Here’s how much it costs to fix a car’s check engine problems
With both new-car prices and fuel costs on the rise, today's motorists are feeling the proverbial pinch, but at least there's some good news to report from the automotive affordability front. The average cost to fix a "check engine light" related issue decreased by 10% over the last year, and it’s 15% less than in 2006.
The national average repair cost linked to a car or truck’s check engine light now stands at $357, including parts ($216) and labor ($141).
That's according to the 2018 Vehicle Health Index of check engine-related issues conducted by the auto repair website CarMD, based on an analysis of over 7 million repairs conducted last year.
Additionally, the study confirms what might otherwise seem obvious to seasoned auto owners, namely that older vehicles tend to suffer costlier and more severe check engine maladies than newer models. For example, CarMD says a 2017 car or truck is most likely to suffer a loose or defective gas cap, which can be a cost-free fix, while a model from 2007 is more commonly experiencing a bad ignition coil that will cost an average $368 (which includes installing a new set of spark plugs).
Noted by either an outline of a car's engine or the words themselves, when illuminated the check engine warning light commonly indicates a malfunction in either the ignition, fuel injection, or emissions control system. A technician can quickly analyze the problem by plugging a hand-held diagnostic device into a car's “OBD II” port (it's typically located under the dashboard) and retrieving a five-digit error code.
The five most common issues identified in the 2018 Vehicle Health Index are a faulty oxygen sensor (average cost to fix: $238), ignition coil/spark plugs ($367), catalytic converter ($1,271), the fuel-filler cap ($26), and an EVAP purge control valve ($147 – this helps prevent fuel vapors in the fuel tank from escaping into the atmosphere).
But perhaps the biggest check engine light problem is that, for many motorists, it's just too easy to ignore, especially if the vehicle isn't exhibiting any specific mechanical issues. Still, experts urge motorists to have the underlying problem resolved in a timely manner, both to prevent what might be a simple fix from both becoming a much costlier repair, and to save money at the gas pump in the meantime. What’s more, if one is required where you live, you may have trouble passing an emissions test if the underlying issue isn’t corrected.
"As the summer driving season approaches and gas prices inch past $3.00 per gallon CarMD reminds vehicle owners that when the check engine light is on, even if your car seems to be driving fine, it will suffer from reduced fuel economy," explains the website's technical director, David Rich. "It's important to have it looked at as soon as possible – especially if the check engine light is blinking, which can indicate a serious problem."
Of course, local prevailing wage rates can greatly affect the cost of any vehicular repairs. According to CarMD, those living in the Northeast U.S. pay the most for check engine repairs at an average $367, while motorists in southern and western states enjoy the cheapest repairs at (an only nominally less costly) $358.
What's the worst that could happen when the check engine light illuminates? Here's how deep you'll have to dig into your wallet, on average, to cover the cost of the 10 most expensive fixes (including parts and labor), as determined by CarMD:
- Replace engine: $7,050
- Replace electronic power steering unit: $5,201
- Replace transmission assembly/reprogram electronic control module: $5,130
- Replace transmission and torque converter: $5,051
- Replace audio and visual control unit: $4,29
- Replace transmission case and torque converter: $4,245
- Replace hybrid-car battery/reprogram electronic control module: $4,149
- Replace compu-valve module: $4,105
- Replace transmission assembly: $3,905
- Replace hybrid-car battery $3,798
On the other hand, the resulting error code could specify a relatively inexpensive fix, as evidenced by the 10 cheapest check-engine problems identified by CarMD:
- Inspect/replace (if necessary) loose fuel cap: $26
- Replace air conditioning compressor clutch relay: $38
- Replace electronic engine control fuse: $46
- Perform diagnostic trouble code confirmation: $47
- Repair engine/body ground wire: $48
- Clean ground wire: $49
- Replace exhaust gas recirculation boost sensor vacuum hose: $52
- Inspect for correct air filter and ensure air box is latched properly: $53
- Replace electronic throttle control system fuse: $53
- Replace secondary air injection control solenoid valve vacuum hose: $55