Vehicle Maintenance Costs

Which Cars Have the Best and Worst Maintenance Costs Relative to Their Value?

January 04, 2023

Buying a car is an important decision to make. There are so many factors to consider in whether a vehicle is right for you, from safety to practicality. A Statista consumer survey found that Americans prioritize fuel efficiency, safety and cost when it comes to the auto market, but what about reliability?

Consumer Reports’ annual data tests more than 300,000 vehicles a year and found that Lexus, Mazda and Toyota are the most reliable brands you can buy in the U.S. There are considerable advantages to owning a low-maintenance vehicle. You don’t have to worry about frequent breakdowns, and they are more likely to hold their value in the long run.

This is beneficial in a world where buying and owning cars is more expensive than ever. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, new car prices are reaching record highs, and the American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that maintenance alone will cost the average driver $800 per year. To find out which new vehicles on the market offer the best value for money when it comes to repairs, ClunkerJunker analyzed data for 185 of the most common cars you can buy.

What We Did

To find out which cars are cheapest and most expensive to service relative to their value, we reviewed maintenance cost data from the last 10 years of the 185 most popular standard and luxury cars in the U.S. Both the maintenance and vehicle price data were sourced from CarEdge — an aggregator of the auto industry’s leading data providers.

Key Findings

  • Toyotas are the cheapest to maintain** in the long run, costing just 13.5% of their average worth over 10 years, while fellow Japanese brand Mitsubishi is the most expensive, with maintenance at 29.5% of the average car’s value.
  • Tesla’s long-term reliability makes them the cheapest luxury brand to maintain, costing just 7.1% of their value, while BMWs will cost you 25.3% of their price in upkeep over a decade.
  • The Toyota Land Cruiser is America’s cheapest non-luxury car to keep in working order — it will set you back just 7.3% of its original value over a 10-year span.
  • Tesla’s famous Model S is the cheapest luxury vehicle, with maintenance costing just 4.6% of its value in a decade.

Toyotas Are the Cheapest to Maintain from New — But Choose Japanese Brands Wisely

In 2022, Japanese marque Toyota surpassed historic automotive giant General Motors as the best-selling brand in the United States — a distinction it held dating back to 1931. Toyota was better equipped to handle the downturn in the global supply chain as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic — largely caused by a shortage of microchips. They continue to produce some of the best-selling cars in the country — the Camry and RAV-4 being two such examples.

Car Maintenance Costs - Popular Brands

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Our analysis shows that Toyota also surpasses GM in maintenance costs. The average vehicle from the Japanese brand costs 13.4% of its value to maintain over a 10-year span, while GMCs — which specializes in trucks and SUVs, cost slightly more at 14.3% to maintain throughout the decade.

However, not all Japanese brands are cheap to maintain. While Nissan is the third cheapest (17.4% over 10 years), Mitsubishi is the most expensive. An average model of theirs will set you back 29.4% of its value over a decade. While famed for their reliability, CarEdge reports that Mitsubishi’s average maintenance costs surpass the industry average by $962.

Teslas Take the Crown as the Best-Value Luxury Car to Maintain

Under the management of CEO Elon Musk, Tesla’s meteoric growth continues to astound the auto industry, becoming just the sixth company in U.S. commercial history to reach a market cap of $1 trillion. In August 2022, they announced they have made over three million cars and look set to dominate the industry for decades to come as a pioneer in electric vehicles.

Car Maintenance Costs - Luxury Brands

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While a brand-new Tesla won’t come cheap — prices start at $47,000, our data shows that they are comfortably the most affordable luxury marque when it comes to maintenance. The average Tesla will set you back just 7.1% of its average value over 10 years — less than Lexus (12.3%), a brand consistently accredited for their reliability.

If you’re thinking of buying German, be prepared for a mixed bag. With a reputation for reliability among luxury brands, our data shows that Porsche models are cheaper than their German counterparts to maintain — costing just 17.3% of their value over a decade, marginally less than Mercedes-Benz (18.6%).

