IRVINE, California — After two years of increases, auto repair costs remained almost flat for the past year as indicated by an analysis of check engine light-related car problems, according to the 2015 Vehicle Health Index by CarMD.com Corporation. The report, which looked at repairs of 1996 and newer cars, says that while labor prices rose, the cost of car parts dropped, leaving the cost to consumers at a mere .6 percent increase.
Faulty oxygen sensors, which can negatively impact fuel economy by as much as 40 percent, was again the most common problem triggering a check engine light, according to the report. The 2015 CarMD Vehicle Health Index analyzed more than 98,000 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 weather extremes — very cold in the northeast and warmer than usual in the southwest — "replace thermostat" and "replace fuel injectors," jumped into the top 10 most common repairs. A car's thermostat, which quickly brings a car's engine up to operating temperature, works harder and may need to be replaced more frequently in extreme temperature environments. Fuel injectors, which spray gas into the engine's combustion chambers, can become clogged by fuel tank debris from frequently driving with the fuel light on, using low-grade gas or putting off fuel filter replacement.
"This CarMD Vehicle Health Index reminds drivers to address check engine light warnings because it's more likely to be a simple, affordable fix than a catastrophic repair," says David Rich, CarMD's technical director. "But either way addressing it early will improve fuel economy and minimize the likelihood of needing more than one repair."
The most expensive repair was "replace transmission assembly" at $6,400, while more than 5 percent of check engine lights resulted in free repairs. A common free fix was simply to tighten the gas cap to clear a check engine light.
The good news continued for hybrid car owners — for the fifth year their repair costs have dropped, as much as 50 percent. This is due to the increasing availability of parts and trained technicians. Hybrids accounted for only one of the top 10 most expensive repairs in 2014 as opposed to three from the previous year. It might be interesting to note that the average cost to replace a hybrid battery went up 11 percent in 2014 from $3,140 in 2013 to $3,479 in 2014.
CarMD sells a device that reads engine codes and products, information and services that help reduce the cost of car ownership.
Edmunds says: Statistics show that your check engine warning is much more likely to be from a loose gas cap than a catastrophic engine failure.