Will a little simple preventative maintenance really save you money in the long run?

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Picture this: You're buying a new car. You've found the model you want with the perfect color combination and it's in the right price range. You've made your down payment, carefully examined your financing options, and evaluated what your budget will be like with a new car payment and perhaps a change in insurance costs, too.

But have you figured in the cost of maintenance for your new car? We all know that it can be expensive to keep a car in proper working order, but we don't always include that in our financial plans. Consumer Reports estimates that over five years, 4 percent of the total cost of your vehicle will be spent on repairs and maintenance. That doesn't sound like much. That is, until you have to pay for something big like a blown transmission, for example [source: Consumer Reports].

According to one recent study, the average American household spent $5,477 on gas and automotive expenses last year. $2,208 was for gasoline, but the rest -- a whopping $3,269 -- was for expenses like dealership maintenance, service station fixes and body shop repair. That comes out to $272 a month, which is almost like a second car payment [source: Paskin].

Hopefully you're not paying $272 each month in maintenance. That figure is an average, which includes cars of all different makes and model years. How much you pay in the long run definitely depends on what you choose to purchase. Buy a brand-new Honda Accord or Chevrolet Impala, and your repair costs will likely be lower than if you invest in a 1960s British sports car or something similar. Remember, buying a brand new car means that a warranty will cover the cost of many repairs early on.

With the country is experiencing an economic downturn, people are keeping their cars longer and maintaining them better than they may have in the recent past. Modern cars are also being built a lot more reliable than ever before, so it's not an uncommon feat for a new vehicle to go beyond 100,000 miles (160,934 kilometers). But routine maintenance can be pricey -- even when it's spread out over a few years. In fact, owners of many new trucks and sedans can expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 as they perform scheduled maintenance on their way to reaching the six-digit mileage mark [source: Helperin].

If you take care of your vehicle, you'll prevent more serious (and more expensive) problems down the road. Everything from oil changes to brake pads and tire rotation could save you thousands of dollars down the line, so be sure to consult your owner's manual frequently to see what's next on your car's maintenance schedule.

For more information about the cost of car ownership, follow the links on the next page.