Less Can Cost More, Says Consumer Reports

February 28, 2008
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Sometimes a bargain isn't. A car that may look inexpensive, up front, just might wind up costing you more in the long-run, warns Consumer Reports magazine, in its Annual April Auto Issue.

Once you add in factors like maintenance, fuel costs, insurance, interest and depreciation, the actual cost of ownership can be significantly different than what many car buyers would expect. The magazine notes that with its $17,500 sticker price, a Mitsubishi Lancer is a whopping $5,000 less than the smaller Mini Cooper -- at least when you first drive it home. But over the typical, five-year ownership cycle, the equation looks quite a bit different. When you add in repairs and other factors, the Mitsubishi actually will cost about $3,000 more, Consumer Reports calculates.

Toyotas score quite well, according to the magazine. While the Highlander SUV is $3,000 more, initially, than a comparable Ford Explorer, the Japanese SUV will save an owner $6,500 over the long-run. And lower fuel costs are one of the main reasons why the Prius hybrid will save an owner $2,000, after five years, versus a Chevrolet Cobalt, even though the sticker price of the Chevy is $7,500 less.

But one big surprise comes from the luxury side of the Toyota line-up. Its Lexus brand has relatively high maintenance costs, so over that same, five-year cycle, an ES350 will rack up a full $2,300 more in repair costs than a Lincoln MKZ.

In working out the numbers, CR found that the value of the average new vehicles depreciates 65 percent over five years, so even a few percentage points can mean a significant difference for an owner. Fuel costs vary widely, CR editors note, even among comparably-sized vehicles. A Dodge Nitro will use $2,000 more fuel than a Toyota RAV4 V-6, for example. Maintenance and repairs will typically add up to 4 percent of the cost of ownership, but also varies significantly.

The magazine suggests that motorists consider all factors, rather than just the sticker price, when comparing the cost of a new car, truck or crossover.

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