Repair Costs on the Upswing After Declining for Two Years

Repair Costs on the Upswing After Declining for Two Years

Nothing lasts forever, as Axl Rose once said. After flatlining for a couple of years, during which time car owners — on average — saw no increases in repair costs stemming from “check engine” lights, bills are headed back up.

A study looking at average repair costs in 2016 has found that the price of discovering the cause of that dreaded light rose 2.7 percent between last year and 2015. That brings the average repair bill for this type of garage visit to $398. However, not every region of America took a hit.

In its 2017 Vehicle Health Index study, repair data provider CarMD broke down the tired components that most often sent drivers on a nervous trip to their local service bay last year. Of the approximately 5.3 million repairs logged in its database, the top five culprits happened to be the usual suspects.

Country-wide, the top faulty part was the oxygen sensor, comprising 8 percent of repairs, followed by the pricey catalytic converter at 6.75 percent. Faulty ignition coils and spark plugs came in third at 6.23 percent of mechanic visits, while a loose gas cap was the mystery behind 4.16 percent of “check engine” lights. Non-functioning mass air flow sensors rounded out the top five, at 3.84 percent.

Not surprisingly, 2005 model year vehicles were most likely to have a glowing amber light gnawing a hole in the driver’s stomach. The average age of the afflicted vehicles, 11.9 years, happens to be almost the exact median age of vehicles driving on U.S. roads (11.6 years).

Because of natural variability in the number of vehicles needing certain repairs, the median repair bill fluctuates slightly from year to year, outside of easier to pin down factors like parts and labor. Real estate costs play another role in the final bill. For 2016, average labor costs rose 4.7 percent, while parts saw an inflationary 1.4 percent increase in price.

Drivers in the Northeast saw the largest average bill, at $401. That’s up 6.5 percent over the previous year. The next fastest-growing “check engine” light repair was found in the Midwest, where bills rose 5.7 percent to an average of $385 last year. On a regional basis, that’s still the lowest. The South only saw a 2.9-percent climb, though its bills rang in at $400.

If you’re living west of the Continental Divide, you might be in luck. Average repair bills fell 1.1 percent to $399. Of course, none of this is of any comfort if you inherited someone else’s lemon, or if your long-time vehicle suddenly decided to implode.

Going back in CarMD’s data, it’s interesting to see the drop-off in repair bills following the onset of the recession. In happier times, 2006 to be exact, the average U.S. bill was $422.36. The low point in the past decade occurred in 2011 when average repair costs hit $333.93.

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April 26, 2017 at 07:46AM

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