.

Even if you’ve owned your car for a while and haven’t begun saving yet, it’s better to start a little late than not save at all. And it doesn’t matter which approach you take to saving as long as you start somewhere. Doing so will help eliminate the financial stress of sudden maintenance or repairs.