Cheapest To Most Expensive Car Brands To Maintain Long Term

Amidst a recent whirlwind of car maintenance expenses with my trusty nine-year-old Range Rover Sport, I embarked on a quest to find the most budget-friendly car brands for long-term upkeep. I'm on a mission to squirrel away as much cash as possible over the next three years to regain some financial freedom.

Thankfully, Consumer Reports recently released its Annual Auto Survey, polling members on their maintenance and repair expenses over the past year. Here's the lowdown:

According to the data, Land Rover takes the crown as the most expensive car brand for long-term maintenance! Whoo hoo! While I've always championed striving for the top spot in something, I can't say I'm thrilled to discover that I'm driving the priciest vehicle to maintain.

Cheapest Car Brands To Maintain Long Term - Tesla is the cheapest and Land Rover Is the most Expensive

The Cost of Car Maintenance Is Outrageously Expensive

The survey question may leave us scratching our heads: Did respondents really spend that much on maintenance and repairs in just one year, or is it a cumulative expense over the vehicle's lifespan per five-year segment?

The figures likely represent total expenses over periods like 1-5 years or 6-10 years. I mean, let's be real, no average Range Rover owner is shelling out $15,000 a year for five years straight! Instead, they've likely spent $15,000 over a five-year period on repairs and maintenance.

Either way, from the cheapest to the most expensive, every cost after the five-year mark seems exorbitant. I may have to rethink my belief that the ideal length of time to own a car is 10 years. Or at least, if one plans to own a car for the long term, to consider not owning a luxury car brand.

The Unexpected Champions of Car Affordability

As a long-time Tesla shareholder, I'm happy to see it emerge as the most budget-friendly car brand for both short and long-term maintenance. Plus, having a Tesla charger built into my new home is nudging me toward considering one for my next ride.

That said, Tesla's lineup could use a refresh. Aside from the Cybertruck, their models feel outdated and lackluster. Where's the Roadster and Model 2 already? Everyone seems to be driving a Tesla these days, and the novelty has worn off faster than a Civic on cruise control.

Buick, Lincoln, Ford, and Chevrolet popping up among the top 10 cheapest car brands to maintain is quite the revelation. U.S. automakers don't enjoy the best reliability reputation, so this Consumer Reports revelation might just sway some skeptics.

I've got my eye on the new Jeep Grand Cherokee once it gets a redesign. It's one of those cars that takes me back to my high school days. Back then, only the rich kids rolled in 4Runners and Grand Cherokees; I was stuck pedaling my bike or driving a beat-up Toyota FX16 hatchback.

The Most Expensive Car Brands To Maintain

Land Rover takes the crown as the priciest brand to maintain, a title that's not surprising. Following closely are the likes of Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, and Volvo. While Porsches may boast reliability, you'll have to dig deep into your pockets to keep that luxury running smoothly.

Having owned a Mercedes G500, BMW M3, and Volvo 850 GLT in the past, I can vouch for their penchant for issues, not unlike my current Range Rover Sport. It seems “luxury” comes with a hefty maintenance bill, no matter the brand.

At least I'm not just driving my Land Rover to just the supermarket. I'm constantly loading it up to do some landscaping work on my properties.

The Most Expensive Car Brands To Maintain - Land Rover
Using my 2015 RR Sport to pick up bags of rocks and mulch for a landscaping project

Perception Of Car Reliability and Maintenance May Be Influenced By Wealth

Ever found yourself pondering why people still flock to buy cars from Land Rover, Porsche, or Mercedes-Benz despite their hefty maintenance bills? It's a head-scratcher for anyone who values both their money and their time. After all, opting for a Toyota, Tesla, or Hyundai seems like the more rational choice.

Yet, the allure of performance, aesthetics, prestige, brand value, uniqueness, and sheer fun keeps these luxury brands flying off the lots. It's a mystery why some carmakers don't focus on crafting stylish, enjoyable rides.

For me, back in December 2016, the Range Rover Sport stole the show as the SUV with the best looks. Add with its stellar interior and top-notch four-wheel drive for family ski trips to Tahoe, I was sold. Had the Toyota Highlander Or Honda Passport matched its allure and capabilities at a fraction of the price, I might have gone that route to save on maintenance costs.

