It is a well-known fact that not all cars are created equal. Some are small, some are large, some have all-wheel-drive, and others have powerful engines; But even more than all these things, some cars are more reliable than others and cost less to own over their ownership period. This is important to know since you – the buyer – will have to pay those maintenance costs.
Most people spend more money on their vehicles than anything else they own – except their house – which translates to about 10% of their income with maintenance costs, insurance, and initial purchase price factored together.
Fortunately for you, sources like Consumer Reports and YourMechanic.com keep track of real-world maintenance costs over 10 years of ownership for just about every car from every automaker. Along with our list, these sources are crucial for helping you understand long-term buying risks for a potential vehicle purchase.
Cheapest Cars to Maintain in 2021
It may not come as a surprise to anybody, but generally, the cheapest cars to maintain over the course of ten years tend to be small cars from Japanese automakers such as Toyota, Lexus, and Honda. Other automakers that make vehicles with low maintenance costs include Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Mazda. Depending on the list, Hyundai and Kia often just make or just miss the top ten.
One of the largest reasons for this is that subcompact cars have fewer parts, less complication, and therefore, fewer things to go wrong. Toyota, Honda, Mazda, and Nissan manufacture many compact cars, ultimately bringing maintenance costs down. Additionally, these automakers offer some of the least expensive cars to buy upfront, free of extra features and overly complicated electronics.
Japanese reliability has been well-known for years. Even though this has changed slightly over the course of the past decade, Toyota, Lexus, Honda, and Mazda have continued to make strong showings on top reliability charts.
The Toyota Corolla is a compact sedan that should not surprise anybody when it comes to low annual maintenance costs. It appears in most top-five lists for low maintenance costs, with YourMechanic.com, Consumer Reports, and Car Edge all reporting 10-year repair costs of less than $6,000 total, and in many cases, much less.
This comes from a combination of Toyota’s excellent quality control, Corolla’s simple and reliable drivetrain, and its small size. All add up to low repair costs, even if a larger component of the vehicle were to fail.
The Honda Fit is another undisputed all-start that appears on just about every top ten list of the cheapest cars to maintain through ten years of ownership. Its subcompact size is not only conducive to a smaller amount of equipment to go wrong, but it is also a superiorly practical vehicle for its size, making it a great used car choice for a new driver.
Powering the Fit has been Honda’s tiny 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Its reliability has been well-documented through the years and affords the subcompact car great fuel economy even if it only produces up to 130 horsepower in third-generation models.
The Nissan Versa is another subcompact Japanese offering, available as either a sedan or a hatchback. Before the Mitsubishi Mirage came back to the American market in 2017, the Versa was the cheapest car available. Despite the stigma that inevitably brings, the Versa has been a success, and its lack of complication leads to low repair costs over its lifetime of ownership.
Like the Fit, Nissan ensures that the Versa offers more space than its subcompact size would suggest, especially in the hatchback body style. Since 2013, the Versa has featured a small 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission, helping it return great fuel economy and a sub-$6,000 ten-year maintenance cost, according to YourMechanic.com.
Toyota continues to dominate the low maintenance cost top ten lists with the Camry, good news for those who need a new car that offers more space than the Corolla. Depending on the list, the midsize Toyota Camry even undercuts the Corolla when comparing ten-year maintenance costs.
For how many Camrys are sold each year, it is shocking how few consistent, documented issues the car has, regardless of whether it is equipped with the four or six-cylinder option. Neither option offers stellar performance nor does the Camry as a whole feature mind-blowing technology, but that is the point, and the result is that it benefits from low ownership costs.
Despite being larger and more luxurious than the Camry, the Toyota Avalon is a good alternative for those who need more space and comfort as it too is rated highly for its low maintenance costs.
Many sources that compile maintenance cost data, including Consumer Reports and YourMechanic.com, rate the Toyota Prius as the best or one of the best cars when it comes to low repair costs and low annual maintenance costs. Additionally, it is the only hybrid that consistently makes the cut when it comes to the least expensive cars to maintain.
Obviously, the Prius is known for its stellar fuel economy with its hybrid powertrain, but it shares its gasoline engine with the base Corolla, helping give it the same high marks for typical Toyota reliability as found in its sibling.
The Honda Civic is another car that is traditionally known for its reliability. Though it has fallen behind its main rival, the Toyota Corolla, it remains a solid choice for a low maintenance cost option. Both the Civic and its big brother, the Honda Accord, fall within the middle-$6,000 ten-year car maintenance range according to YourMechanic.com data.
