- The 10 Most Delayed Car Maintenance Tasks
- 6 Reasons People Avoid the Mechanic
- The High Cost of Delayed Car Maintenance
- #1 The most-ignored car problem? Cracked windshields
- #2 Out of line: Driving with wheels needing alignment
- #3 Dirty Driving: Not getting regular oil changes
- #4 Tire tread: Letting car tires get bald or worn out
- #5 It’s probably nothing: Ignoring the “check engine light”
- #6 Can’t stop, won’t stop: Responding slowly to sluggish brakes
- #7 Squeaks, rattles, and groans: Ignoring unusual car noises
- #8 Going, going, going flat: Driving with a slow leak in a tire
- #9 Murky motoring: Running out of windshield washer fluid
- #10 Paddidle! Driving with a burned-out headlight
6 Reasons People Avoid the Mechanic
The biggest factors were being too busy (54.3%), being unable to afford it (52.2%), thinking the problem was not urgent (34%), the length of time the repair might take (29.3%), anxiety around car-related issues (17.8%), and distrust of mechanics (13.4%).
Interestingly, anxiety and distrust of mechanics were slightly more of an issue for men than women:
- 18.4% of men said they delay car maintenance because of anxiety around automotive matters, compared with 16.9% of women.
- 14.3% of men said they distrust mechanics, compared with 11.8% of women.
Also, younger people feel more anxiety and distrust around automotive tasks than older people.
- 23.8% of people in their 20s said they have delayed repairs because of anxiety, compared with 8.9% of people in their 60s.
- 15.4% of car owners in their 20s said they distrust mechanics, compared with 12.7% of people in their 60s.
A 37-year-old man from Florida said:
My first car was a Mustang and every time I brought the thing in, they told me it would cost $700 to repair. It was odd. Every time, without fail, they found something wrong enough with the car to come up with a $700 bill. I haven’t really trusted mechanics since then.
A 50-year-old woman from Oregon told us a second opinion recently saved her from a big bill.
#1 The most-ignored car problem? Cracked windshields
Cracked windshields may not seem like a big deal, but the chips and spidery fractures caused by road debris are more than a cosmetic problem. As they spread, they can limit visibility and weaken the structural integrity of your car, putting you at much greater risk of injury during a collision or rollover accident.
Many insurance policies cover glass repairs or replacement with no deductible, but if yours doesn’t, here’s what you can expect: If you catch a crack or chip early, it might be suitable for repair. Chips smaller than a quarter and cracks shorter than a dollar bill can often be patched. Generally, the smaller the blemish is, the cheaper it is to repair. Without insurance, glass repair typically runs between $60 and $125.
Windshield replacement costs vary by location, make and model of the vehicle, and the type of glass used. In one study of average repair costs in 16 U.S. cities, a replacement windshield for a Honda Accord cost $250 to $300, while one for a BMW X6 ranged from $350 to $450.
If you don’t replace your windshield and get into an accident:
- In a front-end collision, cars are designed to absorb impact with crumple zones. As the force moves to the passenger compartment, the curve of the windshield is supposed to reinforce the frame, enable the airbags to function properly, and prevent the windshield from collapsing in on the passengers and the A-pillars from folding inward.
- In a rollover accident, the strength of the windshield helps to absorb some of the impact and prevent catastrophic roof collapse as well as the injuries that could ensue.
- If poor visibility via defective windshield was a factor in the accident, you could be found negligent and liable for damages.
#3 Dirty driving: Not getting regular oil changes
In most cases, an oil change takes less than an hour, but many people still postpone doing it.
The biggest group of car owners (38.3%) reported waiting 7 to 30 days past the recommended time to change their oil. Almost a third (31%) delayed by more than a month.
Over time, oil can become thick and sticky. The engine has to work harder, leading to reduced fuel efficiency, sluggish acceleration, and a rough idle. Tiny particles build up and can act as abrasives, wearing down engine parts like crankshaft bearings, camshafts, and gaskets.
You might notice oil leaks and engine smoke from overheating. In the worst case, you can have a total engine seizure or failure.
Oil changes typically cost between $35 and $75 for conventional oil and $65 to $125 for synthetic oil. The type of oil you need will depend on your vehicle model.
If you go more than 8,000 miles without changing the oil, you could end up also having to replace worn parts — possibly the valve cover gaskets (about $225), intake manifold gaskets (about $300), head gaskets ($1,290-1,560), camshafts (about $1,300-1,500), and crankshafts (average $1,642), among others.