But here's the kicker: no matter the brand, unless you snagged a lemon, your car will age and wear down like the rest. However, if you're financially stretched thin, every little hiccup may feel like a major meltdown!

I know because as I was living paycheck to paycheck for six months, every house and car maintenance expense felt like an unfortunate disaster. It was as if I was cursed.

When Money's Tight, Complaints Run Rampant

The folks griping about luxury car reliability and maintenance likely find themselves in the financial pinch zone. Perhaps most can't comfortably afford these rides, perpetuating a cycle of discontent.

It's akin to the parent bemoaning private school tuition costs at every social gathering. The constant complaints stem from financial overstretching. Meanwhile, the parent who followed my grade school education advice in Buy This Not That sails through without a fuss.

Or think of the entitled alumna from a pricey private grade school and Ivy League university now griping for student loan forgiveness. The discordance between her choices and her expectations drives her mad.

Your level of wealth and financial security may warp your perception of how costly it is to maintain your car. Over the years, cars have gotten much more

Routine Maintenance: A Predictable Expense

In my two-decade journey with Land Rovers, sure, there were some electrical hiccups with my Discovery II. But with a bargain $8,000 purchase price in 2005, I comfortably handled maintenance costs over the next 11 years. Yes, trips to the shop weren't exactly fun, but they were expected. I didn't have to auction off organs to cover repairs.

Fast forward to my current Range Rover Sport: maintenance costs are higher, but so is my net worth. When I bought it in 2016, I had over a decade more of savings and investments behind me. So, handling maintenance expenses hasn't been stressful. But if I had to liquidate stocks or assets every time something broke, you can bet my opinion that Range Rover reliability would plummet.

If you follow my 1/10th rule for car buying, you should have no problems affording upcoming car maintenance and repair expenses. The rule is there to protect you from stretching to buy something you don't need.

If you follow my recommended House-To-Car Ratio of 50 or greater, you'll probably never end up having a problem affording your car either. Too many people don't think about the subsequent maintenance costs, tickets, and insurance costs that come with buying a car.

Car maintenance and repair expense, auto insurance prices, compared to overall consumer prices and inflation in America

Car Dependability Studies

Yes, I'm familiar with the “dependability studies” conducted by organizations like J.D. Power associates. In these studies, Land Rover consistently ranks at the bottom, while Tesla is listed as the fourth least dependable car brand. Interesting since Consumer Reports ranks Tesla as the least costly car brand to maintain. Maybe Teslas have gotten much more reliable since the J.D. Power report came out.

Given this contrast, however, it prompts us to question what dependability truly means. Are we solely considering instances of cars leaving their drivers and passengers stranded on the side of the road? I don't believe so. J.D. Power discusses problems per 100.

J.D. Power vehicle dependability study

My Unreliable Honda Fit That Was Supposed To Be Reliable

An anecdote that comes to mind is when my Honda Fit, a car known for its reliability, failed to start due to an issue with the engine firing up. Even after getting the problem fixed, it persisted, leaving me worried about driving long distances.

During my three years of owning the Honda Fit, I also had to send it into the shop for a recall issue with the front bumper. When I returned the car after the three-year lease was over, I was relieved. I could finally focus on driving my safer, more dependable Range Rover Sport to transport my newborn around.

Perhaps I'm hesitant to acknowledge the reality of the supposed unreliability of my dependable Land Rovers over the past 20 years. However, I strongly believe that one's ability to afford the inevitable expenses of car maintenance significantly shapes their perception of a car's reliability.

Budgeting $3,000 Annually for Car Repairs

According to the Consumer Reports survey, I should brace myself for potential car maintenance expenses totaling $15,000 over the next five years. That's an average of $3,000 per year. To account for inflation, let's make the budget $3,500 a year.

Now, $3,500 annually for car repairs may seem like a hefty sum. Yet, at this stage of my life, it's a cost I can comfortably pay from cash flow. Consequently, I'm less likely to perceive my Range Rover's issues as anything out of the ordinary. After shelling out around $1,500 in 2023 and $1,900 in 2024 for repairs, I've come to accept it as part of my yearly transportation costs.

The takeaway from exploring the cheapest car brands to maintain long-term is clear: buy a car within your means. Affordability doesn't just cover the purchase price; it encompasses ongoing maintenance and repair expenses throughout a car's lifespan.

