The True Cost of Car Repairs Revealed

According to a recent study, 7000 car breakdowns happen in the UK every day. The winter doesn’t make things any better. By some accounts, the number of breakdown callouts increase by a quarter during the winter months. Let’s look at the real numbers behind the most frequent car repair costs and the way introduction of car warranties in 1960s have reshaped the car maintenance and repair industry.

More and More Reliable

There’s no doubt that cars have become more reliable during the last few decades. This trend was mainly driven by the Japanese and South Korean car makers who kept increasing their factory warranty periods to a level where the European manufacturers had to comply to stop losing the market share. Today it’s not uncommon to find a car with an all-inclusive 5 year warranty, and when it comes to the bodywork, 12 or even 20-year limited warranties have been offered by some manufacturers.

At the dawn of the automotive industry and even well into the 1960s, the car makers didn’t really want to own up to their engineering mishaps and it was the motorist’s responsibility to repair the car. Even the "Lifetime Warranty" of Rolls-Royce is just a beautiful myth that was born out of the assumption that the RRs never break down. Most manufacturers sold their cars at "your own risk" meaning they didn’t guarantee durability of any part. More prestigious and larger companies began offering a 3 – 6 month warranty or a 4 – 5,000 mile warranty after the World War 2.

Ford began to revolutionise car warranties in the 1960s.

According to automotive historian John Gunnell, it was the American Ford division who changed the way the modern factory warranties work. The revolution happened in 1960. They didn’t just gradually increase the warranty period. No, instead they went all out and offered the world’s first 12 month/12,000 mile warranty. It sounds ridiculous by today’s standards, nevertheless it made the news back in 1960 enabling Ford to sell more cars.

Crunching the Numbers

A recent study by revealed that the cost of car repairs has actually increased more than we expected. Some of the repair costs are higher than the prices of an average "banger" on the used car market. For clarity, I’ll add that this data has been gathered from a database of extended warranty customers driving cars no older than 10 years and having no more than 100,000 miles on the clock.

The most expensive repair is the gearbox. On average, it costs £738 to put right. The labour costs are not disproportionate – it’s the actual parts cost that makes gearbox repair such a pain. The second highest is the fly wheel. It may seem just a large circular object to you but a failed flywheel often comes with secondary problems, which are extremely difficult to fix, hence the £606 average price tag. My biggest surprise from this study is something more trivial – the electric window actuator. It’s just an encased electric motor with a couple of arms and wheels, right? Replacing one is pretty straightforward – the labour costs are minimal, however, the replacement parts are disproportionally pricey - £176.40 per motor to be precise.

Although the frequency of car breakdowns goes down thanks to higher reliability, the actual repair prices keep increasing. This is to do with many different factors. The labour cost naturally goes up, the part prices keep increasing – blamed by short supply – and even factors like the recent nuclear disaster in Japan and economic turmoil in several Asian countries, have contributed to higher repair costs. Some factories are closing down and the remaining ones hike the prices to reflect the lack of competition. If there’s one thing you can be sure of – it’s that the part prices are going to increase. The fact that cars are getting more reliable, kind of balances it out. Although it’s of little consolation to people who keep driving old cars.

Can You Do DIY?

The 5 or 7-year warranties work very well for the owners of new cars (and also look great in the sales brochures) but it’s not unusual for a car last into its late teens or even twenties. Some motorists will go for an extended car warranty to help them deal with the repair costs, however, a study shows that 57% of used car owners don’t have an extended warranty. The costs tend to build up hence many people decide to go the DIY route.

If you know what you’re doing, DIYing can save loads of cash. It is common knowledge that car mechanics mark up the parts they use to perform repairs. This is on top of the hourly labour rate. It doesn’t mean they’re cheating – it’s just the way things are and everybody’s doing it. The mark-up goes up significantly if your car is out of its factory warranty period and being a DIY mechanic, not only saves the labour cost, you’re actually able to source the parts at a cheaper price from eBay or specialised online retailers.

Do you currently drive a used car? How do you cope with the repair costs? Please share your tips in the comments section.
The True Cost of Car Repairs Revealed The True Cost of Car Repairs Revealed Reviewed by Arvid Linde on Friday, December 20, 2013 Rating: 5

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