Cost of ownership is something a lot of people never consider when they’re shopping for their next ride. Some fall in love with a certain car and just have to have it no matter what. Others shop around based on features and benefits. Still others look at the sticker price only. Some go so far as to check reliability, fuel economy, insurance rates and such, but the ones that actually factor in all the projected costs are a rare breed.
What exactly is cost of ownership you ask? It’s the total of what it will cost you to own your car, truck or SUV over time. While it’s common to assume that means the price tag on the car, it doesn’t. It factors in vehicle price (broken down into monthly payments, usually), fuel, insurance, maintenance and repairs. Every vehicle comes with a maintenance schedule from the factory – and most people have no idea it even exists. But, that maintenance schedule is a big part of the cost of ownership. Want to buy a Ford F350 Powerstroke or Dodge Ram 3500 diesel because you love the way it looks? Better remember an oil change on that bad boy is gonna run you well over $100 every time.
So, before you go hit the dealerships, take a minute to check out this list of cheap rides with high cost of ownership. Just because the sales price is low, doesn’t mean the cost isn’t high.
20 $$$$$: Ford Focus
The year Ford launched the Focus broke a long-standing record for the most recalled vehicle in Ford history. While the Focus has improved dramatically over the years, it’s still not the most reliable, or well-built, or easily maintained vehicle out there. According to Ford, the Focus is “designed to maximize the fun factor”. That’s car manufacturer talk for "we market this to entry-level drivers" (i.e. high school and college students).
The target demographic needs an entry-level vehicle to get by until they can get out of school, off Mom and Dad’s car budget dime and into their own life. So, Ford (and most of the other major manufacturers) oblige with a cheap car that seems to make sense for someone on a high school or college budget. With prices starting around $15,000 it sure seems to make sense.
That is, until you factor in the pesky price of maintenance and repairs. According to the folks at yourmechanic.com you can expect $17,100 on your Focus over the first ten years, which breaks down to $142.50 a month you better sock away just to keep that car on the road. That’s more than the price of admission! I don’t know about you, but it really dulls the “fun factor” knowing I have to spend an additional $5/day on top of everything else.
19 $$$$$: Nissan Murano
When it comes to mid-sized SUVs, the Nissan Murano clocks in at the lower end of the price range. With a starting price of just $30,000, when most hover closer to the $40k mark, the Murano would seem to offer a great bang for the buck. The Murano’s appear to have most of the bells and whistles that SUV buyers are looking for and it carries the Nissan name, which has a bit more clout than a lot of other manufacturers. So, on the surface, if you’re gravitating towards a Murano, it might seem like a great choice.
Then the price to maintain the Murano comes along and delivers a giant head slap. AOL news tracks the Murano owner’s investment to keep it on the road at $1,470.00 a year. That’s more than a $100 extra per month on top of the payment, insurance and gas.
The rough math on that one means, not counting any finance charges your bank might tack on to loan you the money to buy the Murano, when all is said and done the Murano will cost you about $45,000 to own over ten years. Maybe that $40,000 SUV you walked away from is a better investment after all?
18 $$$$$: Dodge Ram 1500
Having worked in the auto repair industry for decades, I’ve seen a lot of truck owners, repaired a lot of trucks, and heard all the intensely loyal commentary from them on why the brand they chose, be it Ford, Chevy, GMC, Dodge, Toyota, Nissan, etc., is far superior than the others. The main theme amongst Dodge owners is based on the initial costs being lower than the competition. While that used to be accurate, a quick search of their respective websites has the base F150 at $27,705, a Chevy Silverado 1500 at $29,170 and a Ram 1500 at $27,000. In the grand scheme, that’s not much of a price difference.
When you sit down and consider the maintenance costs, the gap widens dramatically, and not in Dodge’s favor. Yourmechanic.com has the Ram owner’s yearly investment in maintaining the truck at $1,330. Here’s another one taking a Benjamin-sized bite out of your wallet every month. Additionally, the Ram series are notoriously hard on front suspension components – so expect to rebuild the front end somewhere around the 100,000 mile mark to the tune of about $1500 depending on who does the work and the quality level of replacement parts. And, that’s on top of the 100k scheduled maintenance (spark plugs, coolant system service, fuel system cleaning, etc.).
