Most Americans are focused on the rising price of gas as the biggest expense they pay for their vehicles.
Typically, the highest gas prices are in California, and when it comes to simple repairs for a car, the Golden State tops the list of “most expensive” states as well, according to a new CarMD study. California’s average price for a “check-engine light” repair came in at $411. Meanwhile, similar repairs in Ohio cost just $342.
“Several factors contribute to a state’s average repair costs, including vehicle age and type, how difficult the repair is, required parts, how much time is needed to make the repair and what the repair shop charges per hour,” said David Rich, technical director, CarMD.
“It makes sense that as people commuted less and took fewer road trips, there was less wear and tear on vehicles and fewer check engine light occurrences. As people get back on the road, now is a great time to catch up on vehicle inspections and car maintenance, which can reduce the likelihood of unexpected and costly car repairs.”
Impact of pandemic on rankings
Unsurprisingly, U.S. motorists traveled fewer miles and needed fewer car repairs in 2020 as pandemic-related shutdowns and essential travel guidance halted a great deal of daily commutes and longer trips, such as vacations.
In fact, the 13.9 million vehicles brought in for check-engine-type repairs was down from 15.9 million in 2019 — a nearly 13% decline.
Hawaii and Nevada, which were among the state economies hardest hit by coronavirus, saw the most dramatic drop in CarMD’s state ranking with Hawaii moving down 39 spots and Nevada dropping 25 spots.
The five most expensive places for these repairs in 2020 were:
- California — $410.73
- Connecticut — $406.49
- Colorado — $403.03
- District of Columbia — $400.68
- Utah — $395.86
With one exception, the most affordable states for car repair after Ohio this past year were in the Midwest: Maine ($342.12), Wisconsin ($344.45), Michigan ($347.82) and Indiana ($352.20).
Driving the cost of repairs
It’s easy to say that everything is more expensive in California so topping this list isn’t a surprise, but it’s an oversimplification. For example, labor costs for these repairs were highest in Mississippi, at $152.63 per repair. Conversely, Vermont was the lowest $125.95.
However, the types of repairs in those states really drove the labor price. In Mississippi, the most common repair was replacement of ignition coils and spark plugs while Vermont’s common cause for a check engine light was a loose or missing gas cap.
In 2020, drivers in Connecticut paid the most on average for parts ($268.70), while drivers in Michigan, home to “Motor City,” paid the least for parts ($202.16). The most frequently recommended repair in Connecticut was to replace the catalytic converter.
Catalytic converters are costly parts that contain precious metals; they do not typically fail unless maintenance and other repairs like as a faulty oxygen sensor or ignition coil are ignored, or a vehicle has high mileage. The most common repair in Michigan last year was to replace an oxygen sensor. The type of vehicle, type of repair and whether original equipment (OE) parts are used factor into average parts cost.