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  • Jun 20th 2013 at 10:15AM
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Has it seemed like the cost to keep your older car on the road has gone up? Well, we have good news (you're not going crazy) and bad news (repair costs are indeed going up all across the country). According to an annual study by CarMD, average repair costs have increased by 10 percent in 2012, with drivers in New Jersey paying the highest prices and those in Vermont paying the lowest.

Interestingly, states on the East Coast are paying more on average for common repairs, including diagnostic services when the dreaded Check Engine light comes on. Our nation's capital saw the largest year-over-year increase at an alarming 20 percent, while Wyoming saw repair prices drop an average of 17 percent.

CarMD analyzed more than 160,000 individual repairs, targeting those that began with a Check Engine light. A full listing of the most- and least-expensive states can be found below, along with additional commentary from CarMD.

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Annual CarMD State-by-State Ranking of Car Repair Costs Finds Drivers in New Jersey Paid Most for Check Engine Repairs in 2012

As average repair cost rises 10% nationwide, 4 out of top 5 most expensive states are on the East Coast

IRVINE, Calif. (June 11, 2013) – When the dreaded check engine light illuminates on the dashboard, drivers in New Jersey now pay the most in the nation to have it diagnosed and repaired, at an average cost of $392.99, according to CarMD.com Corporation's analysis of more than 160,000 repairs made on vehicles with check engine light problems in 2012. Indicating a coastal shift from West to East, and rounding out the top five most expensive U.S. states/districts for auto repair were no. 2 District of Columbia, no. 3 California, no. 4 North Carolina and no. 5 Maryland. Increased frequency of expensive repairs, such as catalytic converter replacement, in those states with higher average repair costs indicates drivers in some areas continue to put off small repairs that spiral into more expensive problems and drive up check engine-related repair costs. The complete ranking is available at www.carmd.com.

"CarMD taps our extensive Vehicle Health Index check engine light database to rank repair costs by state, providing the industry and consumers with insight on trends that impact cost of ownership and vehicle life," said Ieon C. Chen, CEO, CarMD.com Corp. "In 2012, we saw a dramatic shift in the top five most expensive states for average car repairs, as many drivers along the East Coast incurred rising auto repair costs, while they simultaneously contended with Hurricane Sandy's aftermath. Car owners in many states also continued to put off small repairs, contributing to cumulative failures with increased repair costs. With costs and vehicle age up from coast to coast, we encourage the industry and car owners to utilize this data to help maximize vehicle life and minimize repair costs."
The average cost for check engine light-related repairs in the U.S. in 2012 was $367.84, up 10% from 2011. The Northeast experienced the largest percent increase (11.56%). But the West, historically known for having some of the highest car repair costs, saw only a 6.53% increase in costs. California is the only western state among the top five this year.

From 2011 to 2012, vehicle owners in New Jersey saw a 20.7% increase in labor rates and an 8.2% increase in parts costs, making it the state with the highest average parts cost. New Jersey drivers also paid more than the U.S. average for many repairs, including catalytic converter replacement at $1,112.48 per transaction. CarMD attributes this hike to several factors such as more than double the number of trips to the repair shop spurred by Hurricane Sandy-related flood damage that either resulted in new repairs or uncovered unrepaired problems that had been put off for some time.
On a more positive note, as hybrid repair costs across the country trend down, New Jersey owners paid the least to replace a hybrid battery at $2,005.05 on average, as compared with Arizona's high of $4,409.94. Some factors that can contribute to repair costs include availability of diagnostic capabilities and technicians trained to service these vehicles, as well as vehicle population mix. Catalytic converter repairs were the second most common reason the check engine light came on in three of the five states with the highest repair costs. This is a very pricey part that is often the result of extensive vehicle age, or putting off smaller repairs such as spark plugs or oxygen sensors.

Other key findings: - The states that pay the most: The 2011 ranking found all five states with the highest repair costs were from the West. For 2012, three hail from the Southeast, one from the Northeast and California remains the only western state among the five states with the highest repair costs.

o A gap has begun to close between the states/regions with the highest/lowest repair costs (i.e. there was no change in Arizona's average repair cost, yet it dropped in rank from no. 5 to no. 22, with many states from other regions rising).

- The states that pay the least: Two of the five states with the lowest car repair costs are from the Midwest (Iowa and South Dakota) and two are from the South/Southeast (Delaware and West Virginia). Rounding out the most affordable states for auto repair is Vermont, the only Northeastern state to enjoy a drop in average car repair costs in 2012.

- Year-over-year trends: A majority of states/districts experienced an increase in repair costs in 2012, with the exceptions being Delaware, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

o D.C. had the largest increase in repair costs, up 20% from 2011 to 2012. This is partially attributed to the type of repairs being made. Time-consuming repairs that cost over $1,000 accounted for nearly 10% of D.C. repairs in 2012, as compared with 7% in 2011, while quick-fix, gas cap-related problems were down five points.
o Wyoming saw the biggest drop with a nearly 17% dip in average repair costs. Some very positive news for Wyoming iscatalytic converter replacements have dropped from the second to seventh most common repair, showing drivers in Wyoming are taking better care of their cars and may also be trading in older model vehicles for newer ones.

