If you’re a car owner, you already know it involves much more than just making your car and insurance payments. Your car does a lot for you and, in return, you have to take care of it.
This requires regular vehicle maintenance, from washes and oil changes to serious auto repairs. While some of these costs are easy to budget for, others are less predictable. However, maintaining your check engine light health will save you money and hassle over the long run.
To help you keep your car in tip-top shape, here are the most common auto repairs you should know about and ways you can finance them.
What are the most common car repairs?
If you’re looking for an overall snapshot of general car issues, CarMD’s Vehicle Health Index is an invaluable tool. CarMD tracks statistics of various auto repair jobs, from tire rotations to engine replacements. Here are the 10 most common issues that trigger the “check engine” light:
The CarMD data covered more than 41 million vehicles needing repairs from 2010 – 2020. It highlights that 11.9 years is the median age for vehicles in need of maintenance. Reliability tends to decrease as your car ages, so it’s important to take care of routine maintenance to prevent major issues from popping up.
The average car repair costs came out to $384.90 in 2019. Replacing the catalytic converter(s) with new OE catalytic converter(s) was the most common check engine light problem while replacing oxygen sensors, ignition coils, and spark plugs were also common problem spots.
The breakdown of car repair costs
Of course, the cost of parts, labor, and maintenance items can vary greatly depending on several factors, such as the vehicle’s age and model and where you live. The repair shop you choose, the state you live in, and the cost estimate for each part can all drive up the total charges. To lower your car repair costs, factor in parts & labor, change the mechanic shops you visit, and find an affordable payment plan.
When a mechanic isn’t sure what your vehicle needs, they have to perform troubleshooting on site. You have to pay for their expertise so they can figure out the broken parts. In some cases, the diagnostic work ends up costing more than the repair job itself.
Repair shops will often charge an initial diagnostic fee, which includes certain procedures and a set amount of time researching the problem. If they can’t find the issue, you’ll need to pay for more diagnostic fees. Once you identify the issue, you will then pay for the labor costs as well.
To save on diagnostic pricing, it helps to maintain your car well. If you take your vehicle into the shop regularly, you are more likely to catch small issues before they grow into serious problems. Before agreeing to a large diagnostic fee, you can also take the car to a different mechanic. Other repair shops might recognize the problem and fix your car without the extra cost.
Once a repair shop knows the issue, flat-rate pricing is common. Shops create the estimate by calculating the average time it takes a technician to complete a repair and multiplying it by the shop’s hourly wage.
This streamlines labor calculations for each mechanic, allowing concrete quotes to owners about their vehicles. Whether or not the repair takes the estimated time, with a flat rate, the customer will pay the same price. The mechanic charges the bill for auto parts on top of the labor.
AAA looked at auto repair labor rates per hour for mechanical repair shops in the AAA Approved Auto Repair network and found that they range from $47 to $215. CarMD found the average auto repair rate for labor to be $162.36. That’s the average auto repair labor rate for all repairs, whether they take five minutes or five hours.
Prices varied widely across regions, states, and even cities. For more information, check out CarMD’s state repair cost rankings, which rank every state and the District of Columbia on the average auto repair cost.
The state average car repair cost ranking includes both the parts cost average and the labor cost average and compares each state from most expensive to least expensive.
Michigan was the cheapest state overall for auto repairs. Along with Michigan, Midwestern states like Ohio were also very affordable, with average mechanic prices under $350.
On the other hand, if you live in a Northeast state like Connecticut, you might pay significantly more to fix your vehicle. Connecticut was the most expensive state overall for parts and labor, while Rhode Island and New Jersey were also very high-ranking states.
Of course, each auto repair shop can charge its own rate for the parts and labor required for maintenance. So, even if you live in Michigan, it’s important to compare each estimate that you get. Becoming a AAA member might help you evaluate the charges for parts, labor, and maintenance across different repair facilities.
