There’s no argument that today’s cars, trucks, and SUVs are built and engineered far better than at any point since the days of the horseless carriage. The fact is, contemporary cars last far longer than they did in, say, the 1960s, when registering 100,000 miles was about the limit for most models. Today cars require less maintenance, yet can easily last for well over 200,000 miles.
In fact, the average age of all vehicles on the road now stands at 12.2 years. That’s up by nearly two percent in the last 12 months, according to research conducted by S&P Global Mobility. That means the most typical ride you’ll see on the road today is likely to be a 2010 Ford F-Series pickup truck (the top selling vehicle in the U.S. over the past 30 years).
And it’s a good thing cars have become long-distance runners, as the ongoing supply and demand imbalance has caused prices in both the new- and used-vehicle markets to skyrocket, leaving many households with no alternative but to keep a trusted ride running, but at what cost?
According to the annual Vehicle Health Index report recently issued by CarMD.com, the average “Check Engine light” related repair charge in the U.S. last year was $392.52. That includes $249.22 for parts and $143,35 for labor. A decade earlier it was at $333.93.
The typical service bill is the highest in western states, at an average $406.79, and the cheapest in the Midwest at $366.35. Parts costs rose by six percent last year, while labor charges dropped by a half percent, with the latter due in part to more motorists performing their own work to save cash. Vehicles from the 2007 model year were found to be most likely to suffer a Check Engine problem.
According to the report, the most common check engine repair required during 2021 was to replace a vehicle’s catalytic converter (a key emissions control component), at an average cost of $1,356. They’re engineered to go the distance, with an 80,000-mile federally mandated warranty, though can fail if other mechanical woes, like driving with a faulty a faulty oxygen sensor or ignition coil, are ignored. There’s also the rise of catalytic converter thefts, largely for the value of the precious metals that make them work. The Index found that vehicles from the 2005-2008 model years were most likely on the road to require a new converter during 2021.
Though the Check Engine light can strike fear into the hearts of cash-strapped motorists if it remains illuminated, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a serious, and seriously expensive to fix, problem. It could be something as simple as a loose or defective gas cap, which can cost anywhere from nothing to tighten, to a few bucks to screw on a new one. The type and costs of check engine-light repairs depend largely on a vehicle’s age, driving conditions, and upkeep.
Also at issue is whether or not the owner addresses such issues in a timely manner. Unfortunately, too many motorists tend to ignore the warning light if the vehicle is otherwise operating normally. In the short run, it could result in reduced fuel economy, as the engine’s electronics help to compensate for what could otherwise require a minor fix (like a bad spark plug). In the long run, the neglect could eventually lead to a much costlier repair. The prudent course of action if the light stays on is, of course, to make an appointment to take the vehicle to a technician to have its onboard diagnostics checked to see what’s at fault.
These are the most common Check Engine maladies and their average repair costs, as noted in CarMD.com’s Vehicle Health Index. The 2021 Index is based on repairs made to more than 17 million in-use vehicles that were reported to and validated by CarMD’s network from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020. We should note that, especially in these inflationary times, the costs noted can be expected to rise even further moving forward. And as always, they will vary based on local wage rates and parts availability.
- Catalytic Converter; average repair cost: $1,356
- Replace Oxygen Sensor; average repair cost: $243
- Replace Ignition Coil(s) and Spark Plug(s); average repair cost: $387
- Replace Mass Air Flow Sensor; average repair cost: $319
- Tighten or Replace Fuel Cap; average repair cost: $0 to tighten, $25 to replace
- Replace Ignition Coil(s); average repair cost: $214
- Replace Fuel Injector(s); average repair cost: $420
- Replace EVAP Purge Control Valve; average repair cost: $141
- Replace Thermostat; average repair cost: $235
- Replace EVAP Purge Solenoid; average repair cost: $147
The complete 2022 CarMD Vehicle Health Index can be found here.