If you want peace of mind, consider investing in an extended car warranty for added protection against unforeseen expenses. Alternatively, budgeting for inevitable repair costs provides a practical approach.

Today's cars boast greater reliability and safety compared to their predecessors. By aligning your car purchase with your financial means, you'll come to appreciate this aspect too.

Reader Questions And Suggestions

Do you believe your financial comfort level influences how you perceive a car's reliability and maintenance costs? Why else would cars with apparent reliability issues still maintain high sales figures? What vehicle do you currently drive, and how has your experience been with repairs and reliability? Are there any car brands on the maintenance cost list that surprise you? Does your ability to afford a car change the perception of a car's cost to maintain long term?

Instead of buying a fancy car you don't need, use your valuable cash to invest for your future. Check out Fundrise, a private real estate investing company that invests in residential and industrial real estate in the Sunbelt region. The Sunbelt region is a beneficiary of what I think will be a multi-decade demographic shift toward lower-cost areas of the country. You can dollar-cost average into real estate with just $10.

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38 thoughts on “Cheapest To Most Expensive Car Brands To Maintain Long Term”

  1. I believe states are looking at charging electric cars a fee to use roads since they do not pay taxes like people who buy gas. So this could kick up cost per year

  2. Driving an amg c63s for five years now. Zero issues so far only routine maintenance. Amazing fun. If it starts giving issues soon then may get rid of it. 4 doors and daily driver. Wouldn’t ever trade it for a boring ” reliable” Toyota. The family car is an R1S . Also amazing but annoying for road trips due to limited chargers etc. All machines/ engines break down. Don’t try to keep a car forever and expect zero issues. Unrealistic.

  3. I think we all go through stages Sam. While I was still working I drove a Volvo 850 GLT, which my wife totaled in a rollover accident that she and my two boys (ages 8 & 4) walked away from, an Audi S4 and a Porsche Cayman S. Now I drive a Subaru WRX, which is fast, maneuverable and safe and is great in the snow as I spend my winters at a NE ski area. Some of the members of my yacht club (where we mostly play pickle ball and party), make fun of me driving an 8 year old Subaru, as they all drive BMWs, Tesla’s, Porsche and Mercedes. I’m guessing some are also leveraged to the hilt. Meanwhile as long as my car is safe, economical and reliable, I’m happy with it. OBTW, my car just recently cost me about $1,200 in non-scheduled repairs, but like you, I’m shooting for 10-years before I buy a new car. Great insight, but I’m not sure the brand data is sufficient without model data as well.

  4. Had 3 Porches over the last 13 years. Extremely reliable but the regular maintenance is expensive. My Ford and Dodge SUV’s have also been reliable with a 1/4 of the maintenance cost.
    I was surprised to see Honda as the six worst dependable car. They seem to have lost their way on quality.

  5. I remember reading an article couple of years ago about how more millionaires drive the f150 more than any other vehicle. I know they get a bad rap at times but my wife drive Chevy Traverse. Zero issues first 50k on it. Last gm suv had easily over 120k on it. Have had a gm truck with 180k on it and same with Ford. My next one will also be another ford. Easy to maintain and the engines can take a beating and a lot of mileage if you maintain them.

      1. F150. Yeah everything is expensive now. Would consider something smaller but family of 5 here. I’ll buy another one and keep it for 10-15 years easily.

  6. I had a Range Rover the big one 2008 for 12 years and put on125,000 miles in that time it needed three sets of tires, a radiator, and the brakes and rotors were replaced twice. In addition, one of the air suspension shocks gave out, and that was it. When I finally traded it in the leather seats were cracking and headliner coming unglued. Only worth $5k on trade but was a great vehicle. Went with a very reliable 4Runner TRD Pro which works around town but miss Rover for roadtrips as quiet and more stable. Looking now at Lexus GX overtrail or Rivian R1T to replace 4Runner.

    1. Financial Samurai

      Good to hear about the reliability of your trusty Range Rover. I don’t count tires and brakes and rotors some thing out of the ordinary. Just normal wear and tear that everybody should be back into the longer they on their vehicles.

      Interesting perspective on the forerunner because that is one of the SUVs I’m looking to buy as well. But it sounds like you would rather have the new range rover instead. Boy, the new range rover big boy is a beauty.

