In a return to pre-recession rates, car repair costs across the U.S. were up 10% in 2012 after a nearly six-year trend of decreased repair costs.

  • Average labor costs were up 17% and parts costs were up 6% over the previous year.
  • All but one of the 10 most common repairs saw an increase in repair costs.

 

 
The gap between the most and least affordable regions for auto repairs has narrowed, but repair costs rose across each region with the Northeast experiencing the greatest increase.
  • In 2012, drivers in the Western U.S. paid the most for car repairs at an average cost of $360.89, which was 14% more than drivers in the Midwest, who paid the least ($309.75). However, in 2011 drivers in the West paid 17% more than drivers in the Midwest.
  • Northeast drivers were hit hardest with an 11.56% increase in car repair costs, adding insult to injury after Hurricane Sandy.
 
Each of the five most common check engine problems will negatively affect your car’s fuel economy if you ignore it and keep driving.
Heat affects car parts. According to the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, 2012 marked the hottest year on
record for the lower 48 states
. Heat and dry climate can cause
premature aging of many parts, including a car’s battery, transmission
and more.
  • Battery and transmission-related repairs are among the parts that saw an increase in repair frequency, which can be partially attributed to their sensitivity to heat.
 
As the average vehicle age has reached an all-time high of 11 years and rising, expensive and catastrophic repairs are rising with it.
  • A year ago, the 15 most expensive repairs accounted for 0.83% of repairs seen by CarMD’s network of automotive technicians. Last year that number rose to 1.03% of repairs. Thankfully this number is still small when compared with the 15 least expensive repairs, which account for 7.28% of repair shop visits.
 


Hybrid repairs continue to drop with increased volume of hybrids on the road, as well as more parts available and people trained to service them.

Hybrids account for four of the top 10 most expensive repairs, but no longer hold the no.1 spot.

  • A year ago, the most expensive repair was “replace hybrid inverter assembly” ($4,098)… a repair which has cost as much as $7,391 in previous years.
  • This year, the no.1 most expensive repair is “Replace Transmission Assembly and Reprogram Electronic Control Module” ($5,474). This repair, which applies to select vehicles, including 2001 Honda Civics and some 2001 Volvos, is indicative of the fact that cars are being made to outlast parts such as their transmission.

 

 
Manufacturers are making cars to last longer, which can result in fewer trips to the dealership/repair shop but also more expensive repairs down the line.
  • This year the number of check engine-related repairs dropped 1.3% overall with 161,350 repairs reported in 2012 versus 163,532 fixes made in 2011.
 
Previously the no.1 reason for check engine problems, the gas cap is decreasing as a nuisance for car owners each year.
  • In 2012, a damaged or loose gas cap accounted for 7.21% of visits to the shop, down from 8.26% in 2011 and 9.28% in 2010. Improvements in gas cap (and capless) technology as well as more savvy consumers becoming more comfortable diagnosing and addressing smaller repairs on their own are contributing to its decline.
  • Other common repairs that can be diagnosed and handled by a light do-it-yourselfer include: oxygen sensors, spark plugs and air filters.
 
Paying attention to small problems and recommended maintenance schedules extend the life of your car and minimize check enginerelated failures and repairs.
  • The O2 sensor’s life can be extended by using factoryrecommended fuel types, and getting regular oil and spark plug changes.
  • April Car Care Awareness Month (or any time of year) is a good time to address problems. Ignore a spark plug and a $10 part can turn into a $300 ignition coil repair. Ignore that and you risk damaging your car’s catalytic converter at an average cost of $1,100, not to mention reduced MPG.