The True Cost of Ignoring Vehicle Maintenance

Autos & TrucksMaintenance

  • Author Robert Willumsen
  • Published December 19, 2014
  • Word count 1,758

Cost of ignoring maintenance of your vehicle has its price and that price can be costly. Let’s look at the cost of not taking care of your car based on

  1. The shorten life of your car

  2. Repairs caused by skipping routine


  1. Being stranded on the side of the road

  2. The unplanned charge to your Visa


  1. The Life of Your Car

Fluids, spark plugs, filters, belts & hoses, brakes and your transmission all need routine maintenance. "If you don't maintain your car, you're taking a vehicle that might have been driven for 200,000 miles over its life, and you're knocking it down to maybe 150,000 miles," says Philip Reed, author of "Strategies for Smart Car Buyers" at A National Car Care Month inspection yield the following results 85% of all vehicles inspected needed some repair or maintenance thus U.S. Department of Transportation reports an average car lasts about 13 years and 145,000 miles before its scraped. In dollars and cents based on Kelly Blue Book Values depreciation for the first 150,000 miles is about $.16 per mile and for the next 50,000 is $.046 per mile. Or in terms of the resale value you would lose about $231 for all those extra miles if you maintained your car.

  1. The Cost of Repairs Caused by skipping routine maintenance

In terms of money, the cost is over 2 billion dollars each year due to neglect (not performing preventive maintenance). Data collected from National Car Care Month inspections shows the percentage of cars that failed and the reasons why vehicles failed inspection.

o Engine Oil - low level or dirty 30%

o Transmission Fluid - low level/dirty 26%

o Brake Fluid - low level or dirty 23%

o Power Steering Fluid - low level/dirty 21%

o Coolant - contaminated or worn out and

needing to be flushed 20%

o Air Filter - dirty and needing replacement 24%

o Belts - damaged, cracked and needing

replacement 19%

o Hoses - damaged, cracked and needing

replacement 17%

What would an inspection of your vehicle show? If you not had them checked recently don’t be so quick to answer. If you have low or dirty fluids, damaged or cracked belts and hoses what could be the cost? Let's take a look.

  1. Oil Changes - Cost of skipping: Potential engine failure.

Imagine this scenario: You haven’t changed your oil in a while because you didn’t think you could afford it. Your car just dies one day so you get it towed to your mechanic. After inspecting your vehicle, he or she determines that it ran out of oil and the engine has seized. Your only options are to replace your engine or replace your car. An average sedan driven 100,000 miles as an example, oil changes would cost about $1,125 overall. If you were to go without an oil change during that period, your engine would likely flood with contaminants and eventually seize. The result, an engine replacement that hovers around $4,000.

  1. Brake Maintenance - Cost of skipping: Expensive rotor or drum replacement. Example: Your car starts creating abnormal sounds, feelings or smells, and you don’t get your brakes fixed, then first you wear down the things squealing that are telling you that your brakes are toast. Then you will be out of brake pad and will only stop by your brake system pressing the metal backing plate on a metal brake rotor. If you continue to ignore the problem, you will continue to burn through your brake rotor down to its ventilating fins. It will sound, feel and perform terribly. When you finally fix the problem, it will cost significantly more since you have destroyed several parts, it will cost you 4 to 5 times as much to fix. If you don't get it fixed you will likely end up in a bad accident making you part of the 5.2% of all motor vehicle accidents that could have been prevented with proper vehicle maintenance.

  2. Belts and hoses – Cost of skipping: The tow to the nearest garage, and cost of replacing the belt/hose plus any additional damage done when the belt or hose came apart. Don’t forget the Belt Tensioner, if you hear a squealing noise when the car accelerates and your belts look good it could mean, the belt tensioner is worn and in need of immediate replacement. If the belts can’t be held tight it’s like having no belt at all. Many vehicles a single serpentine belt and if it breaks that means the water pump quits circulating coolant through the engine, the alternator quits producing amps, the power steering pump ceases to assist steering, and the air conditioner quits cooling. The cost to replace a serpentine belt before it breaks would be around $125.00 depending on the belt. The cost after it breaks time and money, drive belt manufactures recommend that all drive belts be replaced on a four year basis that way the replacement can be done at your convenience rather than on an emergency basis.