17 $$$$$: BMW 328i
When most people hear BMW or Mercedes Benz or Audi, the immediately think expensive cars. However, the base BMW three series starts at only $34,900 – that’s only a few hundred dollars more than a Toyota Avalon. So, for many thinking they want entry-level luxury, or for those who are buying their kids a starter luxury car, the BMW 328i becomes something of a no-brainer decision. But, let’s hold off and put our brain back into that decision-making process before we saddle ourselves, or our kids, with a monthly monetary burden we weren’t counting on.
According to Consumer Reports BMW has the highest maintenance cost out of over a dozen car manufacturers. The folks at yourmechanic.com put the 328i at a whopping $1,560 per year. And, that factors in that BMW offers a free limited maintenance package with new cars. Apparently, “free” doesn’t cover everything necessary to maintain the Beemer.
However, if you’re into luxury cars and really don’t care about how much they cost to own month in and month out, it’s not a bad buy. For an entry-level ride, it certainly allows the driver to cruise around town in style. But as the saying goes, be prepared to “Bring My Wallet” every time you head to the shop.
16 $$$$$: Chrysler 300
Speaking of luxury cars, Chrysler (the upscale division of Dodge), advertises their 300 as a “distinctive lineage of power, luxury and style”. Coming in at $28,995 as a starting price keeps the 300 on the cheap side of luxury, for sure. Equipped with loads of bells, whistles and fancy features, the 300 certainly looks the part of luxury car as well. However, since five cars from the Dodge/Chrysler lineup made motor1.com’s least reliable vehicles list, it’s no surprise you can expect to pay about $100 a month extra in maintenance costs for this one.
The 300 wasn’t in that list, but it does make our list of most expensive cheap cars to maintain. A quick look at ConsumerAffairs.com shows the 300 only scores two stars (out of five) for reliability amongst owners surveyed. This brings a whole new angle to this: if the car is already expensive to maintain, and it’s high on the unreliable list, how much money are you dumping into something that could potentially become a driveway ornament? Few things are as infuriating as spending a bunch of money maintaining a car, only to have it not start – or worse – leave you stranded soon thereafter.
15 $$$$$: GMC Canyon
Turning to the small truck category, we find the GMC Canyon atop the highest to maintain list. While the Canyon isn’t nearly as pricey to keep on the road as the Nissan Murano, you should still expect to pay an additional $50 per month to keep it running in top condition.
Starting at only $21,100 the Canyon is priced pretty cheap for a pickup, especially in comparison to the numbers listed in the Ram 1500 entry above. While it certainly doesn’t have the hauling or towing capacity of a full-size truck, for those who don’t need all that but still want a pickup could save some money looking at the smaller trucks out there.
But, keep in mind if you choose the Canyon, you’re signing up for the most expensive maintenance package in that market.
However, GMC is known for reliability. Those who purchase a Canyon and plan to keep it for the long haul (pun intended) and put the money into maintaining it shouldn’t be disappointed. If nothing else, it’s a far better option than the old Chevrolet S-10 and its GMC cousin, the Sonoma. There’s a reason why you see so few of those still on the road these days, while full size trucks from that era are still all over.
14 $$$$$ Ford Mustang
Ford introduced the Mustang in March of 1964 and unwittingly launched the Pony Car wars that are still going on today. The Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger have carved a niche in American car culture unlike any other car segment. With the ability to buy a Mustang for as low as $25,000 you can join the race, too. For many, the Mustang isn’t just a means of transportation, it’s a lifestyle and a legacy. But, if that’s you and you’re about to saddle up at your local Ford dealer, break out the calculator and do the math so you know what you’re riding into here.
The old saying “you have to pay to play” has been a part of the vocabulary in muscle car and pony car circles for a long, long time. What it means is if you want to enjoy one of these cars, you better be ready to shell out some cash on a routine basis and don’t complain about it either. With a new Mustang, that includes the $100 a month in maintenance costs. But, don’t worry, it will pale in comparison to the insurance bill, wish list of available mods and how much you pay to feed your pony a steady diet of high octane fuel.
13 $$$$$: Dodge Grand Caravan
Now that we’ve covered cars, trucks and SUVs, let’s take a look at the mini-van set. The one that started it all, the Dodge Grand Caravan, may also be the one to end all your dreams of having extra cash. The Grand Caravan might be near the low end on initial retail price, coming in much lower than the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, but it tops the list of most expensive minivans to maintain. That’s right, expect to fork over nearly $150 a month to keep this bad boy on the road.
