Car ownership is expensive. Take your monthly payments and add insurance, gas and maintenance, and it's a big part of the family budget. Some features available in today's cars, though, can make the ownership experience more expensive than it needs to be. Because it's not always apparent which features might hit your wallet later, we've outlined some common ones with hidden costs — and how you can minimize those costs through smart shopping.
Oversized Wheels and Tires
It wasn't all that long ago when 20-inch — or larger — alloy wheels were rarely offered by automakers, but they've become much more common, especially in the luxury segment. They look great, but the cost of the low-profile tires they wear could come as a rude surprise when it's time for new rubber as the cost for a single replacement tire can top $400. If one of those large wheels also needs to be replaced, you can plan on paying considerably more.
Takeaway: Choosing smaller wheels (and, where offered, steel wheels over alloy) will help keep repair or replacement costs lower.
The idea of summer tires might be appealing if you're keen on extra grip for your car, but it's worthwhile to consider the different driving conditions you might encounter. That's because, despite advances in tire technology, summer tires can be abysmal in even small amounts of snow, so bad, in fact, that you might need a set of dedicated winter tires just to get out of your driveway. Summer tires tend to be more expensive to replace than all-season tires, sometimes to the tune of an extra $100 or more per tire.
Takeaway: Unless you rarely venture from warm climates, all-season tires are better equipped to handle varying road conditions and will be easier on your wallet when you need to replace them.
Four-Wheel (or All-Wheel) Drive
Rugged trucks and SUVs were once the only vehicles with four-wheel drive, but the technology has proliferated and is now offered in everything from family sedans to luxury cars to sports cars. These systems are more complex, and have more moving parts, than conventional front- or rear-wheel-drive systems, and that's a recipe for expensive repairs when something breaks. It's not unheard of for repairs to four-wheel-drive systems to cost thousands of dollars. What's more, the added weight usually exacts a fuel-economy penalty.
Takeaway: Unless you regularly drive on unplowed roads, snow-covered hills or the Rubicon Trail, you probably don't need four-wheel drive.
Despite volatile gas prices, performance remains a big selling point for some car shoppers, and automakers have heartily offered up performance components. When looking at the cost, though, it's not just the performance engine's typically lower gas mileage that you need to consider. The maintenance schedule for the Dodge Dart's optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine, for instance, calls for more frequent spark plug changes than the base engine, and things like high-performance Brembo-brand brake systems require more expensive brake pads and rotors.
Takeaway: Most modern cars deliver adequate performance, so non-enthusiasts can save money by avoiding performance features.