They say if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it. That means tens of millions of Americans must be asking that question every year. According to a just-released study by travel-services giant AAA, the average auto repair bill comes to between $500 and $600 — and 1 in 3 motorists can’t pay it without incurring debt.
Moreover, car owners are procrastinating on routine maintenance activities, which could lead to problems down the line that send repair costs even higher. A separate AAA study found that a third of U.S. drivers defer or neglect recommended service and repairs. Not only does this threaten to ratchet up repair costs later on, it also puts people at increased risk of a vehicle breakdown.
“While it may seem that skipping maintenance and repairs can save money in the short term, staying on top of car care can save drivers hundreds of dollars in the long run,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair.
The average cost of owning and operating a vehicle, AAA said, is about $8,500 and includes monthly payments, insurance and gas. But the cost, for example, of a new timing belt on average is between $400 and $900, an alternator or starter replacement is $400 to $600, and brakes are around $500.
Here’s what AAA recommends to keep your car — and your bank account — in good health:
- Set aside $50 a month for emergency auto repairs.
- Follow the automaker’s recommended maintenance schedule, which can be found in your owner’s manual or often online.
- Get cozy with a mechanic you trust before you find yourself in need of one.
- Get a written estimate for unanticipated repairs and confirm which repairs need to be done with the mechanic.
- Get a second opinion if you can.
- Take advantage of shop discounts or payment plans that help reduce out-of-pocket expenses, and see if there’s room to negotiate those costs.