      1. The 4Runner is great around town but unstable and dangerous at high speeds in rainy weather. I’m looking at the GX 550 overtrail or Rivian R1T. I’ve ruled out Land Rover products due to how expensive they have become.

          1. Caveat. Mine is a TRD pro with all terrain tires which is rear wheel drive with 4wd shift lever for use at lower speeds. Maybe the one to get for stability and road trips is a limited model with 4wd and all season tires. It’s the only one that is full time 4wd.

  7. Canadian Reader

    Love the Tesla model Y! I like it so much we are considering buying another one to replace our older ICE car.
    I really can’t understand any smear campaign against Tesla because of how much I love driving mine. The FSD is also super cool and is pretty advanced.
    It was like going from a rotary phone to the iPhone, or a canister vacuum to the dyson stick.
    The value of never dealing with the gas station also shouldn’t be underestimated.

    1. Financial Samurai

      Here’s hoping the Y gets a refresh like the Model 3, with the Highlander.

      They are just ubiquitous here in SF, and a result, are too boring for me. But I know they are great cars!

  8. I bought a used 2021 VW Golf for $16.8k / 65000 miles. Took it to mechanic and per advice, replaced transmission fluid and brake fluid, and did a walnut blast. After all that I’m wondering if it would have been more economical to buy new. Although, you can’t get the vanilla Golf anymore in the US, so I would have had to spring for the Golf GTI. That said, I love this car.

    1. The stuff you did doesn’t seem like it cost a lot. Enjoy the car and feel good knowing that you took it to a mechanic and got some new fluids.

      That does seem like a lot of miles after only three years though. But maybe that’s because I only have 52,500 miles on mine and it is a 2015.

  9. Everyone seems to have their own anecdotal experiences (personally, I’ve always driven Fords and in 20 years have never had an expense larger than new tires), but this is really interesting to see actual charts. My wife has been eyeballing Teslas for years, and this certainly helps.

    1. That’s good to hear! I just watched a TikTok video last night about a group of mechanics who said to never buy Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Dodge.

      So our experiences affect our perception of the future. And cars are more reliable today than before. The standards have just got up in terms of reliability, and that’s a good thing.

    2. Glad to hear you have positive experience with Fords. I used to drive Fords for 18 yrs (we had 4 of them) but after replacing transmissions in 3 (despite maintenance and 3x in one during my 240K miles ownership) and constantly repairing them I gave up. I also had two Dodge Caravans, one not so great but the other one held up well for 20 years with no rust and 165K miles. I like the looks of Ford Explorers but lacked courage to buy them. Since 2008, I drive only Japanese and Korean, made 750K miles on them with only two (2) repairs on all 9 in 16 yrs, both covered by warranty.

      No American car ever for us and that includes EVs, which are good to drive around town but generally useless for driving 500+ miles/day (500 is actually a short trip for me).

        1. Not every day, Sam. But when I drive usually once or twice a month I often make 600-1100 miles in a day.

        2. I totally agree. EVs are simply commuter vehicles except for those who are willing to stop frequently for extended periods. I too take long road trips and half hour to hour long stops are not acceptable unless they were every 500 miles or so. Even then it is still too long unless I really wanted to stop. I would not have a problem with owning an ev for the city and renting for long trips. I will be in Norway next week – it will be interesting to see the mix as they have the largest percentage of EVs in the world. It is a shame the US prices Chinese EVs out of the market. They build some excellent EVs for under 20k

  10. There’s a lot of effort to try and rationalise your purchase here!

    Land Rovers have never been particularly reliable, but the good thing about the older models was they were simple enough they could be fixed by any bush mechanic under any tree in Africa. I know – I had one, I took it to Africa, it broke down regularly, and it got fixed under a tree with a bit of spannering.

    Anything modern with an ECU, no chance of that.

    There’s an Australian joke that goes something along the lines of “if you want to go into the outback, take a Land Rover. If you want to come back, take a Toyota.”

    I no longer own a Land Rover. I have owned a number of Toyotas, and all have been basically faultless.

    The stats don’t lie, and I’m amazed people still buy JLR products. Maybe I’m unusual but I don’t see a Range Rover and think “ooh, prestigious”, I think, “impressive that thing is still running, wonder how much it’s cost them”…

    1. “if you want to go into the outback, take a Land Rover. If you want to come back, take a Toyota.”

      Hahaha, love it!

