/ Motoring

When cars cost too much to run

Car exhaust

Ever bought a car and all-too-quickly regretted it because it cost an arm and a leg to live with? Do you consider the running costs of cars before you buy?

Being a car fan, I have to admit that I’ve regretted some of my car purchases due to the cost of running them. Before my mortgage and kids were denting my earnings, one of my most extravagant purchases was a 1939 Studebaker Commander.

Not only did it weigh a couple of tons, it was fitted with a 2.7-litre petrol engine with the thirst of a squaddie on a weekend’s leave. And to top off the astronomical running costs, this American giant was also too big to fit in my garage, so I had to rent a barn for it to live in.

That may be a very extreme case, but there are still pretty massive differences in the cost of running different versions of the same modern car model.

Car running costs calculated

If you choose a pacey Audi RS6 Avant estate over a bog-standard A6 Avant you’ll pay 20p more for every single mile you drive. The RS6 costs £1.90 per mile for fuel costs servicing and car tax, while the A6 costs £1.70 according to CAP.

And most people cover more than 10,000 miles a year, so that’s a £2,000 difference.

Before buying my Commander I could really have done with a quick calculator to plug in some raw stats, which would then spit out a simple cost-per-mile figure. That way I could see how much each element of ownership was going to cost up front, as well as the overall figure.

Do you work out the cost of owning a car before you buy? If so what factors are most important to you – depreciation, car tax, servicing, fuel costs, insurance, or others? Or perhaps you don’t really consider costs upfront and have a car running cost regret to share…


Certain costs – fuel, insurance, depreciation – can be estimated pretty well before you commit to a car (but look at road tests / Honest John for fuel consumption, not the published figures). What you will find less easy are repair/replacement costs if things go wrong. These can make a big hole in your budget. Turbo failures, injectors, alternator, replacing Xenon bulbs, may hit you, particularly if, like me, you keep you car into 6 figure mileage. My alternator is water cooled and costs £400 parts (repaired locally last time for £200), my turbo failed, my gearbox failed at 90k, but I philosophically regard this as a trade off against low depreciation in a car a like and hopefully will now motor on for a lot more miles. However, worth looking at these costs when considering a car. My Son’s BMW windscreen costs £1000 – not necessarily replaced on insurance with a genuine BMW screen – so if it matters you’ll have to stump up the cost.
Also worth checking whether you have a local independent garage for your make to service your car – mine is ex-dealer people who charge 60% of the main dealer labour cost – a substantial saving.


For me, the top priority is to avoid buying models or makes with a very poor reputation for reliability. For many years I have listened to Fiat and Renault owners’ tales of woe. I try to avoid buying a new model, preferring to wait until the major problems have been overcome. Before buying, I try to find out about common problems with a model and how much they would cost to fix.

There is a lot to be said for buying popular models because they are often sold at competitive prices and spares are usually readily available.

My tips to save money are to minimise car use by combining journeys, and not to replace a car unless there is a compelling reason for doing so.


You probably bought the Studebaker for reasons other than fuel economy and with such a car, this shouldn’t really be an issue. Your use of it is. A “sensible” second car, to supplement the classic Studebaker, is a pre-requisite of ownership. My elderly Volvo averaged 28 to the gallon and, while it ran well, I put up with that, because a replacement was a costly alternative. When it finally became unreliable, I bought my first diesel, and this was principally to improve fuel economy. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have considered diesel as an option. Times change.

richard says:
9 June 2013

The only expense I’ve really considered has been fuel economy – But have been caught out several times – Had Austin Martin DB – the cost of insurance was prohibited (couldn’t afford to renew) Had a Mazda from new that cost an arm and a leg to replace worn out fittings within four years – Had a Mini Cooper S that was unreliable. The best was a Nissan that I had 20 years and only went wrong once at 20 years old and decided to replace it with an Hyundai..

Leonard says:
12 June 2013

I’ve been pleased with my Honda Jazz, but disappointed at the cost of things that I didn’t think should wear out as soon as they do. I’ve just done 36000 miles since I bought it in 2004, but have had to pay for replacement brake discs twice at £200 a time, replacement front suspension units at £275, and £195 to replace a lost key. I was told that the discs became corroded “because I didn’t use the brakes enough to keep them shiny” and that the suspension was likely to become loose because of speed humps in the road (though I always crawl over these). Am I being unrealistic in expecting a car to last 10 years without needing major parts to be replaced at such cost? If brake discs are considered “consumables” we need a warning of this. I can’t blame Honda for the lost key, but the replacement cost seems ridiculously high.

Stephen J Butler says:
19 June 2013

Once owned a RAV4 that when booked in for its annual service, I was told the same i.e., brake discs needing replacing due to corrosion on discs caused by not using brakes enough to keep them shiny and smooth. When a vehicle is in the driveway or garage and overnight it rains, discs display rust spots which are eliminated after taking vehicle out for even a short run, using the brakes. I ignored the garage’s advice and ran the RAV4 for another year before taking it to a different garage for servicing who serviced it and DID not mention anything about the discs needing replaced. Discs were never replaced in my 5 years of ownership and when sold back to a dealership they tested the RAV4 prior to exchanging for a new car and still did not mention anything about the discs. New car, a Kuga, after driving fir a year and putting it in for its 1st service, I was told that tyres needed replacing as the fronts were down to 4.4mm & 4.5mm respectively at a cost of nearly £600 even though legal limit is 1.6mm!!! Moral here, get a second opinion.

Peter Lawley says:
12 June 2013

We bought a new VW Golf Bluemotion 1.6D on the strength of its claimed fuel economy in October 2011. It’s never achieved anything like the claimed figures, first averaging around 50mpg, and more recently after 25000 miles it’s now up to around 56mpg overall.
Our motoring is a mix of uncrowded urban and suburban roads, dual carriageways and infrequent motorway trips, where I always use cruise control wherever safe to do so.
VW claim figures for our ‘Match’ version of the high 60’s for the extra-urban cycle, and low 70’s for urban, all of which is a complete fiction as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t even make the supposed Which? ‘real world’ consumption figures.
I complained both to Which? and to VW, who had it in for testing and pronounced everything to be in order and very politely told me it’s down to my own driving style and pattern of usage.
The Golf is a lovely car to drive, and well built, and if I had the GTi version, I wouldn’t complain, but I’ll be very wary of taking any notice of manufacturers’ figures in the future.
I think all the consumption figures publicised by manufacturers can be taken with a very large handful of salt.


The EU consumption figures are derived from standard tests to put published consumption figures on a common basis; they are not claimed to represent real life. This is not about manufacturers mis-claiming. One place to look for real life figures is Honest John’s website.