Machine line is a type of manufacturing system in which machines are connected in series or in parallel. It is significant to ensure the reliability as well as to reduce the total cost of maintenance and failure losses in the maintenance programs of such systems. Cost-based selective maintenance decision-making, which is the best method for a selected group of machines in machine line is presented under limited maintenance durations. Fault losses and maintenance costs of a single machine under different maintenance actions i.e. minimal repair, preventive maintenance and overhaul on the fault rate of the machine are calculated. An algorithm combining the heuristic rules and tabu search is proposed to solve the presented selective maintenance model. Finally, a case study on the maintenance decision-making problem of a connecting rod machining line in the automobile engine workshop is presented to illustrate the applicability of the proposed method. The end result shows that the fault losses can be further reduced by the optimization of maintenance interval and maintenance duration. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.