I've previously discussed the idea of looking at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a car instead of focusing on just price. TCO looks at a few costs like fuel cost, depreciation, interest expense from financing, etc. One of the bigger functions of your ongoing costs for a car could be the repair and maintenance bills. Using TCO is great but sometimes the numbers aren't availalbe for certain years of used cars. So I wanted to get a sense of the maintenance costs. Less reliable brands or makes could have higher repair bills and some cars are more expensive to maintain than others. I wanted to try and get an idea of how different brands of cars compare as far as repair and maintenance costs.
To get an idea of repair and maintenance costs per brand I'm going to rely on the TCO data from Edmunds as a guide. I decided to look up some mid size sedans for each brands as examples. I picked one model car for each brand for starters. I got all of the repair and maintenance costs I'll look at today from the Edmunds TCO data. I looked up each car and noted the expected purchase price and the total repair and maintenance costs for the 5 year period. I chose to look at cars from 2008 so they would be a bit old and start to show some wear. Brand new cars won't have much in the way of repair bills and are still under warranty so comparing new cars won't be as meaningful. I picked 2008 since it was a few years ago and Edmunds had data for that year.
A few notes : The repair and maintenance costs are just forecasted estimates from Edmunds. They base it off reported repair rates and costs from customers of the cars. The numbers assume that current trends will continue. We're only looking at one year here and car reliability for brands changes over time so a specific brand car from 2013 or 2002 may be more or less reliable and that would impact the repair and maintenance costs. Lastly, of course these are just meant as average costs and everyones individual experiences will vary. Your car may be a lemon and cost you more or more often people will not see as high of repair costs. I assume that individual repair costs are often $0 and its the unlucky individuals with high repair bills that account for most of the costs in the averages. In other words a $4,000 repair bill is not typical, but its the average from a couple people one who has $200 in repairs and the other with $7800. (thats just an illustrative example, I don't know what the distribution is like). Again, these are just forecasted expectations from Edmunds and not actual observed costs. They're' trying to put a guess on how much people will spend moving forward based on the best data they have. The maintenance cost may be easier to predict since it is probably based on the manufacturer maintenance schedule and known average costs for service. Ok, enough explaining...
Here are the numbers for the sample models that I picked for each brand :
Bottom line is the combined cost of repair and maintenance for each car. Here are the cars sorted by total repair and maintenance cost over the 5 years :
One thing to consider is that it will cost more to repair a more expensive car. More expensive cars have more expensive parts. This would at least in part explain why luxury cars like Mercedes may cost more to repair. However we also see that more expensive cars like the Lexus or Infiniti cost substantially less to repair and maintain.
Now lets look at variations within a specific brand.
Here are a few Chrysler 2008 models :
You can see theres about $1400 difference between total repair and maintenance costs across the different Chrysler models here. Notice that the repair bills are mostly the same across the models at $2,554 for 4 different cars with only the 300C costing a couple hundred more. This makes sense because mostly repair costs are related to powertrain failures and the cars would use common powertrains. For example if a Pacifica and a Crossfire have the same 3.6L engine in them then the likelihood of engine repairs would be the same and the cost would be the same. Across these Chryslers the average total repair and maintenance is $7,405 and the high of $8,333 for the Crossfire is 13% more and the T&C minivan is 8% less. So for the Chrysler models I've looked at here the sum cost of repair and maintenance is $7,405 plus or minus 13%.
By comparison lets now look at one of the more pricey brands and compare some BMW models.
For these BMW's the average total cost is $16,399. The range is +8% at $17,704 for the 528i and -7% less at $15,225 for the Z4. You'll notice that the repair costs are flat at $7,743 for all the BMW's that I looked at.
Lastly I'll look at the Kia brand which had the lowest combined cost across the brands I sampled initially. For 5 different Kias we get :
The average is $6,119 and it varies +/-10% between the high of $6,724 for the Rio and a low of $5,517 for the Optima.
So thats 3 different brands I looked at several models from, the Chryslers, BMW and Kia. For each brand the repair costs are the same across all models for the brand. I guess this is due to Edmunds assuming that repairs will be based on the engine design and quality which is generally the same across models for a brand. Overall the total costs for repair and maintenance of a particular model car tend to vary about +/-10% from the average for the brand.
Now I've only looked at 3 brands in more detail here, and there could be some other brands that have wider variance in the expected repair and maintenance costs. But I think its a fairly safe bet that most if not all brands follow this trend of having about +/-10% variation between models.