If you still don’t act, eventually thick, dirty oil can result in catastrophic engine failure. Replacing the entire engine can cost $4,000 to $7,000 or more, plus $1,100 to $1,800 for labor — more than you’d likely have spent on routine oil changes over the life span of your vehicle.
A 31-year-old woman from Colorado told us neglecting oil changes was one of her “most expensive mistakes ever.” She said
#5 It’s probably nothing: Ignoring the “check engine” light
Your car’s check engine light is its only way to communicate that something isn’t working as it should. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually give you a lot of information.
The problem might be as minor as a loose gas cap, but it could also be a critical system like the fuel injection, ignition, or emission controls. Many problems worsen over time..
There are myriad things that can trigger a check engine signal. One common problem that accounts for up to 10% of all check engine messages is a faulty oxygen sensor. Replacing an oxygen sensor right away costs about $350.
#7 Squeaks, rattles, and groans: Ignoring unusual car noises
Different noises can signal different issues. Squealing noises are usually brake-related. (Brake pads have a built-in wear indicator that’s designed to make a high-pitched noise when it comes in contact with the brake rotor.)
Ticking sounds from the engine often mean the timing belt is starting to fail. Clunking or banging under the hood might be valves, connecting rods, or pistons.
Popping or clicking sounds when you turn could be the CV joints on your front axle. Howling or singing noises might indicate a fluid leak or bad wheel bearings.
Most problems that involve noises get worse over time. As expensive as a timely repair might be, it’s a safe bet that procrastinating will raise the price tag as well as the safety risk.
Many things could be wrong when your car starts making weird noises, but one common scenario is a bad timing belt. The timing belt is a rubber and nylon component that connects the engine’s camshaft and crankshaft, keeps them in sync, and makes sure each cylinder fires at the appropriate time.
Timing belts are often replaced as part of scheduled maintenance every 80,000 to 100,000 miles. Having a timing belt replaced before it breaks typically costs between $576 and $659.
Waiting for your timing belt to snap before replacing it raises the cost by a lot. When the belt breaks, the valves and pistons no longer run in sync and collide with each other. This can bend the valve stems, gouge the pistons, crack the connecting rods, and damage the engine’s cylinder walls.
#9 Murky motoring: Running out of windshield washer fluid
Mud, pollen, bugs, rain, and snow can all obscure a driver’s view — and the worse your visibility is, the greater your risk of getting into an accident. Low visibility conditions are blamed for 38,700 vehicle crashes, 16,300 injuries, and 600 deaths each year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Topping up the windshield fluid is a courtesy service at most garages. But if you want to do it yourself, you can pick up a gallon of basic windshield washer fluid at almost any big-box store, gas station, or grocery store for about $2-3. (Deluxe formulas with additives to repel rain or remove bug residue may run closer to $15.) Then just open the hood and look for a reservoir on the right or the left. It should be easy to spot; it will have a plastic cap with a windshield symbol on it.
A few dollars for windshield fluid is a small price to pay, especially considering the risk of an accident if you can’t clear an obstruction from your view.
There are many affordable ways to prevent the sticker shock of a major repair. Windshields and tires can often be patched, if you catch the problem early enough. You can refill windshield washer fluid yourself for a few dollars, rather than risk being blinded by a mud splatter. Checking reviews is a good way to find a reputable mechanic who won’t overcharge or upsell you. And buying quality used tires can be a safe, affordable alternative to paying full price for new ones.
Participants ranged in age from 18 to 76, with a median age of 37. They came from 48 states (all but Alaska and Vermont) with a distribution as follows: South, 447 (37.5%); West, 279 (23.4%); Midwest, 240 (20%); Northeast, 229 (19.1%) – based on U.S. Census-defined regions.
The median household income was $50,000 to $75,000 with 39.5% earning less and 35.4% earning more.
The survey was based on self-reporting, which can have limitations. However, the margin of error was ±2.82% with a confidence interval of 95% based on the estimated population of 237.3 million car owners in the U.S.
Price estimates came from several aggregator websites including RepairPal, AAA, Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and AutoServicesCosts.com. The estimates use the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) for parts and automotive industry standard labor times and rates. Costs were generally presented as ranges, since many variables can influence actual price, including the make, model, year, condition, and location of the vehicle.
For the “procrastination price tag” figure, we used the midpoint of the cost difference between prompt and delayed action. For the average total cost of delayed maintenance, we accounted for the probability of each consequence actually happening by multiplying the “procrastination price tag” by the percent of respondents who ignored each issue for more than 90 days.