Despite slightly higher overall average maintenance and repair costs than the Corolla, most car reviewers give the Civic higher marks for driving engagement, performance, styling, interior refinement, and base model fuel economy in post-2016 refreshed models.
The subcompact Toyota Yaris consistently gives the Prius a run for its money on most lists as the cheapest car to maintain over a 10-year period. It is the epitome of simple, reliable transportation, but its simplicity is seen by many as the reason they pass it over for other larger, more comfortable, more feature-rich models.
2020 was the last model year for the Yaris, which was actually a rebadged Mazda 2 sedan brought over from the defunct Scion name in 2017 – the Yaris hatchback remained a true Toyota model through 2019. Its tiny size, simple drivetrain, relatively few features, and Toyota quality continue to be the theme for low maintenance costs.
Mitsubishi is no longer a major Japanese manufacturer in the North American market. They do sell vehicles, but most are crossover SUVs. The exception is the Mitsubishi Mirage, one of the smallest and cheapest cars new cars currently available. With its low initial cost, comes a low annual maintenance cost.
The Mirage comes with a sub-$5,000 ten-year maintenance cost according to Car Edge, and understandably so. There is almost nothing to the Mirage besides its tiny three-cylinder engine and equally tiny wheels. It does come with a ten-year warranty, which also helps with maintenance costs, but it just does not offer as much as other subcompact cars in just about every other area.
The Kia Soul is a funky, fun-loving car that caters to younger buyers without the capital to purchase a larger vehicle. Even though it is technically considered a crossover SUV, it only comes with front-wheel drive. Like the Honda Fit, it makes incredible use of its subcompact size while also carrying Kia’s 10-year warranty.
Ten-year maintenance costs fall right in line with Honda Fit’s as well, according to Consumer Reports. This puts it squarely on the radar of those who need a low overall average cost of ownership, and the warranty always helps with any unexpected repair costs that do happen to arise.
The Toyota Tacoma is not as popular as the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and RAM 1500, but it has all of them beat in the maintenance costs department. Granted, it is not a full-size truck like any of the big three, but it remains the most popular midsize truck, in large part because of its well-known reliability.
It takes a page from the rest of the Toyota lineup, contributing to Toyota’s stellar overall low maintenance cost scores. It even beats in-house rivals like the RAV4, Highlander, and 4Runner, as well as fellow Japanese rivals like the Honda Ridgeline, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Frontier according to YourMechanic.com.
Most Expensive Cars to Maintain in 2021
Unfortunately, the other end of the maintenance spectrum exists, and there are plenty of vehicles that require quite a bit more to keep them running. Many luxury automakers, perhaps unsurprisingly make up the majority of this list, mostly because their vehicles have more features, have more complicated systems, often have larger engines, and generally feature more moving parts.
The major maintenance culprits are BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Volvo. With the exception of Lexus, both Infiniti, and Acura, the sister companies of otherwise known-to-be reliable automakers, also fall fairly high on the excessive maintenance cost brand list. Even automakers like Chrysler, Dodge, Chevrolet and Ford fall within the higher end of the list for automakers with models that come with high maintenance costs.
It should be noted that even though maintenance costs are often associated with reliability, not every vehicle that carries higher maintenance costs is a bad vehicle. Some require special service work and require higher than normal labor hours. Still, there are some vehicles that are just less reliable than others and take quite a bit to stay running.
FCA, Chrysler’s parent company, has been ranked by consumer reports as one of the least reliable automakers for several years now. YourMechanic.com has documented the average ten-year ownership cost of Chrysler vehicles at over $10,000, and the 300 falls into the mix.
The full-size Chrysler 300 is a nice car. It is very much a classic American luxury car dolled up to look like a modern cruiser, even though it cannot quite reach the luxury levels of German automakers. Its shortcoming is the average $12,000 average cost of maintenance over ten years of ownership, according to YourMechanic.com.
Audi A4 Allroad/Audi A4 Quattro:
The original Audi Allroad was based on the larger A6, and it was riddled with problems, one of the most notable being the suspension system. The smaller A4 Allroad came in 2009 and got a little better, but both the regular A4 Quattro and A4 Allroad still retain their fair share of unexpected repair costs and higher than average annual maintenance costs.
