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What's the cheapest car to own?

Consider the cost of maintenance and repairs -- and their frequency -- when deciding which car to buy.

By Feb 14, 2014 3:10PM
This post comes from Louis DeNicola at partner site on MSN Money

Searching for a new car? Take heed: Do your homework thoroughly and look beyond the sticker price and amenities to the long-term costs of ownership. 

A Toyota Camry parked at a car dealership in San Jose, Calif. Credit: © Paul Sakuma/AP
Rank cars and manufacturers by cost to own
The exact long-term cost of owning a vehicle is impossible to determine in advance given differences in driving habits and geographic location. Still, useful guidelines, like the cost and frequency of repairs, can help savvy consumers narrow down the choices.

CarMD ranked 10 carmakers and 100 models according to the number and cost of repairs associated with "check engine" warnings during the year beginning October, 2012; vehicles included in the research were manufactured between 2003 and 2013. Hyundai raced to the head of the pack, followed by Toyota, GM, Chrysler, and Honda.

Although GM cars, on average, are cheapest to repair ($304.99 per incident), the higher frequency of repairs parked GM in third place. Toyota cars registered the highest average cost ($540.53 per incident) but fewer trips to the mechanic.

Data from CarMD show that three of the five most reliable cars bear a Toyota nameplate: the 2012 and 2011 Camry and the 2011 Corolla. The 2012 Camry, for example, boasts an average repair cost of $54.25 per incident. The runner up vehicle in CarMD's rankings, the 2012 Nissan Altima, costs an average $402 for each repair, but, again, ranks high because owners experience few problems., another automotive researcher, also produces an annual list of the best-value vehicles. This one is based on variables such as maintenance and repair costs, depreciation, and insurance. Toyota's passenger cars cross this finish line first, with the 2013 Camry the No. 1 mid-sized sedan and the Prius C the best value compact hybrid. Using Yahoo Autos' car profiles drawn from Vincentric's data, we estimated that the average annual cost of maintenance and repairs on a 2013 Camry L is about $900 during the first five years.

Fixya, an online question-and-answer platform, recently determined that among the five best-selling sedans, the Toyota Camry is the least prone to problems in the long run. The "Test of Time" report doesn't purport to be scientific -- the data reflect the number of online views of specific model-related ailments that are discussed on the site. The analysis of these so-called "problem impressions" covers the past 10 model years and ranks the Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus in order behind the Camry.

Expert opinion
Stan Markuze, president of, an online marketplace for used car parts, says a long and comprehensive warranty may be the best way to shift maintenance and repair costs down to zero regardless of make or model. Some warranties last up to 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first) and extended warranties may cover the basics, like oil changes or brake pad replacement.

Markuze stresses the importance of researching a model's service-cost history and paying attention to its reputation, particularly for big-ticket items like transmission and engine. His experience with Toyotas corresponds with the CarMD and Vincentric analyses and he notes that Toyotas have been known to run for 200,000 miles or more. Mechanics he works report that Chevys often require major repairs even before they've rolled 100,000 miles.

Low repair costs for Toyota vehicles likewise catch the attention of Jordan Perch, an analyst at (a resource for driving-related information but no relation to state-level motor vehicle departments). In addition, Perch singles out Hyundai, the top manufacturer on CarMD's list, for making cars that aren't likely to break down in the first five years and for offering long warranties. He cautions, however, that resale values on Hyundai vehicles trail those of Toyota and Honda.

Bottom line
The expert consensus suggests that Toyota Camry is the vehicle of choice if long-term ownership costs are the make-or-break factor. But the Camry certainly isn't for everyone. In fact, the best-selling vehicle in America isn't a car at all -- it's the Ford F-Series truck.

More from Cheapism:
Feb 14, 2014 5:05PM
Choose the less gadgeted one or the cheapest one and you'll be fine, regardless of brand. The simplier the better it will be for your pocket.
Feb 17, 2014 11:40AM
How long a car last depends largely on how the driver takes care of the vehicle. 
Feb 14, 2014 9:04PM
My work truck is getting ready to turn over 305,000 miles, I change the fluids on a regular basis, and fix whatever might break, it's a mid 90's three quarter ton full size pickup, if it don't work, I don't eat.
Feb 14, 2014 11:44PM

Would NEVER have another Toyota.   Their Dealers, in cahoots with Toyota of North America are by far the  MOST DISHONEST Mfkrz in the Country.    Toyota Warranties are NOT WORTH the papyrus on which they are written.  Search the internet for TOYOTA ENGINE OIL SLUDGE FIASCO -- Millions of Toyota owners cheated out of repairs by Toyota North America. ....... HOW THE HELL DOES TOYOTA GET THE MEDIA TO KEEP THIS LONG RUNNING SCANDAL HUSH-HUSH!


