CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

How Much To Reserve For Repairs When Buying a Used Car?

I typically assume any used vehicle I buy will cost me about $1000 in the first month or two on maintenance items like fluid changes, spark plugs, filters, battery, etc. and for any unexpected repairs that crop up. Does this sound reasonable?

I am budgeting $6000 (cash) for a gas efficient sedan for a 55 mile round trip daily commute on congested highways. I have not started looking yet, but I am hopeful I will find something reliable for that amount. I came up with the $6000 figure because my current car was damaged in a traffic accident, and the insurance settlement is $7200

Thanks for any ideas on this

When I was young and poor and the price of car repairs was a problem for me, I used to budget 20% of the car price, but I do a lot of my own repairs.

In my area ( southern New Jersey ) any sedan in reasonably reliable condition typically costs at least $10,000. and $1,000 to catch up on deferred maintenance would be light also, with labor rates over $100 per hour. I think you need to increase your budget.

1 Like

The car that I was driving prior to this one was a 2006 Toyota Avalon with 60,000 miles on it. It was in excellent condition. The retail price according to multiple car valuation sites averaged out to $7600. I know a $6000 budget will be a downgrade, but I hope I can find something respectable. I know, it is a tall order. I guess my other option would be to have the Avalon repaired (right front end collision damage), but that might involve additional costs, and I am trying to get back on the road without any out-of-pocket expenses.

You can really look at the cars. Easily some may have new tires, that will save you, upon a mechanic inspection some may have good brakes, that will save you, some may need a timing belt, if records show when that was done that will save you, some may have a suggestion of a trans fluid service, if that was done that will save you, the last used car, my current car was a vehicle maintained by a private company with all the records, a well maintained car costs about the same as a badly maintained car, but the difference to the buyer can be significant. When I was looking at used cars for my daughter some places were here it is, the one shop I liked the best, a car I was looking at, we did a new wheel bearing brakes and tires and their price was competitive for a similar model at another lot needing brakes and tires. Ended up with a soul for her at another dealer, just saying 2 of the same cars you see are not necessarily the same. I would think $1200 would cover anything, but get an inspection done by an independent mechanic for less surprises.

1 Like

I did help my college age daughter purchase a used car last year. I rated vehicles as more desirable if they included service records just for the reason you mentioned.

In the past, I would purchase a two to three year-old car to take advantage of depreciation, yet still have several low maintenance years ahead of me. Right now, my finances are not sufficient to spend that kind of money, so your rule of thumb is even more important to me than ever before.

I would advise not doing that . More damage might be found during repair that needs more money than your settlement. A friend just did that and now he is having trouble getting insurance for the vehicle and it cost a lot more than he thought it would.

1 Like

I have never spent more than $3000 on a used car, and lately have discovered that the “sweet spot” is to spend about $2000 to buy the car, and another $1000 or so on the initial maintenance/repairs. Of course, I live in a region where rust is not a problem, so it’s easy to find fully-depreciated cars from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s with no body damage and less than 150,000 miles.

I think $1000 is a good number to use to refresh the $5000-$6000 car you just bought. Tires, brakes (if needed) plus fluid and filter changes are my staples with a used car of nearly any age.

Since you are paying cash, put away some money every week for future maintenance or repairs so you have it when it comes. $100 a month will get you to $1200 in a year. It is also useful to have a little credit available ($3-$4000) in the event you need something big before you’ve saved up enough for the repair.

Cars are always a bit of a gamble. If you plan for bad things and they don’t come through, it is just money ahead for the next car.

1 Like

Winter brings four to five months of salted roads in my climate. For the past couple of years, prior to the road salt season, I have sprayed the undercarriage and inside the doors, rockers, quarters, basically any body cavity with Fluid Film. That seems to hold off the rust somewhat.

We are not going to get the car fixed. After reviewing the estimate more closely, repairing did not seem like a good option…

Time to find a replacement vehicle. I did a brief search to see what is available - carcomplaints.com came in handy just to get an idea of the issues are typical for models and years.

We joke, 1/4" of snow followed by 1/2" of salt. Yeah my 03 is getting rusty in places, not worth the price to fix it, the rust blockers have been doing pretty well, still felt confident enough to do a 1k round trip to the cabins with 190+k on the odometer. Figure if it dies on the road and repairs are too expensive I will scrap it and buy something off a lot and keep on going. Don’t let my car hear this, I love my baby!

Updating this thread: We bought a 2009 Toyota Rav4, FWD, 4 cylinder. 110,000 miles. It is in overall good condition. I am doing preemptive/preventative fluid and filter changes, since I do not know when they were last changed. It was taken on a 1000 mile road trip this week. So far, so good - nothing cropped up during the first 500 miles.

4 Likes