Costs of vehicle repairs/maintenance

Jul 14, 2020
South of Metro Atlanta
For a while now, I've wondered how most people afford just regular maintenance but after buying a few used vehicles in the last year or so, I have serious doubts that they even do/pay for real maintenance very much.

Outside of what seems to be this industry standard for new vehicles where you get 2 years/24k miles of "free" maintenance (based on the very minimal "normal" driving habit schedule), I don't think many people really pay attention to car maintenance outside of an oil change when they think about it. Even then, it seems a lot of shops, even those with 988 five-star ratings, seem to perform fairly shoddy work and the vehicles really aren't taken care of, at least not anywhere close to my level of maintenance. Dirty engine bays, oils/fluids spilled all over, dust/grime collecting on the underside, mangled up crush washers, oil pan drain plugs mangled or even new/replacements, oil filter brands I've never heard of, etc.

Things I never see performed-

Serpentine belt until it breaks
Brake fluid flush (not even when a brake job is done and it will take a measly 10 extra minutes to do ONE axle worth)
Transmission service (ohhhhh, don't touch it, it might blow up!!! )
Spark plugs
Coolant drain and fill
Gear/Transfer case oil service
Grease fittings on U-joints/slip joints
Proper brake service (turn/replace rotors, really clean the bits and pieces of calipers, slide pins, replace boots, springs/clips/etc. )
Power Steering Fluid flush

All of this stuff is cheap in the long run and with today's premium on used vehicles, it's being asked for (at least service records) more and more. There's even some people, like me, that will make a hard pass on a vehicle that does not have service records.... because I know what I'm getting in to - a POS.

Then there's minor/medium repairs. Just this weekend I replaced the VTEC Solenoid module/piece on the 2008 Honda CR-V I bought for my daughter a month ago. It was the best that I could find of that era, 165k Miles on it, some verifiable service history (I called the shop the PO said they always used), but still...... A brake fluid flush had never been done. Power steering fluid had never been done. Coolant - you guessed it, never been done. Spark plugs - no record and they appeared to be original. There had been transmission fluid drop-n-fills a few times and the PO said the oil was always changed at 3-5k miles.

I spent $280 on plugs, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, brake fluid, valve cover gasket kit, valve lash adjustment tool to catch all the maintenance up. I still have to do the valve adjustment. This weekend I spent $180 on that new VTEC Solenoid part, coolant, oil and filter. I won't count the $80 Honda/Acura software I bought for my Foxwell code reader. I diagnosed the lights on the dash/code, went to Napa to get the part and replaced it, oil change and coolant drain and fill. All of that at the Honda dealer would have been over $550, like I said, I have $180 in it and yes, my labor. But I know it was all done, all done right.

The Plugs, power steering flush, brake fluid flush, 2x Tras fluid drop and fill, valve adjustment deal would have been well over $1k at a Honda Dealer, same with an indy shop. All of this stuff is very do-able for someone that has some basic tools and has intent on maintaining their cars.

I have SERIOUS doubts, even at "GOOD" shops, that the oil and filter always gets changed when someone requests it and pays for it. Why? Because the vehicles I've bought lately don't look like the ones I've maintained since day one on a similar maintenance plan. We used to have a 2007 CRV, owned since day 1, had it for 100k miles until someone totaled it. I changed the oil in it with Motorcraft 5W-20 and either a Wix or Honda filter at 7500-10,000 miles and it was NEVER as dirty as the oil I dropped Saturday that had "5k miles" on it.....

Anyway, I know, I've gone way off in the ditch. But here's my assessment after doing 20+ years of maintaining my own vehicles from new and taking over one I bought used - most people that pay a shop to work on their cars/do the maintenance on them are getting ripped off IMO. They aren't getting near the attention to detail/service that one would give their own car, I promise that. I know why for the most part - top "A" techs are not doing maintenance at shops. It's usually the lowest paid person working there - because customers are CHEAP and want it done cheap.

We have a 2013 Lexus LX570. About the only known problem for this era Land Cruiser / LX is the radiator busting on the top. Yes, ours did recently, right on time, 115k miles. I lucked out and got an OEM radiator at a Toyota dealer near our house who was having an online parts sale (they have a strong online parts presence), upper and lower hoses and 4 gallons of coolant for $350 or so. It took me fooling with it for 3 evenings (1 to remove, 1 to replace and 1 to make some final adjustments after buying hose clamp pliers, then filling with coolant and bleeding the air out and then doing a transmission fluid service). For the radiator, hoses, coolant, transmission pan gasket, filter and 4-1/2 quarts of fluid, I have about $500 in that job. It would have been $1500+ at the dealer.
Deleted. Have to get myself out of the negativity trap. Carry on BITOGERS!! Spread the DIY gospel. Self advocacy in everything, whether you can DIY or hire it out.
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I didn't say anything about fuel system cleaning or batteries.

I take it you feel that brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid is fine for 100-300k miles?
Nope. Not at all. However my point is these types of shops push these services well before they should be. I’ve had my Sierra in for a state inspection that was less than 3 years old and they tried the weak battery thing on me. I laughed and said they shouldn’t try and sell what is still covered under the 3 year 36,000 mile warranty. There are correct intervals that take into consideration the actual use of the vehicle (light duty vs severe duty). A light duty vehicle isn’t hard on power steering and trans fluids. The point is most folks don’t know. It isn’t their thing. Just like fashion, art, literature, and pop culture isn’t mine…
Your typical car owner maintenance attitude;

IMO the issue is trust because the bills can start getting into the high 3-figure range if you don't DIY and are simply unaware.

This is a big reason why people lease. They don't want to worry about expensive repairs/maintenance on a higher mileage vehicle so they feel they don't have the need to want to educate themselves about it.