RepairPal finds that both the average repair cost and frequency of owner visits to the mechanic are higher and more frequent than comparable midsize luxury cars. The severity of these issues also tends to be slightly higher than normal. Even though the A4 is a nice car and offers a bit more sensibility than other German competitors, maintenance costs are still above average.
Even though the Acura TL might seem like a Honda Accord that is dressed up – which it basically is – it also comes with more of just about everything to quench the luxury car buyers’ desire for a little extra. Transmission issues and engine oiling issues have traditionally been the shortcomings of the TL despite its Honda underpinnings.
The TL often flies under the radar compared to other luxury cars, but plenty of people are still interested in them, especially when looking for an entry-level luxury used car. Owners can expect to pay over $12,000 in maintenance costs over a ten-year ownership period despite the initial average cost for used examples being quite reasonable.
Many people expect sports cars to be more expensive to maintain because they are more specialized vehicles. Though this is not always the case, it may surprise many people that the Ford Mustang is one of the worst offenders when it comes to maintenance costs. Ford, as a whole, comes in at middle-of-the-pack for automakers’ average lineup maintenance costs.
Though V6 Mustangs are often overlooked by purists, those with four-cylinder engines produce quite a bit of power for their size, and the 5.0-liter Coyote engines have experienced their fair share of unexpected – and expected – faults, especially with the 2018 refresh. Average ten-year maintenance costs almost reach $12,000 according to YourMechanic.com.
The Subaru Forester might be the most surprising entry on this list, but it is rated by almost every source, including Consumer Reports, for being one of the costliest crossover SUVs in terms of average maintenance costs. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Subaru Legacy and Outback both share in Consumer Reports costly maintenance lists.
Despite Forester’s well-respected name and good reputation, Subaru’s continued use of the boxer engine has proven to be less than ideal compared to more conventional powerplants. Head gasket issues and excessive oil consumption have both affected the Forester to some extent in the past, and electrical gremlins continue to cause problems for owners.
Volkswagens are known for their German refinement at prices comparable to affordable cars that Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Chevrolet offers. But the Volkswagen Group also owns Audi, and the result is that many of Volkswagen’s vehicles utilize some of the same powertrains as do Audi vehicles.
Like many other German automakers, the cars are often overengineered and complicated, forcing owners to pay more for repairs, potentially paving the way for more complicated vehicle systems to fail. The Passat becomes a victim to its German roots despite its reasonable price tag, and poor resale values for used cars are reflective of this.
BMW 3 Series:
The BMW 3 Series is one of the more popular and well-known sedans that BMW makes. They are certainly nice, but for their popularity and the relatively low price tag for being a luxury vehicle, they require higher than average repair costs and annual maintenance costs to keep running well.
Even though they come with many nice features, BMW has found ways to cut costs under the hood by using plastic parts where more durable metal components used to exist. Over time, this causes oil leaks, and labor costs associated with engine access can skyrocket quickly. The same general issues are linked to the BMW 5 Series and rival Mercedes-Benz C and E-Class cars.
Dodge Grand Caravan:
The Dodge Grand Caravan may come as another surprise on this list because it has been around for a long time, it is relatively simple, it does not have any frills or extraordinary features, and it is a common minivan. But unfortunately for it, it falls under the FCA umbrella with Fiat and Chrysler, one of Consumer Reports' worst overall automakers for reliability.
Believe it or not, the Grand Caravan still falls behind the Honda Odyssey, according to Consumer Reports, when it comes to overall average maintenance costs over ten years of ownership. Despite this, the Odyssey offers more refinement and features than the Grand Caravan, as well as higher resale value.
Most people expect that an exotic supercar would cost quite a bit to maintain anyway, and most true exotic sports cars and supercars do cost much more in maintenance than regular vehicles. The 911 is special because even though it is very much a supercar, it is quite usable and not quite as pricey as some other models that Lamborghini, Ferrari, and McLaren offer.
Those who choose to buy a Porsche 911 will most likely have more than enough money to keep up with the average maintenance costs of close to $20,000 per year, according to Forbes. But this is still an astronomical cost to keep a car, albeit a special one, in good working order.
The RAM 1500 is yet another victim of the FCA Group, the same automaker that owns Fiat, Chrysler, and Jeep. Despite its popularity right behind the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150 full-size pickup trucks, the RAM 1500 slots well above both in annual maintenance costs.
With reports of over $13,000 average ten-year ownership costs by YourMechanic.com, the RAM 1500 struggles with multiple engine issues including valve management system issues, many owners have experienced unexpected repair costs.