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CarMD Reports First Rise In ‘Check Engine’ Related Repair Costs In Six Years

Car repair costs jumped 10 percent to $367.84 on average per repair nationwide last year — the first increase in six years, according to the 2013 Vehicle Health Index. One of the main reasons was a higher percentage of more expensive repairs related to the aging vehicle population.

Unchanged was the No.-1 most common repair, which remained a faulty oxygen sensor. The second most common repair was “tighten or replace gas cap,” while No. 3 was “replace catalytic converter(s).” Rounding out the Top 5 were ignition coil failure and replacing spark plugs and wires.

CarMD’s Vehicle Health Index analyzed more than 161,000 “check engine” related repairs that were input and validated by its nationwide network of ASE-certified technicians from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2012. The full index is available at

2012 saw a 10-percent increase in car repair costs, returning to pre-recession rates, with parts up 6 percent and labor costs rising 17 percent. The hardest hit region was the Northeast with an 11.56-percent increase, according to CarMD.

With average vehicle age surpassing 11 years, costly and catastrophic repairs continued to rise. The 15 most expensive repairs saw a 24-percent jump in frequency.

For the first time, battery and charging system problems appeared in the Top 10 most common “check engine” related repairs due in part to computers on newer models that now track insufficient charging voltage, including failing batteries and alternators.

Recall-related repairs also emerged among common repairs, as did fixes related to newer systems such as antilock brakes and residual effects of parts failing related to the effects of higher-percentage ethanol-blend fuels.

Manufacturers are making cars and their parts to last longer with longer maintenance and repair intervals. This, coupled with consumers becoming savvier in addressing minor car repairs, resulted in a 1.3-percent drop in “check engine” related trips to repair shops last year.

Hybrid repair costs continued to drop due to an increased volume of hybrids on the road, and more parts and more people qualified to service them. For these vehicles, the most expensive repair in 2011 was “replace hybrid inverter assembly” at $4,098, which decreased nearly 5 percent in 2012.

Hybrid repairs no longer hold the top spot in the CarMD survey, which is now “replace transmission assembly and reprogram electronic control module” at more than $5,400.

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