Two mechanics inspect the underside of a car
Vehicles

Do European cars really cost more to service?

If you’re considering buying a European car, no doubt someone has warned you of the servicing costs. But is it really a hard and fast rule?

By Shell on Apr. 14, 2022

Just like us, different cars have different characteristics. Some are known for requiring minimal ongoing intervention with affordable parts. Others can need more regular and in-depth technical attention with more expensive mechanical consumables.

Here in Australia, the common wisdom is European cars fall into the latter group, but is this the reality? Let's explore the variables.

New cars – the numbers

Jot down the service costs of some new cars – easy to do using the manufacturers' capped-price servicing calculators – and the European-is-costly theory stacks up.

Toyota's Corolla and Hyundai's i30, for example, cost an average of $205 and $299 per annum respectively to service for the first five years of ownership. An equivalent Volkswagen Golf or Peugeot 308, contrastingly, asks for an average of $629 or $501 per annum respectively over the same timescale.

Surveys from local organisations support the theory. In the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria's 2021 Vehicle Running Costs Survey, no European contender ranked as the cheapest model to service or run in its field.

Not every European car, however, costs more to service than its equivalents. Volkswagen's Transporter, for example, asks for an average of $634 per annum for the first five years, which is cheaper than Toyota's HiAce ($709 per annum).

In the RACV survey, Skoda's Octavia was found to be cheaper to service than a Mazda 6 or Honda Accord. Volkswagen's Tiguan, meanwhile, ranked better than Mazda's CX-8/CX-9 duo.

Reliability

Let's move into the used-car realm, where a car's reliability niggles won't potentially be 'subsidised' by a new-car warranty or capped-price servicing.

If logic suggests a car prone to breaking down is going to cost more to service than one that just keeps on going, the news isn't good for Europe.

While reliability is a difficult factor to measure, organisations that do tackle the subject in Australia and overseas, consistently rank European brands, en masse, lower than those from Japan and Korea.

Canstar Blue's 2021 Vehicle Reliability Survey, for example, ranked just two European brands in its top-10 positions. The issue is brand-dependent – Mercedes-Benz, for example, rated third ahead of many Japanese and Korean brands – but the over-riding trend goes against European.

Volume, positioning and technology

European brands have long been the kings of Australia's luxury-car market.

Luxury cars, however, typically cost more to service than your average mainstream alternative. As they age, the cost of keeping their sophisticated mechanicals, technology and equipment in good working order can become ever more prohibitive or even exceed their value.

While this reality isn't limited to European luxury cars, the fact most here come from the continent has provided fertile ground for the costly servicing reputation to develop.

Owing to their niche-selling status in this country, even mainstream Euro brands now tend to adopt cutting-edge technology sooner than more budget-orientated brands. With fresh technology sometimes prone to teething troubles, European cars can be exposed to the vagaries of unproven tech – think of Volkswagen's much-publicised troubles with dual-clutch transmissions last decade.

The verdict

A used, out-of-warranty European car probably won't be the cheapest car of its type to service and, depending on where it falls in the age/technology/market-positioning spectrum, could even throw out some eye-watering bills.

But the picture isn't so clear during the timeframe of a new-car warranty or capped-price servicing regime. While most European cars tend to cost more to service in those first initial years of ownership, some don't. Others, while not the cheapest to service in their class, might cost less during a three- or five-year ownership cycle than a credible rival from another country.

Ultimately, if you're worried about the cost of servicing a car, you should do your research before signing on the dotted line.

* Quoted service costs correct at time of publication.

Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd (“Viva Energy”) has compiled the above article for your general information and to use as a general reference. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken by Viva Energy in compiling this article, Viva Energy does not warrant or represent that the information in the article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use.