      But how your driving soul now that you drive a Toyota? And what type of Toyota is it?

      1. I have a Hilux (a Tacoma for the rest of the world)… I am not sure what that says about me other than “it’s practical”… I keep looking at getting a MR2 Spyder as a summer car. Toyota reliability but a bit more fun!

        The high rating of Teslas on those charts is interesting. I suspect they’re super reliable until the batteries go, and then they’re scrap. The batteries in EVs seem to have outlasted some of the early pessimistic predictions of lifespan, so it might be a few years yet before we start seeing too much of that.

  11. Your yearly mileage is much below the average American which explains your Land Rover maintenance costs. Wait a bit longer and you can almost guarantee the engine will implode as they almost always do.

  12. I dont recall reading the words “Trusty Land Rover” in a long time. maybe except for some of the late 80s models. Toyota is the clear winner.. best car company in the world hands down. You got it Toyota! Interested in learning more about long term maintinance Teslas.. they have been around long enough to have some good data now..

    1. Haha, well, now you have! After 20 years, they’ve been quite trusty to me.

      Toyotas are fantastic. They just lack some soul and fun. I figure, if I’m going to be driving so much now with kids, I at least one a car I really enjoy driving that’s fun and good looking.

  13. Like any car a lot depends on the mileage you put on it. With my Tesla that I’ve had for three plus years now the biggest expense is tires. The first pair lasted me 30k miles though some people only get around 25k. That means you’re replacing them twice as much as a fossil fuel vehicle. It has to do with the weight as the battery is very heavy. That said, I haven’t really had anything else to deal with. No oil changes, smog checks, or even brakes yet as regenerative braking means a lot less use of the brakes.

    1. I wouldn’t even consider tires as a maintenance or repair expense. Every car needs new tires eventually and it’s not a failure of the car itself.

      But good to know on the regenerative braking requiring less changing brake rotors and pads. Those cost about $1500 for my range rover. And they need to be changed every 20,000 miles or so given I live in a hilly city.

      1. Not considering that a much heavier car goes through tires much faster is ignoring an important data point.

  14. By the time you need to replace a battery in the EV in 8 to 10 years, that basically means the expense of at least 25% of the original price…It also depends on how to drive the cars etc.

    1. I’m not an EV or even hybrid owner, but I’ll just chime in to say that Tesla batteries degrade about 1% every year on average, so at 10 years you still have 90%. So absolutely no need to replace a battery at that point. And if you’re going to factor in a new battery cost, then you’ll need to do the same for a new transmission on a gas vehicle in the same 20 year timeframe.

    2. This is funny. I hear a lot of similar nonsense across the Internet. A battery failing at year 8-10 with let’s say 100k miles is far less common than both a transmission and engine failing in a gas car at the same age. But when you read a few stories on the Internet of batteries dying people assume it’s happening en masse. The reality is it’s extremely rare for a battery to just die at 8 to 10 years (shortly after the standard battery warranty expires). Nissan Leafs are the exception as they use completely inferior battery management tech (and thus are garbage cars) but this is common knowledge. Tesla and other EVs don’t have this problem. Gas vehicles are far more likely to have major component failures before year 10 rendering their vehicles worthless since making those repairs would likely exceed the resale value of their vehicles. But this isn’t a popular topic on the Internet, apparently.

  15. Car maintenance and repair is a major part of anyone’s finances. It’s unfortunate that public transport fails to meet the needs of the many, so we must rely on expensive and inefficient means to get around. And this expense doesn’t take into consideration the amount of your taxes that pay for road construction, repair and maintenance as well as the extra policing required, plus the environmental impact of said car usage and related fuel production. As for getting your cars to last a long time, the best thing for it is to keep your foot light on the accelerator, keep up with your routine maintenance (especially oil changes) and try to combine your errands to reduce the amount of miles needed. Bonus if you can live close to work and/or replace some of your driving with mass transit!

  16. Fascinating insights! I don’t own a car so I can only speak from my parents experiences with Jeep, Volvo, and Subaru. Of the three the Jeep probably held up the best and has over 100,000 miles on it now. I think the total cost of repairs has been under $2000 but that’s also stayed low because my dad does a lot DIY. Volvo is probably the worst of the three with costs in the mid thousands. I have no skills or knowledge to do any DIY auto repairs but would be nice if I ever owned a car down the road.

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