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Car Repairs Rise for Second Straight Year

Just the Facts:
  • Car repair costs rose 6.7 percent in 2013, marking the second such annual increase.
  • Average repair costs in 2013 were $392.49, but still short of their high of $422.36 in 2006.
  • The Polar Vortex-stricken Midwest and Northeast saw a 9 percent hike in car repair costs.

IRVINE, California — Repair costs rose for the second year in a row as indicated by an analysis of check engine light-related car problems, according to the 2014 Vehicle Health Index by Corporation. The repair price increase was due to a jump in labor costs and an uptick in expense for automotive parts.

Faulty oxygen sensors, which can negatively impact fuel economy by as much as 40 percent, remained the most common check engine light repair, according to Doug Sobieski, CarMD's chief marketing officer. The 2014 CarMD Vehicle Health Index analyzed more than 145,000 repairs reported to CarMD's nationwide network of factory-trained, Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified technicians last year. The full CarMD Index lists the 25 most common check engine-related repairs and a list of most common repairs by region.

Due to extremely cold weather across much of the country, "replace thermostat" moved up five spots from 18 to 13 among most common repairs in 2013. A car's thermostat helps quickly bring a car's engine up to operating temperature by initially restricting the circulation of coolant. The thermostat is susceptible to overheating, sludge, age and can even freeze up during very cold weather.

The two repairs that fell the most in CarMD's Index ranking were "remove aftermarket alarm" and "inspect for faulty wiring," both of which dropped 8 spots to 15 and 20 respectively. CarMD attributes this trend to improvements in features and quality by the automotive manufacturers on newer-model vehicles.

"Thanks to today's technology, consumers and fleet managers have access to more information than ever before to help them take a proactive role to extend vehicle life and minimize cost of car ownership," says CarMD's Sobieski. The company sells a $119 device that reads engine codes and provides access to a Web site database that identifies the problem (according to the code) and estimates the cost of repair. The Index shows how ignoring the check engine light "can drive up the cost of ownership with increased fuel usage and a domino effect on needed repairs," Sobieski says.

The most expensive repair seen by CarMD's technician network in 2013 was "replace transmission assembly and reprogram engine control module," typically a $5,984 repair bill. Transmission-related repairs accounted for six of the 10 most expensive repairs, but saw a 10 percent reduction in frequency. This was attributed to the surge in the number of newer cars on the road.

While most car repair costs rose, hybrid repairs continue to drop as more hybrids hit the road. Also, hybrid parts were more readily available along with specially trained technicians to service the alternative powertrain vehicles.

Edmunds says: When you see a check engine light, deal with it — it will actually save you money in the long run.

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