Now, if you’re that person who has their heart set on snatching up a Grand Caravan, loading up the kids and heading off to (insert youth sports event of your choice), it does come with a lot of available features that make it versatile and utilitarian.
But, you can also take a gander at the Honda and Toyota minivans, give up a few of those amenities, but save yourself a lot of dough over the season of your life marked “mini-van driver”. Let’s face it, no one wants to drive one of these forever, so you may as well make it as monetarily painless as possible.
12 $$$$$: Chevy Cobalt
General Motors has had a long line of low priced economy cars dating back to the Chevrolet Chevette of the early 1980s. While they’ve all been economically priced gas sippers, just like the Ford Focus detailed above, none have exactly been easily maintained or anywhere near a paragon of reliability.
The Cobalt was introduced in 2004 to replace the Cavalier and Geo Prism as Chevrolet’s mainstay in the subcompact market. While the name and body lines spoke to a much better product, the final offering wasn’t much different in terms of overall cost effectiveness. Eventually, the Cobalt was replaced by the Cruze even though the two were offered for sale concurrently in the 2008-10 model years.
While the Cobalt (and later the Cruze) seemed like great options for the thrifty car shopper, having to hand over in excess of $120 a month in maintenance costs make them a far less appealing option. And, while the maintenance costs were over the moon, spending that cash hardly ensure the Cobalt or the Cruze would be reliable transportation. Plagued with issues dealing with the power steering, ignition cylinders and timing chain tensioner failures (yes, that is as catastrophic as it sounds) is more than enough to keep most savvy shoppers away from the entry-level Chevrolets.
11 $$$$$ Mazda 6
Another entry to hit the market in the 2002 model year is the Mazda 6, their primary sedan offering. Mazda.com has them listed at the time of this writing at just over $21,000 for a 2018 model. With the prices of some sedans eclipsing the $60,000 mark, the Mazda 6 seems to be a pretty good deal on the surface.
With better options and features than most of the other sedans in the $20k range, it’s easy to see why the 6 series is still going strong. Especially when it comes to keeping your local mechanic in business.
Clark.com lists the monthly price of maintenance admission on the Mazda 6 at $127.00. For a car that’s supposed to be a move-up vehicle (i.e. a step above entry-level) it seems like the marketing would be a little more honest unless it's intended demographic is the local gearhead who loves working on their own car. I don’t know about you, but if buying a brand new car in the $20,000 price range was all I could handle, getting hit with another $127 payment month after month, or worse three times that much four times a year, would put a serious hurt on my finances.
10 $ Toyota Camry
Since its introduction in 1982, the Toyota Camry has landed atop the list of most reliable vehicles, and most economical, and least expensive to maintain year after year after year. So, it’s really no surprise to see it on our list of cheap cars that don’t cost much to maintain. With a “starting at” price of $23,495 and an annual maintenance estimate of just over $500, the Camry is certainly a great choice for those who view cars through the lens of their budget. While it’s not going to scratch the sports car or luxury ride itch, it will get you from point A to point B reliably and for relatively little money in comparison to its competitors such as the Mazda 6, Chevy Cobalt or Cruze and the Ford Focus.
Now, Toyota often seems to be one of those polarizing brands that people either love or hate. So, if you’re in the love camp, chances are you’ve either owned a Camry at some point or considered one at least. If you’re the type who wants something sportier or more luxurious, they have several upgrade packages all the way to the V6 equipped XSE, which gives you more power, nicer interior appointments and a sense of feeling like you’re driving an expensive car without actually having the expenses.
9 $ Honda Fit
If all you want out of your ride is a way to get around and you don’t care about looks, performance, luxury, passenger capacity or cargo space, the Honda Fit is quite possibly the best way you could ever spend your automotive money. With a base sticker price of only $16,190 and a monthly maintenance cost under $50, the Fit is sure to be nice to your wallet.
Add to that Honda’s reputation for making cars that last well past the 250,000 mile mark if properly maintained and you could be looking at a great budget vehicle for a long, long time.
As mentioned above, however, the Fit has quite a few drawbacks starting with the limited interior space, so don’t plan on packing more than four (cramped) people into it at any point in time. Besides that, the Fit isn’t known for performance, acceleration, handling or any other characteristic driving enthusiasts look for in a new car. Let’s face it, the Fit is certainly no turbo charged Touring model Accord. But, for those whose primary concern is simply saving on their transportation budget, the Fit should make the short list of rides up for consideration.
