4 Maintenance Expenses You Must Be Aware Of When Used Car Shopping

by Travis Pizel · 2 comments

used car
Buying a car can be an exciting adventure. There’s a certain level of satisfaction and enjoyment of pulling out of the dealership in a new ride. There’s quite a process that needs to happen before that can happen, however. The price needs to be negotiated, extended warranties to be discussed, taxes and fees to be added, and potentially financing options to work though. In addition to all those things, there’s something else that should be considered if you’re contemplating purchasing used car. Once that vehicle is in your garage, you’ll have maintenance costs. Planning for those costs need to start even before you drive your new car off the lot.

Here are four common used car maintenance items that should always be contemplated when contemplating buying a used car:


The tires on any used vehicle should be inspected for wear and tear. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a vehicle only to be surprised that the tires need replacing. A good trick to check the state of the tires is to insert a penny into the tire groove with Abe Lincoln’s head upside down. If the top of the head is visible, the tires need replacement.

To get a better estimation as to how much life is left in tires, follow these steps:

  • Before going car shopping, stop by a tire center and ask for a tire tread gauge. They are essentially business cards with marks on them for measuring tire tread.
  • Measure the tire tread by inserting the card into the groove of the tire.
  • Find the tire manufacturer and model by inspecting the side of the tire.
  • Visit the tire manufacturer’s website to determine at what tread depth that specific tire is sold.
  • Given the fact that tires need to be replaced when tread depth reaches 2/32” determine the percent of life remaining.

For example’s sake, let’s say a tire is rated as a 80,000 mile tire and is sold new with a tread depth of 10/32”. If the current tread depth measures 6/32”, the tire is has 50% of it’s useful life left, or about 40,000 miles.

If the tires are nearing the end of their life, it is a good idea to call around to get an estimate as to how much it would cost to replace the tires. A good estimation for replacing tires on an average vehicle plus taxes and disposal fees is approximately $100 to $125 per tire.


The life of brake pads can vary widely depending upon the quality of the product used and how the vehicle is driven. Most quality brake pads are designed to last about 35,000 miles. While the seller may have information as to when the brakes were last replaced, it’s difficult to determine how worn they are without having a professional remove the tires and visually inspect the brakes. If a brake job is on the horizon, expect to pay $100 to $150 per axle, more if the rotors need to be resurfaced or replaced.

Engine Coolant Flush

Many vehicles don’t recommend an engine coolant flush for 10 years or well over 100,000 miles. Some mechanics would tell you every three years or 30,000 miles. Check the owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s suggestion as well as with the seller as to if they know when it was done last. This is likely more of an issue if buying a higher mileage used car, but if it’s needed it will cost you about $100.

Transmission Service

Depending upon the vehicle, a transmission flush could be another item for higher mileage vehicles. Some newer vehicles don’t recommend having it done until 120,000. However, similar to the engine coolant flush some mechanics recommend it every 30,000 miles. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation as well as with the seller for maintenance history of the vehicle. A transmission service at a local quick lube place starts at $59.99, and increases based upon how much transmission fluid is needed.

Knowing what maintenance expenses are needed soon, and their cost, is an important aspect of researching a used vehicle. Having several upcoming expensive maintenance costs could factor into the decision of whether to purchase the vehicle, or provide ammunition for negotiating a lower price. But at the very least, knowing what maintenance costs are coming up and approximately how much they will cost gives a potential owner a clear picture of what near term expenses they may incur with the purchase of a used vehicle.

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  • Ryan G says:

    The estimate of $100 / tire should be carefully researched. On my last two vehicles, the low profile tires cost about $250 installed with road hazard (the only extended warranty that I always invest in because it almost always pays for itself). Anyway, the cost of tires is highly vehicle dependent, so a quick search for the tire size for a particular make/model/trim and a visit to tirerack.com should give you an idea of what tires cost.

    Coolant and transmission services are recommended frequently by mechanics because they are so profitable. Look at the manufacturers maintenance guide for the recommended schedule, ask if/when the work was done, and proceed accordingly. On my last two vehicles, if I had the radiator flushed and transmission fluid changed every 30K miles, I would have had that done every year and a half to the tune of $250+ for completely unnecessary services.

    Finding a good, trustworthy mechanic and tire shop are great investments of your time as the money saved will pay off for years to come. A good mechanic will, for a fee, look over a used car you plan to purchase and give you an idea of what is wrong with it, if anything, and what it will cost to get it fixed. Kind of like a home inspection, a pre-purchase car inspection can save you a lot of trouble and money down the road.

  • Raj says:

    It’s very important to have a check on tires. They can ruin the experience of driving if unattended and can be life threatening if not fixed at the right time.

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