- Labor charge trends: Drivers in Vermont paid the least in labor at $115.90. While still low, this is up from Vermont's labor rate of $90.85 in 2011. For the second consecutive year, Colorado is the state with the highest labor charge at $150.75 on average. - Parts cost trends: Drivers in Vermont also paid the least for parts at an average of $153.82, with those in New Jersey paying the most ($256.28).

"As summer approaches, it's important for drivers in all states to be aware of the effect of temperature extremes on car parts, and to replace failing parts as recommended or as soon as a problem is detected," said David Rich, CarMD's Technical Director. "All 1996 and newer model vehicles have sophisticated on-board diagnostic computers that can detect problems early, often before you're left stranded. CarMD encourages drivers to heed warning signs, such as the check engine light, and get repairs made before that next road trip to help reduce the potential for roadside emergencies and inflated repair costs."

CarMD's state-by-state ranking of repair costs was derived from analysis of 161,350 repairs made on model year 1996 to 2012 vehicles from Jan. 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2012 by CarMD's nationwide network of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified technicians. All 51 U.S. states/districts, including the District of Columbia, are represented in this Index. The repairs are related to a vehicle's check engine system, which is standard on all vehicles manufactured since 1996. The on-board diagnostic (OBD2) system monitors approximately 80% of systems on these vehicles, triggering the check engine light when a problem related to emissions output or drivability occurs. The CarMD Vehicle Health Index database and average repair cost findings do not include problems that are outside the scope of a vehicle's OBD2 computer monitoring such as tires, and mechanical parts like belts and hoses.

About CarMD The mission of Irvine, Calif.-based CarMD.com Corporation is to empower consumers and the vehicle market by providing the tools and information needed to make better-educated decisions about vehicle health and maintenance. An ISO 9001:2008-certified company, CarMD's premiere product is the CarMD® Vehicle Health SystemTM, which enables drivers to identify and diagnose check engine repairs, safety issues and problems that negatively impact a car's fuel economy. The company has built the largest, most current database of diagnostic trouble codes, expert fixes and repair costs, which it uses to compile its CarMD® Vehicle Health IndexTM, a leading automotive repair resource from which this ranking is derived. For more information, visit www.CarMD.com.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      maybe east coasters (NJ, DC, MD) spend more on luxury brand vehicles?
      • 2 Years Ago
      With the exception of North Carolina, the top of this list is essentially the states with the highest costs of living and incomes. Not much to learn here.
      • 2 Years Ago
      California isn't much of a surprise. Everything is more expensive here, mostly due to taxes, housing costs and social welfare. If you want to see where the country is headed, look no further than California. We are on the cutting-edge of spending way more than you take in.
        • 2 Years Ago
        J W
        • 2 Years Ago
        You're right, the fact that they have the strictest emissions laws in the country has no bearing on why it costs so much to maintain your car in that state. /sarcasm
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm one of the douche bags that contributed to that statistic, but more so because I fund a MINI.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Me as well, with an E46 BMW 3 series. But that has since been traded in for a new F30. At least I have complimentary maintenance with my warranty now =)
          The Wasp
          • 2 Years Ago
          "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."
      • 2 Years Ago
      That's why I have a OBD-II Bluetooth adapter paired with Torque in my phone.......In just one use it literally paid for itself........
      • 2 Years Ago
      The cable to read your own diagnostics is usually less than $20, and most auto parts stores will read your codes for free. Last time I got a CEL, I googled the code, found out the manufacturer released an ECU update to fix said code, and went to the dealer and said "I have xxx code, the fix is the new ECU software, which you will update for free under warranty". If I had just gone in blind to the stealership, they probably would have said I need a new exhaust system or something and charged me $4k.
      • 2 Years Ago
      My Pilot threw me a check engine light when i put a fuel system cleaner in it one day then put gas from the only open gas station i could find in it from some random cheapo station when i was heading home (it was late) from a friends house about an hour away the next day (wasnt sure how much gas it would take on the way home). The light came on right when i started the car then went away on the way home, i took it as the Pilot expressing its displeasure with crappy gas (I usually put exxon in it) and whatever the fuel cleaner knocked off the fuel system liner.. Moral of the story? Drive around a little and see if the light goes away.
        • 2 Years Ago
        And for reference.. That was the one time it ever threw me a check engine light.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Solution: VAG-COM cable (VW-Audi) or a OBD reader...or even Advance Auto or Auto Zone...The repair costs in general are out of control...I'd be okay paying some of the $100+ hour rates IF the guy on the end of the wrench wasn't a 17 year old stoner with a 'basic' knowledge of cars. The real ASE cert guys aren't doing all or most of the work that people are paying the big dollars for. I do EVERYTHING I can myself to make sure it is done right. A lot of dealerships around here CAUSE more damage when fixing an issue.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Still kind of wish I had my 1995 Maxima, it was 280k and had several emissions codes since I got the car like EGR flow, O2 sensor, knock sensor although they never checked them during inspection being a 95, sure it drove poorly but the check engine light was on so long it burnt out. Oh well it's my neighbors problem now. LOL
      • 2 Years Ago
      Looks like Michigan is doing pretty good on this list.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I can relate cause my mom cant get hers off her car
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