8 $ Toyota Corolla
Although it’s a fair bit cheaper than its big (but younger) brother the Camry, the Toyota Corolla is slightly more expensive to maintain. And, by slightly, we mean maybe you might have to ditch one trip to Starbucks a month. But, with a roughly $6,000 sticker price difference, the Starbucks drive-thru may see more Corolla’s per month than it does Camrys. No matter which one you buy, you can expect to get many years and miles of reliable, economical transportation for your buck.
Launched in 1966, the argument can be made that the Corolla was the first economy car ever put up for sale in the United States. During the gas crisis of the 1970s, which greatly impacted car buying well into the 1980s, the Corolla competed with vehicles like the Ford Pinto, the Chevy Vega and the AMC Gremlin. While the legend of the exploding Ford Pinto will live on forever thanks to The Case For Christ’s Lee Strobel, the Vega and Gremlin both joined it in the ranks of economy cars that didn’t fair too well. Thankfully for Toyota fans, and people looking for great automotive value, the Corolla is still going strong.
7 $ Nissan Versa
Popularized by a rather unique ad campaign that had one of the stars of the hit TV Series Heroes, Hiro Nakamura (played by Japanese actor Masi Oka) running around saying “Nissan Versa” over and over again as he was suddenly forced to communicate in English for the first time, the Versa has managed to outlast the show that put it on the map.
Taking a page from Ford Motor Company’s "Our Cars, Trucks and SUVs are Stars" marketing campaign, Nissan hasn't relented, tying the Nissan Rogue to a recent Star Wars film Rogue One, among other things.
The Versa rolls in as the cheapest car on this list when it comes to initial sticker price. Anyone with $12,100 (plus tax, title and license) can likely go sign off on a base model Versa of their choice. The Versa also lands close to the bottom on the cheapest to maintain pile with a monthly maintenance expense of only $49. While that’s still an amount you need to factor in when determining what car to buy, the savings should make you feel like the hero when it comes time to pay the monthly bills. While most Nissan’s don’t tend to last as long as the Hondas and Toyotas, making sure yours is properly maintained will go a long way to increased longevity.
6 $ Honda Civic
There are very few cars on this list that lead such a chameleon-like lifestyle as the Honda Civic. For some, the Civic is a sensible first car for those who just want reliable transportation. For others, it’s a highly sought-after foundation to build your tuner car dreams on. And, then there’s the category most car buyers fall into: the people looking for a great economy car at a great price.
Like the Corolla and Camry relationship, the Civic is the older, little brother to the Honda Accord. Unlike the Corolla however, most Civic owners don’t look at the Accord as the next level, but as an entirely different experience.
With a base price of $18,940, the Civic is squarely positioned in the sub-$20,000 category. With loads of available upgrade packages to choose from including coupe, sedan, hatchback, SI and Type-R, the Civic line offers a lot.
With all those available option configurations, and the knowledge a well-maintained Civic can drive right on past the 250,000 mile mark just like most other Hondas, the $55 per month maintenance expensive won’t pack too much of a punch. Just be aware that the SI and Type-R packages may incur some maintenance the less sporty packages won’t need.
5 $ Kia Optima
Kia introduced the Optima for the 2001 model year, unless you were in Europe, where the Optima was known as the Magentis. Currently on its fourth generation, the Optima has managed to successfully ride the coattails of the Japanese offerings from Honda, Toyota and Nissan as it carved out its own niche in the mid-sized economy sedan market. While Kia has positioned the Optima as direct competition for the Camry, it’s slightly lower sticker price is offset by its higher cost of maintenance. Still, the average of $53.33 per month is hardly a budget buster when it comes to vehicle maintenance.
While the newest generation Optima shares a platform with the Hyundai Sonata, it’s “upscale” counterpart failed to the make this list.
Fans of the Optima have noticed the great strides forward in reliability, performance and appearance over the last two generations. This evolutionary jump was triggered when Kia hired Peter Schreyer away from Volkswagen where he was instrumental in the revitalization of the Audi line of cars. By adding Schreyer to the fold, Kia’s Optima went from generic looking car to an economically priced competitor of cars that cost thousands and thousands more.