True story. A couple of weeks ago I was at an AAP and a woman walked into the oil aisle carrying 5 quarts of SAE 30. Apparently the cashier sent her back to buy 5w20. She took 2 bottles of M1 5w20 (Cheapest on shelf). I offered to carry the other 3 quarts to the counter but she said she didn't need it because she was just going to add oil until it was time for an oil change. I was perplexed and wonder whether she just has an oil burner or that she didn't want to spend twice the money for the 5w20 compared to the SAE 30.
There are at least 2 types of owner:
1. Keep the car for 200K+ miles
2. Sell it as soon as it gets around 100K miles.

For the later, I don't think they will do too much maintenance.

I tried to buy Toyota for my vehicle because I know it is good although maintenance may be lacking.
Most of the time, unless it has been overheated.

Honda is also good, but I have the impression that it is more picky than a Toyota such as Honda fluids, adjustment, etc.
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Regarding my wife's old RAV4 that died at 400k miles:

Serpentine belt until it breaks - I was proactive on that and replaced it when the old belt looked a little ragged.
Brake fluid flush (not even when a brake job is done and it will take a measly 10 extra minutes to do ONE axle worth) -Never
Transmission service (ohhhhh, don't touch it, it might blow up!!! ) -Never except a quart exchange a couple times.
Spark plugs -every 120k miles
Coolant drain and fill - every 100k miles
Gear/Transfer case oil service -rear diff changed once at 300k miles. transfer case topped off every 8000 miles after 240k miles due to leak.
Grease fittings on U-joints/slip joints Neve
Proper brake service (turn/replace rotors, really clean the bits and pieces of calipers, slide pins, replace boots, springs/clips/etc. ) Pads are rotors replaced as needed. Went to the junk yard with factory pins and boots.
Power Steering Fluid flush -Never

Oil changed every 5000 miles by quick lube place until 200k miles when RMS started to seep and then I changed the oil myself after that. The RMS seep never got worse and never dripped.
I didn't mean to start a S Show. I guess I was trying to get a couple of thoughts/points out of my head - it's mind boggling how much it cost to properly maintain a vehicle if you don't do some or all of it yourself.....and many don't do much beyond an oil change.

I know that some think the EV is going to eliminate all this maintenance hoopla but in reality, their power bill will be more than double what it is today, so they WILL pay for it then. The other side is that vehicles are so expensive now, I feel proper maintenance records will yield a used vehicle a premium price and it already does on certain makes/models that are known to "last forever", i.e.: Toyota Landcruiser/LX - there are mid-2000's with less than 200k miles in very, very good condition with maintenance records fetching more than $25k right now. That's a 17+ year old vehicle going for about 50% of what it was when new, at a time when gas is $4/gal and these things get 12-14 mpg.

Another issue is I was raised by a parent that feared and worried about everything, especially car breakdowns and repairs. It took quite a while to get the fear of the unknown out of my system, but I don't worry about that anymore, mainly because I try to keep our vehicles in great condition, look them over and educate myself about them.

I guess the other side of the poor maintenance coin is to buy that $125 yearly membership to AAA and get it towed to the cheapest repair shop when it breaks down. I'm amazed at the number of people who have AAA and claim they use it 2-4 times a year. The first thing I think about isn't the price of AAA, it's the TIME required to wait and deal with a tow truck, repair shop and the logistics of getting picked up and such...
I take great care of my vehicles but for decades when they get near the end of the warranty or 2 weeks old I dump
No brakes..just the minimum easy stuff...but that stuff I maintain to the hilt.
My truck seems to blow a brake line every 2 years, so I guess I do a brake flush every 2 years

Truck also has leaky rear freeze plugs and goes through a half gallon of coolant a week, so I am doing a constant coolant flush

I do regularly change the oil on it and seem to change transmission fluid every 30,000 or 3 years

Not sure if it really matters on a 5.2, could probably drive with bacon grease in it.
... - it's mind boggling how much it cost to properly maintain a vehicle if you don't do some or all of it yourself.....and many don't do much beyond an oil change.

The cost to pay someone else can be high, and agree many don't do it.

When I buy a used vehicle, I do all the maintenance items due per the manual myself, and usually for <$200.
How in depth depends on vehicle mileage.
I change all fluids (brake, oil, transmission, power steering, rear diff, coolant, etc), change serpentine/accessory belts if due, lube any parts that can be lubed, check/replace spark plugs, replace fuel filter (if not in tank), if it has a timing belt check if it needs to be done (and do it if needed).
I pull apart the brakes to check pads and and lube up the sliders. I usually do a pad slap if the rotors are not warped.
Depending on mileage, also check shocks/struts and steering components.

I have no records to give to the next buyer (if there is one) except for receipts, which I don't keep.
You can look over a vehicle and see if it has been maintained, even without service records.
Great thought. This past winter I changed the thermostat on my minivan. I wondered how many others are driving inefficiently with a malfunctioning thermostat because they just don’t pay attention? I would not have noticed if I wasn’t watching the temp gauge and noticing it was not warming up fully.

I suspect that repair isn’t cheap for a shop to do.

Used car buying is scary now because of the people who do little to no maintenance.
They are wise to not do the maintenance.
For their personal finances, of course that's true. Unless something changes and you end up keeping them.
I may be the odd man out, but I have respect for my tools. I do the best I can to keep them in tip top shape.
Sometimes I pass my cars off to friends or family, but that's not really the reason.

But that's just me. Our TSX and Tundra each have about 210K and I never even check the oil. They are in excellent shape.
I did not imagine they would last this long. I frequently get offers for both, especially the Tundra.

Again, just my 2 cents.