Feb 17, 2014 11:59AM
A car with no interest is the best car.
Feb 17, 2014 7:42AM
Dollars spent per miles travelled,the pre 2011 Ford Focus with a manual transmission is the best car out there. I have over 20 customers with well over 200K miles on their Focuses with nothing more than regular maintenance,tires and brakes replaced. They get 35+ mpg and parts are cheap cheap cheap!Plus,they are very easy to work on. Many more customers owning Focuses are approaching the 200K mile level and about 6 are above 300k with NO major repairs. Yes,the car is that good. Another plus is they don't rust out badly.Avoid the automatics and the early split port engines. The Zetec motors are indestructible! I have been repairing cars for over 40 years professionally.
Feb 14, 2014 4:02PM
   We own a '92 Camry with about 180,000 miles on it.  It has been rolled into a snow bank at one time.  Since then, it has changed hands within the family about 5 times and it is still the "go-to" car.  It looks rough, but runs like a dream.  When our newer vehicles breakdown, we can always count on the Camry to get us where we are going.  Its like the old Timex watch commercial, "it takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'."
Feb 14, 2014 4:01PM
my 2002 hyundai is closing in on 247000 miles. i have paid to replace one wheel bearing and one fuel injector plus the usual maintenance items. not bad.
Feb 17, 2014 9:59AM
The best selling car in America IS the Toyota Camry.  The Ford F150 is a TRUCK.  So if you want to be correct, you should say the best selling vehicle in America is the Ford F150.
Feb 17, 2014 6:47AM

The car that is used the most needs the most repairs. Some people are harder on cars than others too. 


Feb 14, 2014 11:53PM

The cheapest car to pay for is one that you own.

Pick out a cost allowance for ins., vehicle, tax, tag, title, etc. To Fit Your Budget And Put The Money in the Bank Every Pay Day. Use the money to repair the vehicle you own and rent another as necessary. Always Make You Vehicle Payments On Time. If you are lucky you will get a good one to work with and after several months or a few years of making vehicle payments  with no break downs there will enough to buy a real good transport.

Repeat Process

Feb 14, 2014 4:04PM
The only thing Toyota's been popular for lately is recalls...several per year, a million or so  each time...And yet these idiots who write this drivel keep on about how GREAT they they not read the news???
Feb 14, 2014 10:16PM

Rich people don't have the trill of making the last payment on there Car,that the best one when it all paid up  Make sure you have a garage you can trust. There all a waste of money,but you have to have one in most cases.

Feb 17, 2014 11:55AM
Feb 14, 2014 5:12PM

Bring back Saturn!  A concept that flew in the face of Detroit so they killed it.  Imagine a car company that treated people like adults, not teenagers, pimps and hillbillies!

Feb 17, 2014 11:55AM
The cheapest cars to own are the ones I have, Both are paid for, both get decent mileage, both of them pass emissions testing every time,  both have reasonable insurance rates, and they go from point A to point B and back every time even in the snow without  the stupid gadgets they want you to pay extra for these days......
Feb 14, 2014 4:03PM
I have a 2007 Camry with 195,000 miles.  As off today (2/14/14) I have done absolutely nothing to it that had to be done. I replaced the spark plugs at 100,000 miles because I wanted to. That's it beside oil changes, wiper blades and tires. I'm 55 years old and it is the best car I've ever owned.
Feb 17, 2014 1:19PM
So the company with the highest amount of recalls is the cheapest to own?  B.S. I don't believe this story one bit.  Non-domestic cars from in general are more expensive because they have to import parts as well. Domestic cars have parts already here in the U.S.  Don't believe me ask some one who switches from a Honda, Volkswagen, or toyota, to a ford or chevy.  THis article is skewed and makes me think that Toyota paid for part of it.
Feb 23, 2014 1:25AM

Car from Hell,

  To own anything approaching a working and reliable car would be like a miracle. After a series of seemingly never ending repairs and expenses I basically gave up on it. The car gets the mileage of an Abrams Tank slogging through a Louisiana mud bog and there are now so many things lit up on the dash that it looks like a frigging Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. The list of things that don't work now reads like an entire Chilton's repair manual. I'm basically down to a lurching bomb that starts and stops, with the only luxury being a working radio and one window that goes up and down. Oh, and let's not forget the ' special plush' interior that includes seats that have enough Ace Hardware duct tape on them to wrap an entire family of Egyptian mummies.

   I have been currently experiencing some very vivid dreams that someone actually had the giant cajones to steal this thing ....only to wake up and still see it in the driveway the next morning. Misery now has me torn between simply pushing the car off a high cliff...or just getting in, tossing back a couple beers and driving off the edge with the radio on full blast...and a smile on my face. Peace.

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