4 $ Toyota Yaris
The Yaris joins the list as a bit of an outlier. While it appears to pass the initial sniff test of economical car, requiring a maintenance investment on the cheaper end, the Yaris does appear on several lists of most unreliable cars on the road.
According to Consumer Reports, the first-generation Yaris enjoyed Toyota’s trademark reputation for reliability, then something went wrong. Toyota redesigned the Yaris for the 2012 model year and with it came a variety of common problems including premature fuel pump failures. Consumer Reports actual report derides the two newest Yaris offerings as uncomfortable, noisy and overall unpleasant to drive.
To counter this, Forbes and Repairpal list the Yaris as one of the most reliable vehicles on the road today, while Edmunds only gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Whichever camp you align yourself with, at only $15,635 base price and an average maintenance cost of just over $50 a month, at last you’re not risking a mint by purchasing a Yaris. There’s a good possibility that the wide variations in opinion over the long-term viability of the Yaris as solid transportation simply comes down to how they’re maintained. So, prepare to spend the extra $50, if for nothing more than to hedge your bets and do your best to retain as much potential resale value as possible.
3 $ Ford Fusion
When Ford Motor Company introduced the Fusion for the 2006 model year, it was one of the first shots in a campaign to show the world the “new Ford”. Along with the Edge and the redesigned, sportier Ford Taurus, the new design team in Detroit was ready to prove to the world that Ford could be relevant, reliable and cool all at once. Thankfully, these initiatives were part of the companywide restructuring that managed to leave Ford as the only manufacturer that didn’t need a bail out during the financial crisis of the late 2000s.
Built to compete with the Camry and Accord, the Fusion’s base price is right in line with both of its competitors at just over $22,000.
While the school of thought for most is to never buy the first model year of a brand-new car model, during its first several years the Fusion proved to be one of the most reliable Ford vehicles ever introduced. Apparently, Ford learned from the release of the Focus a short few years earlier. To this day, the Fusion remains one of the more reliable American sedans as proven by its low maintenance cost and the sheer number of them on the road.
2 $ Nissan Sentra
Another entry on our list from Nissan is the $16,990 base priced Sentra. In 1982, the same year Toyota debuted the Camry, Nissan brought the Sentra to market. All the Sentras (and all their Nissan siblings for that matter) sold outside of Japan from inception until 1986, were sold under the brand Datsun. While the Sentra didn’t turn heads like the Datsun 280Z, Nissan’s sports car of the day and the predecessor to the 370Z’s of today. While the Sentra wasn’t going to get the attention the Z-cars grabbed, it also had a far lower cost of ownership.
Rolling in at a modest $60 a month for maintenance, the overall retail price and maintenance investment in a Sentra over ten years should average under $25,000. In today’s market of overlapping car payments and repairs, knowing the Sentra shouldn’t put you in a financial hole should help you sleep easy at night. The estimated 37mpg on the highway should also make sure more of your money stays in your pocket. However, if base model isn’t your thing, Nissan offers eight upgrade packages including a turbo model and the race inspired Nismo package, complete with a turbo and sport tuned suspension. A Sentra may not be as popular as a Civic to the tuner community but having anything with Nismo on it automatically gives the car some street cred.
1 $ Kia Soul
Kia may not be the most popular car manufacturer on Earth, but they win the Crossover/SUV race for lowest cost of ownership. With a base price of $16,200 and a ten-year maintenance investment of only $4700, you can actually own a Crossover/SUV for under $22,000. And, according to Kia.com the Soul can achieve 30mpg on the highway, while delivering a combined city/highway rating of 27mpg. How the cargo and/or passenger combination you put into the 4-cylinder Soul affects those numbers remains to be seen. But, if you subtract power by adding too much weight, Kia offers a 201-hp turbo charged model for a little extra dough.
Oddly enough, the turbo charged variation actually boasts better fuel economy ratings than it’s non turbo’ed siblings. 31mpg city and 28mpg combined is really good for a 4-cylinder crossover/SUV. In fact, you may be hard pressed to find one that does better.
And, while fuel economy is obviously a good thing to pay attention to if you’re budget conscious, knowing you’re going to shell out less than $40 a month to keep your Soul maintained is equally good news.
So, while the out-of-the-ordinary appearance of the Kia Soul may not be for everyone, for those who don’t care about looks, but do care about costs, might find exactly what they’re looking for in this one.
Sources Consumer Reports, YourMechanic, AOL News