Car Buying

Buying a Used Car: Check the Maintenance Costs Before You Buy

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2015

There are a lot of things you need to do before buying a used car, such as choosing the right vehicle, securing financing, getting a mechanical inspection, negotiating a price and taking a long, thorough test drive. While we don't want to add to the stress of car buying, we think there's also one more thing you should put on your checklist before buying a used car: Finding out what it costs to maintain it. Here's why.

Higher Than Expected?

The primary reason we suggest checking a car's maintenance costs before you sign the papers is that they could end up costing a lot more than expected. This is especially true if you're coming from a mainstream model and you're now buying a high-end luxury car with oil changes that cost $100 or more (very possible due to synthetic oil and larger engines).

Of course, if you're switching from an older Honda Civic to a newer model, for example, you probably won't find dramatically different maintenance costs. If you're upgrading to a more expensive car, one with a larger engine or a performance model, you might find that maintenance is more expensive than you expected. That's something you'll want to learn before you buy the car, not when you're standing at the dealership looking at a pricy bill.

Check Repair Costs, Too

It isn't just maintenance costs you'll want to check. If something breaks on your new vehicle, how much will repairs cost? Is a simple item, such as a window regulator, going to cost $500 because it's difficult to install and labor costs are high for the brand you're choosing? Does the car you want have a common problem with the air conditioning going out that requires a $2,000 fix? Once again, these are items you'll want to know about before staring at a big repair bill.

How to Check

So how do you check repair and maintenance costs before buying a car? Believe it or not, it can be surprisingly easy. For maintenance costs, call or visit a dealership or mechanic who services the car you're thinking about buying. Explain the situation: You're buying a car and want to know what costs you should expect from oil changes, brakes, fluid changes, tires and other similar items. These items are fairly common, and most dealers or mechanics will be able to quickly provide an estimate.

As for repair costs, we first suggest visiting online car forums or talking to owners of similar vehicles to find out what parts commonly fail or break on the car you're considering. Once you have a list of these issues, ask your dealer or mechanic for estimates on repairing them.

Our Take

Buying a used car can be a stressful process, but owning a used car can be stressful too if you aren't sure how much it's going to cost you to perform simple maintenance or basic repairs. As a result, we highly suggest that you find out what some of these items cost before signing the papers on your next used car.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Used Car: Check the Maintenance Costs Before You Buy - Autotrader