One of my concerns before purchasing a car is how expensive repairs are going to be down the road. For example my car up until recently was a Volvo 850, and the air conditioner didn't work in it; the cost of getting it fixed was significantly higher than other cars because of the way the A/C unit is installed in the car, so I went on without air conditioning. Another example is the service light in the car - while the car had a standard OBD-II port which could read error messages, it required a special Volvo reader to reset the service light.

I know a lot of generalizations can be made about one make versus another, but those are obviously not allowed on this site (in fact, I hope this question is allowed at all...) - so that's not what I'm looking for. And I know there is a wide range of problems a car can encounter, and many of them are universal - replacing tires, for (a bad) example.

So, just like I can go to KBB and look up the recommended price of a car, is there someplace I can go to look up a make & model of a car and see what proprietary, extra-expensive parts are in the car? Something that, for example, I could have put in the Volvo 850 and it would have told me about those above-mentioned peculiarities alongside undoubtedly a number of other proprietary bits that I didn't have problems with.

  • 1
    I generally google for the common problems the car i'm looking to have. By doing this I get 2 thing out of it. First, I see if it always going to be broken, second it's rather easy to find the cost of repair of those most common problem. Of course, not all source are reliable and must be taken with a grain of salt.
    – Rémi
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 16:00

4 Answers 4


There are a lot of sites that have reliability statistics about vehicles. I think msn.autos list common problems and typical costs for the repair of those problems.

One big factor is the price of the parts. Parts for vehicles that were produced in large numbers are generally cheaper. So you should expect parts for a Nissan GTR to be more expensive then a Versa. Also, parts for luxury vehicles are typically more expensive. For example at GM, pricing for the same part at a Cadillac dealership is typically more expensive then a Chevy dealership.

Another factor is your mechanic. Dealership's are going to be far more pricey than local shops. However, a poor mechanic anywhere is going to waste your time and money. Look for ASE Certification.

Last, if you are buying used, then the previous owner is typically going to be a big factor as well. Where they rough on the car? Did they preform service at the recommended intervals? Did they do repairs with cheap parts? etc.


Your best basic resource for a question like this is an objective publication that specializes in collecting exactly this sort of information. For example, Consumer Reports provides exactly this sort of information: be aware, it will cost money if you want full access to their website. However, there's a good chance that they have the magazine at your local library.

There's also a meta level of knowledge to be gained by people who work on a particular brand of car regularly. For example, reading what people have to say about modern Subarus was what drove me to buy the cars I have now. Aside from the AWD, the fact that all Subarus are effectively the same fundamental design layout and engines wrapped in different bodies really appealed to me. I don't find myself hunting around for a particular component: they all look the same once you pop the hood.

So, if your mechanic friend loves working on a particular type of vehicle, that's generally a good sign. If they are always cursing about the special code reader that they can only use on a particular model year, perhaps that's an "avoid" signal.

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    +1 for Consumer Reports - in my opinion, it's well worth the money, especially when considering major purchases.
    – Dan A.
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 21:47

Popularity of the manufacturer and your location will also play a large roll in the price and availability of parts.

Those who frequent this site may know I own, adore, and profess the excellence of my 2006 6-speed Infinti G35 Sedan. Every day in my 45-60 minute commute to and from work in the Seattle area, I see at least 10 cars that share the same chassis, drivetrain, or other parts (exhaust, auxiliary pumps, interior, etc) as my car (Nissan 350z, 370z, Maxima, Murano, Quest; Infiniti G35 coupe, FX35, G37 to name a few).

I have been able to repair replace and upgrade my suspension, intake, exhaust, and interior for 'relatively' cheap because there are so many of these cars around. Last week I bought an entire OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer, AKA stock) cat-back exhaust system with 30k miles off craigslist for $80. The same parts new cost over $500.

When I bought my second G35 a few months ago (after the first was totalled), I flew to Nebraska and drove it back, because the price in Nebraska was 30% cheaper (flight, gas, and lodging included) than the same car in the Seattle area. For the first 1400 miles of driving, I saw EXACTLY two G35s, and one 350z. Yes I was counting. The majority of the cars I saw were American SUVs, trucks, sedans, and a few Honda and Toyota SUV & sedans. Upon returning to the NorthWest, I saw 5 G35's in the last 50 miles of my journey.

Moral of the story, buy a G35 :P


Depending on the car you're considering, there may be one or more enthusiast forums which discuss that make and/or model. From there you should be able to look through the topics and get a feel for common issues, or start a new thread which should draw out advice fairly quickly.

I owned a '97 Volvo 850 for many years and ultimately sold it due to the same A/C issue you experienced. Using that car as an example, even a simple search for "Volvo 850 problems" brings up threads from six different Volvo-specific message boards as well as hits from Edmunds and some other aggregator sites.

Parts costs have been mentioned but one thing to be aware of is whether the specific model and body style is unusual, as that can impact availability and price. My wife owned a 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring -- a compact wagon variant with almost nothing in common with the rest of the Elantra family. The result is that even typical items like the battery are more expensive and when we take it for service multiple shops have ordered the wrong parts the first time.

To try and gauge this, go to eBay and search for parts/assemblies for the year/make/model that one might need to replace: headlight, mirror, wheel, etc. The results will include a lot of aftermarket/upgrade and knockoff/non-OEM parts but the number of hits and general price range will give you a feel for what you're up against.

However, take it all with a grain of salt based on your needs and use case. I swapped my 850 for a Honda Accord and while it's been cheap to maintain it's also ridiculously boring and I would go back to the 850 if I could afford the repairs.

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