Shops may also advertise a set rate that includes the parts and labor for common repair jobs. An oil change or tire rotation are common menu jobs, as well as replacing simple parts like the brakes, spark plugs, or windshield wipers on your vehicle.
These offers may be a good deal, but read the fine print for any exclusions or limitations. Plus, if you haven’t done regular maintenance on your car, you might need a more thorough repair job. Regular maintenance will make sure all the parts of your vehicle are working well.
All in all, like any financial decision, you will have to do some homework and shop around to find the best deal on the repair you need. Check product reviews and ranking sites like AAA for more information on parts and labor costs.
How to finance car repairs
When it comes to insurance of any kind, it’s important to know what the policy covers and what it doesn’t. This is especially true for car insurance since vehicle owners have several insurance types to choose from.
But if your auto insurance doesn’t cover your car needs and you don’t have the cash on hand to pay for auto repair parts, here are some more ways to finance your vehicle maintenance.
Auto repair loans have become an increasingly popular option for covering all sorts of expenses, including car repairs.
You can now apply online with dozens of lenders– such as Prosper, SoFi, and LendingClub— without hurting your credit score. Then, you can wade through the offers, comparing every estimate against each other to find the best deal for you.
Browse personal loan lenders and compare their terms and rates side-by-side.
Personal loans are set up as installment loans where you get a lump sum upfront and then pay it back through monthly payments. They are often unsecured, and you can use them for whatever purpose you choose.
Personal loans are a great way to pay for a vehicle repair because they let you access cash more quickly and easily than traditional loans. Beyond traditional personal loans, you can also get auto-specific loans from AAA. These loans are tailored for car owners, so they’re simple and affordable.
However, different personal loans come with different rates, fees, and requirements. You will pay an interest rate and sometimes more fees based on your creditworthiness and financial profile. Make sure to pay back the loan on time — otherwise, the cost can add up fast.
The less risk you present, the better rate and terms you’ll get, so study some information on the best personal loans to ensure that you make the right choice. Having all of the data available will help you find the best estimate and access your money more quickly.
Credit cards are another way to pay back vehicle bills with minimal hassle. If you have a credit card with a high enough limit, you can make the purchase and then pay it back over time. If you don’t have a credit card or don’t have one with a high enough limit, it’s time to find the right card for you.
Browse credit card options, review the offerings, and compare their rates.
Interest rates on credit cards are often high, so pay off the balance as quickly as you can. It’s best to look for a low-interest credit card or a promotional card with a no-interest period. That way, you can pay the repairs off without extra fees.
However, when shopping around for 0% APR cards, be sure to read the fine print and determine the interest rate when the promotional period ends. Interest can add up quickly, so it’s important to understand the estimate that you get.
Check out our top picks for credit cards with a 0% APR promotion.
For auto repairs specifically, brands like AAA offer their own credit cards with rewards programs as well. These rewards can help you keep your car in top shape by paying for the cost of parts and repairs.
“Of course, ideally, one should have an emergency fund to handle situations like unexpected car repairs. But if the funds aren’t available, credit is the likely solution– most commonly, a standard credit card. Other credit options could include a personal loan, refinance of one’s auto loan, a home equity loan, or a title loan,” says Rob Drury, Executive Director of the Association of Christian Financial Advisors.
Discover more financing options here.
Take care of your vehicle repairs today
When it comes to car maintenance items, the longer you wait, the worse the problem will get. An issue with a minor part like brakes or windshield wipers can quickly become a costly repair. In the long run, you will save by being proactive and taking care of any issues right away.
When a lack of cash is the problem, consider a personal loan or credit card to cover the costs. If you’re not sure which will be better for you, here’s a helpful comparison of credit cards against personal loans.
Ready to start shopping? Compare personal loan lenders now!
Jessica Walrack is a personal finance writer at SuperMoney, The Simple Dollar, Interest.com, Commonbond, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Guardian, Personalloans.org and many others. She specializes in taking personal finance topics like loans, credit cards, and budgeting, and making them accessible and fun.