5 Car Repairs to Help You Avoid an Accident

Nicole Arata
February 21, 2018

By now, you’ve heard the best ways to prevent an accident: Don’t drive while impaired, don’t use your phone while driving, obey traffic laws. But there’s another thing you can do to stay out of a wreck: Keep your car’s parts in working order. 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study of an estimated 2.2 million car crashes, about 2% were linked to vehicle component failure. That may seem like a small number, but that’s still 44,000 car owners who potentially could have avoided an accident by having a mechanic inspect or repair their vehicle. 

Certainly, we could all be more attentive or cautious when driving — 94% of the crashes studied were caused by driver-related reasons — but car component failure is also preventable.

We talked with several RepairPal Certified auto technicians about the top five car repairs and maintenance items that can help you stay out of an accident. We’ve also provided an estimate of how much it costs to take care of these issues, based on data from our network of repair shops.

1. Take care of your tires

About 15,000 crashes from the study were due to tire-related issues — more than any other car component. 

“The only contact between you and the road are your tires, so maintaining the tires is very important,” says Matthew Roayaee, owner of Auto Check Elite in Katy, Texas. “That’s alignment, proper tire inflation, tire rotation and anything related to tires.” 

One of the main culprits here is tire pressure. Too much or too little air causes a tire to wear unevenly, which weakens its grip on the road. Low tire pressure also increases the risk of a blowout, which can easily make you lose control of your car. Tire pressure should always be checked when the tires are cold — driving just a short distance will heat up the tires and falsely raise the PSI (pounds per square inch).

“Tire pressure has a lot to do with how long it takes to stop a vehicle,” says Jorge Garcia, owner of G & J Auto Repair in Inglewood, California. “And that causes more accidents than I think anything else.” 

The NHTSA required a tire pressure warning system in most cars by 2008 — so if you own a newer car, your dashboard will likely alert you when it’s time to inflate. Also consider the age of your tires, and look for the appearance of dry rot (similar to “spider veins” on your tires) to gauge how strong they are.

“We see a lot of people run them down really low past the wear guards and not replace them,” adds Kathleen Jarosik, owner of Xpertech Auto Repair in Englewood, Florida. “Or they get dry rotted and cracked, and then they blow out a tire and cause an accident.” 

Check your owner’s manual to see how often your car needs a tire rotation or wheel alignment. Typically, it’s 5,000 to 7,000 miles for rotation, and 12 to 18 months — or when you buy new tires — for alignment.

Tire inflation: Around 50 cents at most gas stations

Tire rotation: $35 to $45

Wheel alignment: $115 to $302

2. Replace your brake pads

A safe and fully functional braking system is essential to preventing collisions. 

“It’s fine if it doesn’t drive. It’s OK if it smokes and ... has all kinds of other mechanical problems. But it needs to be able to stop in case of an emergency,” Roayaee says. 

Brake pads typically need replacing around every 50,000 miles, but to be safe, have your brakes inspected at each oil change, or at least once a year. A lot depends on the driver and driving habits, adds Garcia. “Some people can have their brakes last a really long time, other people need them replaced every six months.” 

The easiest way to tell your brake pads are at risk is if you hear a high-pitched squealing when you step on the brake pedal, says Csaba Major, owner of East Bay Auto Services in Largo, Florida. It’s an audible warning that the brake pads have worn down. But, if you stay on top of your car maintenance, your brakes will almost certainly be changed before they start screeching.

Brake pad replacement: $190 to $249

3. Pay attention to steering and suspension 

Your suspension system is made up of shock absorbers, springs, sway bars and the parts of the vehicle that connect the wheel to the car. It creates a smooth, comfortable ride for drivers — making the car easier to control and therefore safer. 

“The job of a suspension and steering system is to maintain all four wheels firmly planted to the ground,” says Lee Lizarraga, owner of ABC Auto Care in Ventura, California. This allows braking and acceleration forces to be applied properly. Lizarraga adds that in his experience, at around 30,000 miles, customers will complain their car control is “loosening,” which is a sign that the suspension is starting to wear. 

“If you have bad ball joints or tie rods and they let go, the axles can come apart going down the road,” says Jarosik. It’s a worst-case scenario, to be sure, but one that happens on occasion.

Normal wear and tear loosens the suspension and steering system, but it can also be damaged if you hit a large pothole, curb or anything that knocks the alignment out of whack. 

Garcia suggests this test to check your suspension: “Drive your car at 5 miles per hour, and hit your brake pedal, and the car will dip and return slowly. If the car dips and bounces back, that’s a very good sign you have a worn suspension.” 

Repair needs vary, but an inspection will typically cost $65 to $169, depending on location and car type. 

4. Fix broken lights right away

Having lights that work is crucial to safe driving. If you can’t see where you’re going, or alert other drivers to your next move, you’re putting yourself at great risk.

“If you have no brake lights, or your headlights aren’t working, people could pull out in front of you,” Jarosik says. “Especially at night, or in places where it gets really dark, it's absolutely a huge component to keep people from having accidents.” 

On some cars, headlight or brake light bulb replacement is straightforward; others will require more labor or the help of a professional. If you’ve got an electrical problem more complicated than a blown fuse, you’ll definitely want to have a mechanic check it out.

Headlight bulb replacement: $60 to $82

Brake light switch replacement: $54 to $126

5. Get new windshield wipers every year

Again, driving safely is impossible if you can’t see, so replace your wipers when you notice them leaving streaks or smears. You might also hear a screeching sound if you run them after the rubber has dried out and cracked — this is another sign you should change them.

Weather affects how often you’ll need to replace your windshield wipers, our experts say. People living in states with more rain and snow, for example, tend to need more frequent changes. 

Sunnier states, such as Florida, may also wear wipers down quickly: “The sun just beats them up. And the rubber gets all hard and it won’t work properly,” Major says.

Change your wiper blades at least once a year, and though your mechanic will likely do it for you, it's also easy to do it yourself.

Wiper blade replacement: $20 to $53

Maintenance is key to avoiding an accident

While these five items can help you prevent an accident, it’s also important to stay on top of your other car maintenance items. This means changing the oil regularly, making sure your other fluids aren’t leaking or low, and following the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. Paying attention to your car’s needs will ensure a safer ride with fewer unexpected repairs.

Nicole Arata

About the Author

Nicole has written about car ownership for multiple media outlets, and her work has been featured in USA Today, Yahoo Finance and the Los Angeles Times.

1 User Comment

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By , February 21, 2018
Tires and suspension are obvious but so are windshield wipers - for most I would say that even it may cost a couple of $ - let people in oil change check those! Lights and brakes also! Fortunately its checks are coming back - a long (long) time ago those checks didn't cost anything, were done automatically - unfortunately not any more! And use reputable service places / stations, not necessarily the cheapest - LOL!

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