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Consumer Reports Poll: 40% Of Consumers Are Postponing Car Maintenance, Repairs

It’s no surprise in today’s economic climate that consumers are delaying automotive maintenance. A recent Consumer Reports poll indicated that 40 percent of respondents are postponing car maintenance or repairs on their primary vehicle. And, 44 percent of those who deferred work in the past year also admitted that they felt the value, safety or reliability of the vehicle would suffer, with some saying the car was becoming an embarrassment.

Those in lower-income households were more likely to delay necessary work. And, the youngest drivers (aged 18 to 34 years) were more likely to delay work on wear items, such as brake pads or tires. According to Consumer Reports, 21 percent of this age group admitted to not attending to a wear item in a timely fashion, compared to 14 percent of those aged 55 or more.

Compounding the issue is the fact that, with the economy being so poor, drivers find themselves holding onto their vehicles longer. Many of the respondents bought their cars used and have owned them for five years with the intent to hold on to that vehicle for another five years. Survey results showed that older drivers, residents of western states and lower-income owners go the longest before replacing their vehicles.

On average, owners have 78,000 miles on their current vehicle, meaning many are quickly approaching major maintenance milestones. Among those surveyed, the types of non-warranty work most commonly postponed were led by minor manufacturer-recommended scheduled service (22 percent), wear items (17 percent), and body or other exterior damage (15 percent).

Interviewees stated that a major repair bill, costing an average of about $2,000, would become a serious financial burden. Lower-income households ($1,418 average), women ($1,601) and younger adults ($1,749) were shown to be most vulnerable. This means that a major repair bill could be 2.4 times the size of what respondents actually spent on maintenance and repairs over the past year before it would become a serious financial burden across the demographic groups.

The Consumer Reports research indicates that car owners put a lot of faith in their chosen repair shops, with 83 percent saying they were confident they would get the right maintenance and repair work done for the right price. In addition, more than half said they completely trust their shop. According to the survey, independent repair shops were used more often (37 percent) than dealers (30 percent) or repair chains (11 percent). According to Consumer Reports, 73 percent of respondents indicated that they authorize whatever work the shop recommends. Only 46 percent said they negotiate the price of the work, and 45 percent admitted that they shop around for the lowest repair price. Forty-two percent of the poll’s respondents said they the repair bill is usually higher than expected.

With the average age of vehicles on the road today being nine years old, and given the tough economy, motorists are primarily driven to replace an existing vehicle because of poor reliability (82 percent), safety concerns (67 percent) or repair costs (47 percent). Other factors respondents cited as very important were: current vehicle no longer meets their needs (41 percent); poor fuel economy (35 percent); uncomfortable (27 percent); outdated technology (10 percent); and being bored with the styling (6 percent).