Budget Basics: Saving for Car Expenses

When we first started using a written budget about 5 years ago, one of the first semi-irregular expenses that we had to start budgeting for was car maintenance. Up until that point, if a tire wore out or a battery needed to be replaced, we just whipped out the credit card, and worked it out at the end of the month when we paid our statement.

It turns out, however, that many car expenses are actually predictable.

Last month we had a bunch of car expenses hit at one time. We have a 2003 Prius, and a 2005 Honda Pilot. Both cars needed new tires, and the brakes on the Pilot were pretty much gone. We don’t use a calendar or app to tell us “hey, remember 3 years ago when you bought those tires? Yea, it’s probably about time to replace them,” though we probably should. Even though we didn’t see these
expenses coming in April, we had set aside the money to take care of them well in advance.

So, how do you budget for car maintenance?

First, figure out what needs regular work. For us, we have factored into our budget oil changes, wiper blades, tires, brakes and batteries. We also have factored in a small amount for minor things, like the occasional car wash, wiper fluid or light bulb.

Second, figure out how many miles per year you put on your vehicle, and how many miles you are into the various components that need replacement. For us, we’ve calculated that we drive about 14,000 miles per year on each of our vehicles.

Finally, figure out how often components need to be replaced, and the rough cost to replace them, including taxes and installation. Add that all up, break it down into an annual amount and then into a monthly amount.

I should note that brakes have been the harder line item to account for. Our brakes have, in the past, lasted 3-4 years. We haven’t done a good job of sourcing a place to get the work done, and have probably overpaid the last two times we’ve had them replaced. We also wear them really far down, and probably need to replace them a bit more frequently. The Prius, since it has regenerative braking, is a little kinder on its breaks and thus they last a little bit longer.

Pilot Cost Schedule

  • Tires: 60,000 mile tires, about $550 after installation and taxes. $183 / year
  • Battery: 5 years, $160. $32 / year
  • Brakes: 40,000 miles, $400. $200 / year
  • Oil Chance: Every 6-7,000 miles, $35. $105 / year
  • Wipers: $60, about every 9 months. $80 / year

Total: $600 / year, $50 / month

Prius Cost Scheule

  • Tires: 60,000 mile tires, $300 after installation and taxes. $100 / year
  • Battery (starter): 10 years, $180. $18 / year
  • Brakes: 60,000 miles, $400. $133 / year
  • Oil Change: Every 6-7,000 miles, $35. $105 / year
  • Wipers: $50, about every 9 months. $67 / year

Total: $423 / year, $35.25 / month

Adding in about $100 / year in miscellaneous expenses, we budget for $1,123 worth of car maintenance expenses every year. To keep this in round numbers, that comes out to $100 / month.

What about big repairs?

We currently just budget for regular maintenance. If a transmission or engine were to go out, we would use our emergency fund, and then spend several months building that back up.

I hope that this has been helpful to at least someone out there. If you are just starting to live on a budget, take a little time to estimate what it costs to maintain your car. If your tires are 4 years old, budget extra to take care of the shorter time you have to save up to replace them.Photo by 401(K) 2013

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