U.S. vehicle repair costs rose 2.7% in 2016, after holding flat for two years

on Apr26

Photo credit: CarMD | BLOOMBERG

The average cost of a vehicle repair in the U.S., including parts and labor, rose 2.7 percent in 2016 from 2015 to $398, CarMD said Tuesday in its 2017 Vehicle Health Index. The rise comes after two years when the average cost remained flat.

The lift included a 4.7 percent rise in labor costs and a 1.4 percent increase in average parts costs. Kristin Brocoff, a spokeswoman for CarMD, said the cost tends to fluctuate as it also factors in what types of repairs are done — which in turn often reflects how well drivers take care of their vehicle.

CarMD, a California-based software provider that delivers vehicle health and maintenance information, tracked about 5.3 million vehicle repairs reported in 2016 for its annual Vehicle Health Index.

The report focused especially on check-engine-light-related repairs and found that the most common ones in 2016 were for the oxygen sensor, followed by the catalytic converter, ignition coils and spark plugs, loose or damaged gas cap and mass air flow sensor.

Regional prices

Regionally, the average price U.S. vehicle owners paid for the fixes varied slightly.

In the Midwest, drivers paid the least for check-engine-light-related repairs at an average $385. However, the region also had the biggest spike in year-over-year repair costs, up 5.7 percent from 2015’s $365.

The Northeast paid the highest average price at $401. The West was the only region to see a decrease in costs, with a drop of 1.1 percent to $399 from $403 in 2015.

Brocoff said regional differences can be influenced by higher cost of real estate in the area. For example, a store in the pricier Northeast may have to pay more in rent or pay employees for a higher cost of living, which could lead it to charge more for repairs.

2005 vehicles’ problems

CarMD’s study also found 2005 model-year vehicles to be most likely to have a check-engine light on. Among all vehicles from the 1996 to 2016 model years, those from the 2005 model year made up 11 percent of ones with a check-engine-light-related repair.

Among 2005 model-year vehicles, the most common cause of the check-engine light coming on was faulty ignition coils and spark plugs. Those constituted 7 percent of such repairs. But repairs of the catalytic converter, which accounted for 6.32 percent of fixes to those vehicles, were more pricey, costing on average $1,190 to repair.

“That’s a hefty number with a large vehicle population,” Brocoff said. The average vehicle age on the road in the U.S. was 11.6 years in 2016, which is very much in line with 2005 model-year vehicles having the largest amount of check-engine-light issues, she said.

The current average vehicle age also correlates to those vehicles next most likely to see the check-engine light come on: second place went to 2006 vehicles at 10 percent, and third place to 2004 vehicles with 9.25 percent. It also explains why 1996 and 1997 model-year vehicles don’t take up a bigger percentage of check-engine-light issues — there are simply not as many of them on the road.

‘Be vigilant’

“While check-engine issues can occur on any age vehicle at any time for many different reasons, this report reminds owners of 10- to 12-year-old vehicles to be vigilant with their maintenance routines and to be prepared for the possibility of a check engine light repair,” David Rich, CarMD’s technical director, said in a statement.

“CarMD has monitored car repair and maintenance trends for two decades and found that when vehicles are properly maintained, they tend to experience fewer check engine light problems than those whose owners put off scheduled maintenance and small repairs.”

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