According to AAA, 64 million American drivers (one in three) would be unable to pay for unexpected car repairs without going into debt. This indicates that many drivers underestimate the ongoing costs of owning and operating a vehicle.
Regardless of the car, maintenance and repair are unavoidable. While maintenance costs on most modern cars are relatively low, common repair costs average $500 to $600 and in many cases go much higher. AAA encourages motorists to set aside at least $50 a month to cover routine maintenance, deal with unexpected car troubles, and protect one’s vehicle investment. AAA’s calculator can help you estimate your annual costs.
The True Cost of Car Care
Auto repair costs vary widely depending on vehicle make and model, the nature of the needed work and the labor rate for auto mechanics in the area. Even simple brake repairs can run around $500, while alternator or starter replacement generally costs between $400 and $600, and a new timing belt will put a $400 to $900 dent in your wallet. Planning ahead can help prevent having to go into debt when car problems occur.
“The total cost of owning and operating a vehicle averages more than $10,000 a year, and many Americans fail to take into account all of the expenses,” said David Bennett, AAA’s manager of Repair Systems. “In addition to car payments, fuel costs and insurance premiums, drivers need to budget for inevitable expenses such as maintenance and repair.”
Coping With Unexpected Car Maintenance Costs
If a car repair expense does catch you unprepared, here are some ways you might be able to mitigate the cost. First, negotiate the repair cost with the auto shop, and ask if they give a AAA or other discount. If your car requires a very expensive repair, think about getting a second opinion. Though this costs extra, it will confirm the diagnosis and the second estimate could come in at a lower price.
Finally, if you must borrow to make an auto repair, ask if the shop offers a payment plan or another form of financing. Some auto repair facilities suggest third-party lenders that offer 90-day interest-free loans. However, if the loan is not paid off in 90 days, accrued interest is added to the balance and the interest rate charged is often well above market rates. Unless you are sure you can pay off the loan in time, using a credit card or more conventional lender will likely save you money in the end.
Auto repair is an unavoidable pitfall of owning a vehicle. The best way to avoid financial hardship when an issue does arise is to simply calculate the cost of repairs into your monthly budget BEFORE buying a vehicle. By doing so, you can purchase a vehicle that you can truly afford.
Finding Quality Auto Repair
AAA recommends that you plan ahead for vehicle service by finding an auto repair shop and technician you can trust before you need them. AAA.com/AutoRepair provides information on nearly 7,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities that have met AAA’s high standards for appearance, technician training and certification, insurance coverage and customer satisfaction. AAA regularly inspects every Approved Auto Repair facility and surveys their customers to ensure ongoing performance. In addition, AAA members receive special benefits that include auto repair discounts, an extended 24-month/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty, and AAA assistance in resolving repair-related issues.