  3. Spark plugs and filters - Cost of skipping: Damaged catalytic converter, failed emissions test, poor performance, engine misfires during acceleration, hard starting and the mother of all undesirables lousy gas mileage. If you drive 12,000 miles per year and lose 1.5 miles per gallon (a 7.5% loss at 20 MPG) it would cost you over $350.00 in additional fuel cost. Replacing a catalytic converter upwards of $800.00. Replacing a dirty air filter can cost as little as $20, but if you neglect to replace it, this can cause an oxygen-sensor failure that will cost as much as $250 to repair.

  4. Replacing Timing Belt at recommended intervals - Cost of skipping: Damaged valves and pistons. The death of many older or high mileage cars is nothing other than a failure of the timing belt. With little space between the valves and pistons, a slip or break in the belt can send a piston flying into an open valve. When this happens, it is similar to the engine self-destructing, as it will soon become nothing more than an unusable mess of metal. This means that your car will suddenly stop running and you will not be able to get it started again. In all cases, this means calling a tow truck to come pick up your now non-running vehicle. And again for many the result, an engine replacement that hovers around $4,000.

  5. Other Fluids - All the fluids in your vehicle can breakdown over time, change in molecular structure, become less effective because of contaminates and fail to perform as they were intended. Routine maintenance for some is just inspection while others need to be completely removed (flushed) and replaced. Just draining most fluids leaves a substantial amount of old fluid behind. The cost for not performing the recommended maintenance is the premature failure and expensive replacement of one or more components of the system the fluid was meant to protect.

o Coolant - Not changing it frequently enough can cause your coolant to "wear out" or cause a breakdown of the coolant's chemical properties. Over time rust and scale deposits build up within the radiator and these build ups can cause overheating or even damage your radiator and reduce the life of the water pump from excessive friction and heat.

o Transmission - Transmission fluid is oil, and is therefore subject to viscosity breakdown and the loss of its protective, lubricating, and cooling properties. Operating the transmission on fluid that is worn out results in premature transmission wear and ultimately failure.

o Transfer case or differential - Without routine inspection you would miss fluid with metal flakes that indicates internal wear or that is black indicating it has been overheated. The sooner you have the cause diagnosed the lower the cost of repair.

o Power steering – If the power steering fluid is not inspected regularly for evidence of metal flakes, you may miss the signs of internal wear, which could cause the need to replace the steering gear as well as the power steering pump.

o Brake - If the brake fluid is not inspected regularly for changes in color, you could miss an early warning sign of a brake malfunction. You also need to keep a close eye on brake fluid because it is hydroscopic in nature, meaning it absorbs moisture, which reduces the effectiveness of the fluid leading to premature brake failure

  1. Cost of being stranded on the road

o Time: Where will you be headed when the belt/hose blows, (a hot date, to work, pick up your kids or get your mother-in-law to the airport) what will it cost you not to not get to your destination? What if you're on a driving vacation or business trip you could be stuck for days waiting for the right part to arrive.

o Safety: Where will you be when your car breaks down from a preventable problem? Of all motor vehicle accidents 5.2% can be attributed to mechanical defects due to neglected vehicle maintenance that translates to eleven people injured every hour and one person dies every three hours due to accidents that could have been prevented.

o Being Nagged At: What will it be like being stuck on the side of the road or when you get the call back for your mechanic and tells you the cost of a preventable repair while your significant other reminds you of what you didn’t do to take care of the car.

  1. And of Course Money: Lost wages, cost of the tow and the added expense of a major repair at an unknown repair shop A worst-case scenario would be if your car must be towed into a small town, imagine the cost, not only in stress, but for lodging and food and other expenses while you wait for your car to be fixed.

Bottom Line True Cost – A large unplanned charge to your Visa card. Where as routine maintenance would have meant - small budgeted expenses. Research has shown that nearly 20 percent of the vehicles on the road today have a worn belt that needs to be replaced, and nearly 15 percent of vehicles have a hose that needs to be replaced (Auto Pro Workshop). A broken belt is always bad news because when it snaps, all drive power to whatever it turns is lost and the cost of a tow to the nearest garage of at least $75.00 plus the cost of the belt. In the United States, in terms of money, the cost is over 2 billion dollars each year due to neglect (not performing preventive maintenance). Would you prefer small expenditures over time on your schedule or large costs ($$$$) when your car decides, it’s your choice.

Robert Willumsen Business Operations American Auto Air & Repair

American Auto Air & Repair has been serving the Reno/Sparks area since 1976. Learn more about car care at or I can be reached at

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