Car repair costs on the rise - 1st time in 6 years

April 9, 2013: 10:16 AM ET
check engine
Car repair costs have gone up for the first time in years. With that in mind, it's important to check your car's engine when the warning light comes on. Otherwise, it could mean hundreds of wasted dollars.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

It's getting costlier to keep your car, according to data from the car repair Web site CarMD.

Auto repair costs rose 10% in 2012, the first such increase in 6 years.

Among the reasons is that our cars are getting older. The average car on America's roads is now over 11 years old. Last year's record heat may also have been a factor, according to CarMD. Heat places a strain on cooling systems, batteries, fluids and transmissions.

CarMD bases its annual report on information gathered from vehicles' on-board computers downloaded by a network of repair shops. CarMD also sells a device that allows drivers to read data from their own cars' on-board computer systems.

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The ability to read that information can be helpful, especially when the always-perplexing "check engine" light comes on in the dashboard.

The most common cause for the warning light to come on is a faulty oxygen sensor. Ignoring that warning light could be expensive. If left untreated, a bad oxygen sensor can cost drivers about $900 a year in wasted gasoline, according to CarMD.

The oxygen sensor detects how much air is going through the car's engine. A faulty reading could lead to too much fuel being pumped in and, therefore, lower fuel economy. On average, it costs about $294 to replace the oxygen sensor.

The second most common cause is a loose or broken gas cap, a relatively cheap fix, which can have a slight impact on a vehicle's fuel efficiency.

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The third most common cause for the warning light to come on was a faulty catalytic converter. The catalytic converter cleans exhaust gases as they leave the engine. Usually, a catalytic converter won't fail unless some other problem part, such as a bad oxygen sensor, has been ignored for too long.

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