- Repair costs jumped 10 percent in 2012 after being on the decline for six years, to an average of $367 per service visit.
- As the nation's cars age, the 15 most expensive repairs saw a 24 percent rise in frequency.
- Repair prices for hybrid cars have dropped, as have trips to the dealership to address "Check Engine" lights stemming from loose gas caps.
IRVINE, California — An analysis of "Check Engine" light-related car problems shows a 10 percent jump in vehicle repair costs after six years of declining repair bills, according to the 2013 Vehicle Health Index by CarMD.com Corporation.
The sudden repair cost increase stems from a "market correction" that returned labor rates to pre-recession levels, and the fact that car owners are driving their vehicles longer, says Ieon C. Chen, CEO of CarMD. The Vehicle Health Index analyzes more than 161,000 repair inputs fed into CarMD's network by technicians certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence during 2012. CarMD sells a diagnostic code reader and provides a database of pricing and information to help car owners repair their vehicles.
The index also ranks the most common problems related to "Check Engine" lights, and found the No. 1 spot is occupied by faulty oxygen sensors. A bad oxygen sensor can reduce fuel economy by 40 percent, CarMD reports.
For the first time in the index's history, battery and charging system problems appeared in the top 10 most common "Check Engine"-related repairs, moving up from number 16. This could be because batteries are susceptible to heat, and the summer of 2012 was the hottest on record in the U.S.
A loose gas cap was the second most common problem to trigger a "Check Engine" light, CarMD says. In 3rd and 4th places are faulty catalytic converters and engine coils, each of which can reduce fuel economy by 20 percent.
The index also reveals that car owners in the Northeast were hardest hit by rising repair costs, at 11.56 percent. Repair costs on the West Coast rose only 6.53 percent during 2012.
While rising repair costs dominate CarMD's study, it does have good news for motorists. The costs of repairing hybrid cars dropped because more of the gas-electric vehicles are on the road, more parts are available and more qualified technicians are trained to work on the cars, according to the study. The most expensive repair in 2011, $4,100 to replace the hybrid inverter assembly, fell by 5 percent in 2012.
"The broad findings of the CarMD Vehicle Health Index can empower consumers to extend vehicle life through informed repair and maintenance decisions," Chen says. He adds that catching and fixing maintenance problems early will save car owners money in the long run.
Edmunds says: Fight the urge to cover up a persistent "Check Engine" light with black tape. Ignoring the glow will cost you money in reduced fuel economy and may also lead to a bigger repair bill in the future.