Cost of Car Repairs: Then vs. Now

kali9 / Getty Images

kali9 / Getty Images

The automotive industry has changed more in the past decade or so than any other time in history. And as cars become more complicated to repair and more crowded under the hood, the cost of fixing and regularly maintaining vehicles is getting more expensive.

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Repair prices are rising in comparison to the overall rate of inflation. According to CNBC, “Motor vehicle maintenance and repair costs increased 4.1% per year from November 2013 to November 2023, compared with just 2.8% for the overall consumer price index.”

Furthermore, the growth has been particularly noticeable since the pandemic. Prior to it, repair costs rose at an annual rate of 3.5% to 5%, according to Ryan Mandell, director of performance consulting at Mitchell, a leader in providing automotive repair software. However, in 2022, the rate increased to around 10%. Year-over-year in May, the motor vehicle maintenance and repair index has jumped 7.2%, per Bureau of Labor stats.

Over the past decade or so, the advancement of more sophisticated vehicles and manufacturing methods, more costly collisions and a lack of talented technicians are among the factors that have increased car repair costs.

More Complex Vehicles

Over the years, cars have become very electronically advanced. Every vehicle now has sensors in them, including “basic” popular cars like Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. “Your average regular car now is basically a rolling network of computers,” said David Goldsmith, who owns the repair shop Urban Classics. “That means parts and labor on these cars has gone up to what was once reserved for premium or luxury cars.”

“Even simple repair task requires lots of time, knowledge and specialized tools in modern cars,” said Evaldas Zabitis, an automotive expert at carVertical. “More power leads to higher pressures, more efficient cooling, more durable materials and other improvements to ensure longevity. As a result, fuel injectors are 5-6 times more expensive, while fuel filters can be up to 10 times more expensive.

“Furthermore, there’s considerably less room to work under the hood, causing more time spent on repairs. “Modern cars are over-engineered to the point where all the control units and other components hardly fit inside, leaving no extra room for maintenance and repairs.”

“For example, to replace a starter motor in some Audi and Volkswagen models, the manufacturer recommends removing the engine first, whereas it’s a 10-minute job in older cars,” said Zabitis. “With turbochargers, emission control systems and control units surrounding the engine bay, many essential components aren’t easily accessible anymore.”

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More Collisions on the Roads

According to the National Safety Council, the mileage death rate has decreased 93% since 1923 and now stands at 1.33 deaths per 100 million miles driven. While that is “good” news, there are more drivers and vehicles on the road — and more collisions — than ever before.

With technology improving and cars equipped with more and more safety features, low speed crashes may happen less frequently. However, cars are heavier and more powerful now, and speeding and traffic crashes have increased. As a result, vehicles are getting into worse collisions that are more complicated and costly to repair.

Shortage of Auto Technicians

There is a shortage of skilled automotive technicians working in repair shops across the U.S. Finding qualified technicians has been extremely difficult due to an aging workforce, the required skills to repair modern cars and the number of older cars requiring maintenance as drivers continue to keep their cars longer.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, less people were on the roads and vehicles were requiring less repairs, which caused more technicians to leave the industry in search of other work. As repair talent becomes scarce, wages are increasing in order to attract and keep technicians, which is eventually reflected in repair costs.

“To top it off, many young people aim for careers with great growth potential, therefore, a technician’s career is becoming a less common choice,” said Zabitis. There is a lower-than-average earning potential in the industry, according to MarketWatch, with the average wage for an automotive technician about 20% lower than the national average.

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This article originally appeared on Cost of Car Repairs: Then vs. Now


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