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How To Avoid The 5 Most Expensive Car Repairs

The Cost of Car Repairs

car repairs
Photo by Malte Luk

Our entire society is built around the car. Ever since Ford decided he wanted a car in every home in America, we’ve decided to oblige. We built freeways to make interstate travel by car possible. The urban sprawl is only possible because of the car. Many jobs won’t even hire you if you can’t drive. You can’t live without a car in Utah today.  It kinda sucks, because car repairs can be super expensive. We talked with A.B. Hadley, a mechanic in South Ogden, Utah, about the most expensive car repairs. Here’s what they said are the most costly and how to avoid them.

1. Suspension

Suspension is your car’s ability to keep you from feeling the bumps and dips of the road. It’s not just one part, but many interrelated parts.  It’s made up of shocks, struts, springs, control arms, and tie rods.  If one breaks, it throws the entire suspension off. Just replacing one of these parts isn’t serious, but if you need a complete suspension overhaul, the cost runs around $2500 to $3500 for parts and labor.

Suspension breaks down naturally over time as the metal bends and rusts with age, but you can speed up that degradation by riding it too hard. If you go over a lot of bumps in the road at high speed, it puts more stress on the suspension. Off-road driving in cars is especially bad, since your car isn’t made to handle that kind of uneven terrain. If you want to avoid paying the price for full suspension replacement in your car repairs, stick to the roads that have the smoothest rides. As a side note, A.B. Hadley says a lot of mechanics will tell you the whole suspension needs replacement even if only one part is broken. Whenever you hear a mechanic say this, be sure to get a second opinion, as it’s not always necessary and replacing just one part can be much cheaper.

2. Air Bags

air bagWhile the seat-belt gets the most fame as important life-saving innovations for cars, air-bags do just as much to save lives by preventing head injuries from bashing your head against hard surfaces.  The problem is that most of the time, they need replacing after they deploy once. That can get costly, running around $2500-$4000, depending on any damage it does to the seat or dashboard on deployment. There really isn’t anything you can do to reduce that cost, either. You need the air bag to keep safe, so if it needs to be replaced, that’s all there is to it. The only way to avoid this expense is to avoid crashing.  Drive safely, in other words.  If you buy a used vehicle that was involved in an accident, take it to a trusted mechanic and get a full safety inspection to be sure.

3. Transmission

The transmission is another highly complex set of parts. It controls the flow of power from the engine to the driveshaft. Without it, your car cannot move. Because it has a lot of interlocking, moving parts and it is so central to the car’s operation, it gets more wear and tear from friction and heat than any other part of the car. If it needs a full repair or replacement, the cost can run around $4000 to $5000.

Fortunately, regular maintenance can help reduce the chance of it breaking down. There are a lot of warning signs that your transmission is having trouble. If you notice gears slipping, the clutch dragging, a burning smell, or a humming noise when your car is parked, something is wrong with the transmission. Take it in for repairs immediately. Getting it checked out before it completely breaks down can save you a lot of money. Regular yearly safety inspections can also help catch transmission problems before they get out of hand, so don’t skip a check up. Car maintenance is always less expensive than car repairs.

4. Hybrid Car Battery Replacement

All batteries eventually lose their ability to hold a charge. It’s a simple matter of entropy. A car battery will usually last about ten years before needing to be replaced. Car batteries – particularly hybrid car batteries – can be expensive. In modern cars, replacing the battery sometimes means replacing the computer system for the car. When all the costs add up, it can run as high as $6000 on hybrid cars.

You should avoid letting the battery completely drain out.  Every time you have to fully recharge it, it shortens the battery’s lifespan.  If you do this, generally the battery should last at least ten years with regular check-ups.

car engine5. Engine and Cylinder Replacement

At the very top of the list for most expensive car repairs, you’ve got the engine. When you’ve had significant damage to the engine of a car, you’re in for real trouble. Cost of car repairs for the engine can run from $7000 to $10000.
Engine repair is very labor intensive, especially if the cylinders inside it go bad. The entire engine has to be removed from the car, taken apart, the problem identified, parts replaced, put back together, and finally put back in the car. The best bet is usually just to replace the whole engine rather than try to fix it. If the car is past its warranty, or more than a few years old, it’s often better to just buy a whole new car.

Is It worth It?

You have to have a car. That much is a given. That makes the expense of car repairs a matter everyone needs to wrestle with at some point. Is it worth it to get the repairs? Unless it’s something like the engine, the answer is usually yes. Sometimes, it’s not, though. The older a car gets, the more problems its going to have, as parts just wear out. When making a decision about whether or not to go for repairs, consider the age of the car and how likely it is to need more replacement parts in the future. In theory, you could keep a car going indefinitely through repairs, but at some point, the cost of those repairs will start to be more than the cost of buying new.

Or, you could do your best to avoid needing repairs.

A Pinch of Maintenance is Worth A Pound of Car Repairs

If you want to avoid costly repairs, regular maintenance can be a real money-saver. A quick check-up can run around $100 or so, with minor fixes being anywhere from an additional $30-$150. While $250 might seem like a lot, compare that to a $2000-$3000 bill for complete car repairs. Maintenance can catch problems before they become serious and keep you from needing those repairs for a few more years.  Check with mechanics to see if they have any deals or discounts.  Some like to use them to encourage people to get regular maintenance.
It’s just like the body: if you want it to last, you gotta take care of it all the time, not just when it’s not doing so well.