The Most Expensive Car Repairs and How to Avoid Them
Nothing takes the wind out of your sails quite like a potentially bank-breaking car repair – and the following automotive repairs are both common and costly.
Imagine this: you’re driving along and all of a sudden, the air-conditioning stops working in your car… in Phoenix… in the middle of summer. Or, your brake pedal stops working well as you’re descending a mountain road. These kind of nightmare scenarios are all too common, which sheds light on why there seems to be an automotive repair shop on almost every corner. Here are estimates for some of the most expensive car repairs you may have the misfortune of running across – and ways to avoid them.
- Engine ($5,000 – $10,000): While today’s modern engines are designed to operate efficiently and deliver considerably more power per liter of displacement than engines from just five or ten years ago, they also tend to endure greater levels of stress during use. The proliferation of turbochargers in today’s engines enhances power and efficiency, but adds complexity and can shorten the life of a typical motor. Expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 – $10,000 for a new motor – sometimes buying a used car is cheaper.
- Transmission ($2,000 – $5,000): Today’s transmissions are getting more complex by the hour, with sophisticated dual-clutch transmissions, CVTs and other types becoming increasingly popular. The problem is, these complex units are difficult to repair, costly to fix, and may require a specialized shop to complete service work. If you feel your transmission is slipping or grinding, yours may need serious work or a total replacement. That’s going to cost thousands – and it’s not something you can “put off” until you have more money. Your car simply won’t move, in many cases.
- Suspension ($2,000 – $3,000): While the suspension is a major component of the vehicle that is constantly moving, flexing, and working, most of us pay absolutely zero attention to the control arms, bushings, tie rods and other parts in a vehicle’s underpinnings. But hit a pothole wrong, fail to maintain the suspension, or simply watch as the vehicle degrades due to old age, and you may be in for a series of costly repairs. Suspension parts can simply break, too – and manufacturing defects definitely occur.
- Head Gasket ($1,500 – $3,000): It may be a less expensive part, usually under $100, but replacing a blown head gasket requires disassembling the entire top end of the motor. That’s a lot of labor, and it often requires specialized tools. Expect to pay a mechanic around $2,000 or more for an average vehicle – more if it is a specialized car. If you’re driving around and suddenly lose power, see white smoke billowing from under the hood, and smell burnt anti-freeze, you may have blown a head gasket.
- Catalytic Converter ($1,000 – $2,000): Here’s a sad fact – catalytic converters do not last forever, and replacing one is an expensive, albeit quick process. Most mechanics can replace one in about an hour or two, but the parts themselves are prohibitively expensive. You’ll shell out a lot of green to replace one, and many cars have two.
- Air Conditioning Compressor ($500 – $1,000): There is nothing worse than spending a summer cruising around without a functioning air conditioner in your vehicle, and the compressor always seems to fail in June or July. The part itself is moderately expensive, and some labor is required to install a new compressor, but most drivers fail to realize that a recharge of the air conditioning system is often required, and that can significantly add to the total cost.
There are several methods to consider that may help you minimize future repair bills. You can buy a new car every 36,000 miles (not a reality for most people!), purchase a costly extended warranty from a dealership (these are seriously expensive, and the final price is exorbitant when it is financed in a loan), or you can opt for an extended warranty plan through a third party provider. These are often more flexible and accommodating than the factory extended warranty, and can cover vehicles that are already owned – not just those purchased through a dealership. These warranties are also terrific for covering vehicles purchased from a private party. Your car will break at some point; the question is… do you have a plan in place to cover the repairs?
* A Vehicle Service Contract (VSC) is often referred to as an “extended warranty,” but it is not a warranty. A VSC does, however, provide repair coverage for your vehicle after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. A VSC is a contract between you and a VSC provider or administrator that states what is a covered repair and what is not.