However, BMWs are the most expensive, with the average model from the Munich-based marque costing a quarter (25.3%) of their value to keep running over 10 years. Their industry reputation for high maintenance costs is well known, thanks to the use of synthetic motor oil and complex engineering techniques that make auto parts costlier and more difficult to source for auto service shops.

Toyota Makes Eight of America’s Ten Cheapest Cars to Maintain

With its origins dating back to the Korean War in the 1950s, Toyota’s Land Cruiser has always been a byword for reliability. In 2019, the brand sold its 10 millionth model of their famous SUV, and it’s a vehicle that is relied upon by drivers all over the world for their reliability and longevity. Our data also shows that over a decade, the Land Cruiser offers the best maintenance value you can get of any popular model, costing just 7.3% of its value to run over 10 years.

In fact, Toyotas dominate the list of cheapest cars to maintain, with eight of them in our top 10. Both their full-size SUV Sequoia to their high-performance sports Supra will both cost around 8.5% of their value to keep running over a decade, demonstrating reliability across their entire range of vehicles.

Car Maintenance Costs - Popular Models

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Meanwhile, Dodge and their truck spin-off RAM offer some of the most expensive vehicles on the market to keep running. Despite discontinuing the ProMaster City van model in 2022, we found it to be the most expensive vehicle in the country to maintain — costing 62% of its value in upkeep. Four other RAM vehicles — the ProMaster Cargo Van, 2500, 4500 and 5500 trucks — are also among the costliest to maintain.

BMW’s Sport Utility Range is Costliest to Maintain

Bavarian marque BMW made their first entry into the SUV market with the X5 in 1999, taking advantage of their acquisition of Land Rover — traditionally the market leader in this space. Today, SUVs dominate the vehicle purchasing landscape, and brands are accommodating this by expanding their range in the market.

Unfortunately for BMW, three of these cars are the most expensive to maintain, according to our data. The X1 (42%), X2 (39.9%) and X3 (38.8%) will all cost considerable chunks of their original value to keep running over a 10-year period. Only the Mercedes-Benz Metris van, which will be discontinued in the U.S. market, is as costly to maintain. It sets its owners back 37.9% of its value over the same span.

Car Maintenance Costs - Popular Models

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At the opposite end of the spectrum, Tesla’s range is the cheapest to maintain, with the entry-level hatchback Model S costing just 4.6% of its value to maintain over a decade, slightly less than the SUV Model X (5.1%). Interestingly, several high-performance vehicles are among the least expensive models. The Nissan GT-R (5.2%), Audi S8, Chevrolet Corvette (both 7.5%) and Porsche 911 (8.7%) cost less than a tenth of their showroom value to keep running for over 10 years, despite their powerful engines.

New Cars are More Expensive Than Ever — But Don’t Forget Maintenance Costs

Buying a new car is exciting, but the cost of keeping it maintained is often overlooked. Not only do auto repair shops vary in price depending on your state, but some brands will also eat away further into your hard-earned cash every time the ‘check engine’ light comes on. You can see our full data set below, including the brands and models which have the best and worst maintenance costs relative to their value.

Choosing a new car is always an important decision. With prices surging to record highs following the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to research the market thoroughly before deciding on a purchase. Whether you’re looking for something small to get you from A to B, a spacious vehicle to fit around your family or something sport to have some fun, make sure you choose the right one for your needs.

Methodology

To determine the cars with the best and worst maintenance costs relative to their value, The Clunker Junker reviewed data on 10-year maintenance costs from CarEdge for 185 of the most popular standard and luxury car models in the United States.

We calculated the 10-year maintenance cost for each model as a percentage of the average price of a new model. Data on the average price for new models came from the CarEdge loan calculator.

Average prices for brands were calculated using prices for all individual models within that brand. Fiat was excluded from the analysis due to the small sample size. CarEdge maintenance cost data is aggregated from millions of automotive data points from a variety of the auto industry’s leading data providers.

The data was gathered in September 2022.