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Auto repair costs jump 19% in a year, but there are ways to save

Auto mechanic works under hood of car
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The next time your car breaks down, you might expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a fix.

But as drivers keep their vehicles longer, they find those car repair costs keep going up and up.

Lawrence Douglas was driving home recently when he said, “My car just died completely when I came off the highway. Zero. Just nothing.”

A local repair shop gave him the bad news: his Kia’s alternator had failed. But his bad day got worse when they handed him the bill.

A new battery? $204. New alternator? $902. The total, he says, was “$1,846.14 for a battery and alternator and labor.”

That’s right: He had to pay almost two grand for an alternator and battery once labor and diagnostic fees were factored in.

Repair costs outpacing inflation

His experience was not a one-time thing. July inflation data shows that the cost of vehicle maintenance and servicing has increased nearly 9% since last year. Vehicle repair costs are up 19.5%, which is six times the rate of inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index.

Marc Duebber owns an auto repair shop, Duebber’s Automotive, and sympathizes with car owners. He says his costs are up sharply, with the price of some parts doubling since the pandemic.

Technology, like touchscreens and lane alert systems, is costly to repair. On top of that, he has to pay more to get certified mechanics.

“It’s hard to find technicians,” he said, “And with the shortage, you got to pay guys more.”

Drivers are also trying to avoid new car prices and keeping cars much longer than they used to, meaning bigger repairs than in the first few years of ownership.

Some things you can do

So, what are your options for managing repair costs?

Consumers’ Checkbook says if the work isn’t covered by a warranty:

  • Try an independent shop, where labor rates are often lower, over a dealer.
  • Get several estimates. Even if you’re charged for an estimate, you may save by finding a lower price.
  • Get repairs done quickly before damage gets worse, and you will have to pay even more,

Douglas says he won’t be able to afford the next $1,800 repair bill.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” he said.

Many drivers, unfortunately, are in the same situation these days.

As always, don’t waste your money.

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About the Author

John Matarese

John's goal is to help as many TV viewers as possible save money, avoid bad deals, know a rip-off when one comes their way, and be educated consumers. His informative weekly consumer segment "Don't Waste Your Money" now airs on 45 TV stations from San Diego to Tampa to Houston and Cincinnati. More.

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