Taking a Look at the Most and Least Expensive Cars to Own

2016 BMW 340i

There are some things we replace, and other things we repair. I have no qualms replacing a toothbrush every couple months, or buying a new pair of running shoes after a few hundred miles. When it comes to more expensive items, however, my point of view shifts dramatically. Companies like Patagonia have made a strong push against disposable merchandise, offering repair services for their products and encouraging shoppers to fix their gear rather than just throwing it away and buying replacements. It’s a commendable, environmentally friendly decision—and considering the price tags on Patagonia products, one that’s appreciated by shoppers, too.

Of course, when it comes to repairing vs. replacing, nothing trumps the auto industry. Drivers spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars per year keeping their cars on the road and, try as a I might, I just can’t visualize disposable cars showing up anytime soon. YourMechanic.com connects car owners with mechanics and in doing so has amassed an impressive data set breaking down the average cost of ownership by brand and specific model, including the maladies that most commonly afflict each brand.

It doesn’t come as much surprise, but luxury brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Cadillac cost the most to own over a 10-year period. But the gap between BMW and everyone else is incredible. The price difference between the Bavarian automaker(#1) and Mercedes(#2) is greater than the difference between Mercedes (#2) and Hyundai (#20). This kind of discrepancy tells a lot about the power of brand loyalty in the auto industry. If a MacBook cost that much more to maintain than competing laptops, Apple would have needed more than Steve Jobs to stay relevant.

When YourMechanic breaks things down by specific model, however, the story gets slightly more interesting. It’s easy to assume that a luxury car will cost more to maintain over time, especially when you consider how their greater upfront costs will encourage owners to maintain rather than replace them. A glance at the disparity between some of the models and the average cost of the manufacturer, however, makes us wonder exactly what’s driving the cost up. The average Chrysler might only cost $10,600 to maintain over 10 years, but the Sebring ran up an average cost of $17,100. Likewise, a Subaru averages $8,200, but the Forester comes in at 4 grand more.

On the reliable side of things, of course, lie the least-expensive cars to maintain. Equally unsurprising, the Toyota Prius leads the pack at $4,300 over 10 years, and the Honda Fit rolls in at number 4, costing only $5,500. As someone who regularly drives a Fit with over 80,000 miles, I can attest to the car’s reliability; every time I hear a squeal, squeak, grind, or rattle, I expect the worst, but have yet to bear the burden of an expensive fix.

The best part of YourMechanic’s analysis, however, has to be its breakdown of most-common car issues by brand. While this information can definitely be helpful if you’re looking to diagnose specific issues, like a BMW’s window regulators or a Mercury’s fuel pumps, my favorite problem is that which most often plagues Jaguars: the infuriatingly ambiguous “check engine light is on.”

How much does the future cost of ownership impact your car-shopping decisions?

-Matt Smith

Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.

Used BMW
Used Mercedes-Benz
Used Cadillac
Used Hyundai
Used Chrysler Sebring
Used Subaru Forester
Used Toyota Prius
Used Honda Fit

5 Comments

  1. I can’t find Porsche anywhere on any of the lists above, but there are plenty of other relatively low-volume automakers not listed, too: Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Fiat, Koenigsegg, Lamborghini, McLaren, Pagani, Rolls-Royce, and Tesla, among others, are all missing from those lists.

    • The list is of cars that Average Americans buy or find affordable based upon their need to stretch their income as far as possible, but capped on the top end in relative cash flow. Please, factor that into your decisions.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Dave. I often tell folks looking to buy reliable cars that a car’s reliability has as much to do with how it’s driven and maintained as it does how (or where) it was manufactured.

    I always thought the Jeep Liberty was a bit of an unsung hero, and it’s great to hear yours has proved so reliable. I’m hoping the Fit doesn’t need too much TLC in the next 100K (full disclosure: I don’t personally own the Fit). It’s held up pretty well thus far, but city-living can be particularly rough on cars.

  3. In the original article on YourMechanic, they entered a poignant last comment about how a vehicle is driven and maintained often effects the reliability and costs. They forgot that vehicle popularity also plays a role. A low volume Mitsubishi costs much more to maintain because of the scarcity of after-market parts. I learned that lesson through painful experience.

    As an owner of a 2004 Jeep Liberty 4X4 with 180,000 miles on it, with no major reliability or repair issues, I really question the value of your analysis. If your Fit goes 100,000 miles more, I would like to see if you will spend more on brakes, radiators, exhaust systems, tires and front end then my Jeep will ever cost me. Just to be fair, I did have to jump my Jeep for a dead battery twice in 13 years (my father’s Toyota did that in 3 years). And, the check engine light does come on every 2 years because the gas cap gets dirty or the rubber dries out. It is a $17.00 part from Chrysler to replace. Let’s bang on Chrysler for not using a better rubber.

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