Car repair is a fact of life. Nothing lasts forever, including the many complex systems found in a car. Things do wear out over time. On average, the cars on the road today are more than 11 years old. Yet the motoring club AAA reports a large percentage of drivers aren’t prepared to pay for an unexpected repair without going into debt. How much is the cost of an average car repair? According to AAA, it’s between $500 and $600.
As the average length of car loans continues to grow — nearly 69 months, according to the consumer-credit experts at Experian — it becomes more and more clear that many consumers are buying more car than they can really afford. AAA pegs the average cost of owning and operating a car at $8,500 per year. That figure includes such expenses as loan payments, insurance premiums, fuel, taxes and so forth. One chronic issue is that many consumers simply aren’t setting any additional money aside to cover down-the-road repair costs that crop up after the new-car warranty expires.
One in Three
When it comes to that unexpected $500-to-$600 car repair, one in three owners must go into debt to pay for it. According to AAA, the cost of that repair can go even higher if the car is poorly maintained. Here again, it found that one in three owners skip or put off recommended service or needed repairs, increasing the likelihood of mechanical failures. We don’t get to choose where or when such failures occur, which can mean being stranded on the side of the road or, even worse, in the breakdown lane of a crowded freeway. Neglecting regular maintenance or allowing a minor repair to escalate into a major one might save you money now but explode into a major cost in the future.
Also contributing to a repair costing more than it should is that failing to maintain your car means you probably don’t have a trusted mechanic. AAA also found that one in three car owners don’t have a trusted repair facility or mechanic. When you car coasts to a stop on the side of the road, it’s too late to shop for a good mechanic who will give you a fair shake. Picking a repair shop out of the phone listings is like rolling the dice: It’s gambling with your car and your money.
Some car repairs are inevitable, but you can minimize both the risk and the heartache of the unexpected ones. Create a rainy-day fund by setting aside a few dollars from every paycheck for your car’s upkeep. Follow the carmakers’ recommended maintenance as outlined in the owner’s manual. Find a mechanic or repair shop that you can trust by asking for recommendations from friends or family. When an unexpected repair does arise, ask for an estimate and don’t be afraid to negotiate the final cost.
What it means to you: Don’t be among the one in three.