“I have terrible news.” You have probably heard these words, or similar ones, from a mechanic. They are unpleasant words for anyone who doesn’t want to spend all their money on their vehicle – and the amount we spend on our cars each year is astounding. Let’s quickly look at the statistics on yearly transportation expenses in the United States, then review 5 of the biggest car repair expenses you can encounter.
Household transportation costs down to $9049
You may never have felt compelled to leaf through the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. However, it is one way to find out about prevalence of certain behaviors and how we compare – for instance, in terms of the amount of money we spend on our cars. The BLS’s 2016 Consumer Expenditures data shows that the average total expenditures for 2016 per household was $57,311, which was a 2.4 percent rise over 2015. Six of the eight major categories that delineate consumer spending increased: cash contributions (+ 14.4%); personal insurance and pensions (+ 7.6%); healthcare (+ 6.2%); housing and food (+ 2.6%); and entertainment (+ 2.5%). Thankfully, some costs did fall last year – apparel and related services (- 2.3%), and transportation (- 4.8%).
Transportation is divided into vehicle purchases; fuel and motor oil; and a miscellaneous “other” category that includes costs such as repairs, maintenance, insurance, finance charges, licenses, leases, and rentals. The main reason that transportation spending went down was because the first category, purchases, was down significantly: 9.1%. Not only were people not spending as much buying cars, but they also were not spending as much fueling them, with gasoline and motor oil spending dropping 8.7%. (Fuel and motor oil costs, notably, have been dropping each year since 2012.) The second largest spending category within transportation is the miscellaneous category that includes repair and maintenance. That spending number was actually up 4.6%.
Here are the raw numbers for the transportation section of the BLS data from 2014-2016, with total amount and percent growth (if you really want to get in deep):
- Total transportation spending: 2014 – $9,073; 2015 – $9,503 (+ 4.7%); 2016 – $9,035 (- 4.8%);
- Car purchases: 2014 – $3,301; 2015 – $3,997 (+ 21.1%); 2016 – $3,634 (- 9.1%).
- Fuel and motor oil: 2014 – $2,468; 2015 – $2,090 (- 15.3%); 2016 – $1,909 (- 8.7%).
- “Other” (repairs, maintenance, etc.): 2014 – $2,723; 2015 – $2,756 (+ 1.2%); 2016 – $2,884 (+ 4.6%).
As the site for NPR’s Car Talk notes, there are a few things that you really DO NOT want to hear from your mechanic. These things of course correspond to some really nasty repair bills.
Here are a few of those nightmare repair situations – those things you don’t want to hear (but sometimes have to in order to get your car back on the road):
“Your transmission is shot.”
9 out of every 10 times someone has their transmission go down, it is because the car owner simply did not change the transmission fluid, according to Auto Service Online (per Australian car service site Canstar). Many car owners do not get their fluids change as often as they should; typically, this should happen every two or three years.
Neglecting to change the fluids is not the only reason you might need a transmission replacement, though: these failures can also result from poor driving practices, whether that means pushing excessively hard on the shifter with an automatic car or “riding the clutch” with a manual model.
Price tag: If a person does not carefully monitor and change out the transmission fluid at those regular intervals, the eventual replacement (depending on your model) will typically be more than $2000 (sometime much more).
“We are retiring your catalytic converter.”
One of the most important tools on your car related to environmental sustainability is the catalytic converter. Generally one of these parts will last the entire life of an automobile. However, often a collision will hurt the “cat” (and it does not have nine lives…). Your catalytic converter can also go south if your engine is burning excess oil or if you use fuel additives that are unhealthy to the car. One thing about this expense is that you could save some money from making the replacement yourself; however, according to auto repair guide Haynes Manuals, “most of the cost is in the part, which contains precious metals like gold, palladium, and rhodium.”
Price tag: Depending on your model, the cost to replace a catalytic converter will often exceed $3000. Haynes Manuals suggests that, on average, 85% of a catalytic converter repair bill is the part itself, with labor only accounting for 15%.
“Your head gasket blew it.”
The head gasket must be in proper operational order if you want to protect your engine. That is because it is responsible for preventing oil and coolant leakage into the engine, which can lead to overheating. If your head gasket is giving out, you will often start to see white smoke, leaked coolant, or oil discoloration. Regardless the signs you see, the engine will not last long under these conditions.
Price tag: It will not cost you too much money for a gasket; however, the process to replace it can be expensive – so the labor bill can get high. The head gasket is a direct flip of a catalytic converter bill, actually; Haynes shows that the part is typically just 15% of the bill. Often the cost that will arise from a blown head gasket is greater than $1500, depending on the model.
“We must change your alternator.”
The alternator is a component that lasts a long time – usually around 50,000 to 100,000 miles. However, like other car parts, it experiences wear-and-tear that can lead to failure. Similar to the way that a blown head gasket can lead to engine trouble, a downed alternator feeds into bigger problems: it shuts off your vehicle’s electrical system.
Price tag: These parts are expensive – as with the catalytic converter, you won’t save significantly by doing the work yourself since labor is a small portion of the complete bill. The part takes up an average 83% of the total bill for an alternator replacement. Depending on the specifics, repair often costs more than $500.
“Your timing belt is out of time.”
To understand why a timing belt will fail, it helps to look to the concept of the interference engine, which is the modern design replacement for the non-interference engine. The newer variety allows the valves to open more widely and into the path of the piston as it rises. This design allows for better ventilation of the engine, resulting in greater power and more impressive fuel-efficiency. You will sail smoothly with your interference engine until something goes awry with the timing. Think about it: when the valves open, your piston is down. When the piston is up, the valves are closed and will not get in the piston’s way. “If your timing belt breaks or jumps a notch on an interference engine,” noted Car Talk, “the piston smashes the valves, and you need a valve job… at least.”
Price tag: Replacing the timing belt can often cost you more than $1500, depending on the specifics of your model. The part itself typically accounts for about 52% of the total repair cost.
Honest, independent Boulder mechanic
The above are examples of huge expenses that can result from car ownership; no matter how big a repair or maintenance job you need, though, you want to be able to trust that your mechanic is being straightforward.
Are you looking for an honest mechanic in Boulder? At Independent Motors, 90% of the auto repair we do is repeat business. See our beliefs.