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America's Best and Worst Cities for Car Repair

Wes Schwengels
February 12, 2019

Approximately 90% of American households own a car — and pretty much all of them will need a mechanic at some point. Automobiles need maintenance and repairs, no matter where you live.

honolulu hawaiiHonolulu, Hawaii

But car repair can be stressful and expensive. So, which cities are the best — or worst — for car owners when it comes to keeping their vehicles running? We looked at federal data on the availability of repair shops in large metro areas, road conditions, and our own data on labor rates and repair costs to find out.

Finding a reliable, professional mechanic who will charge a fair price is key, wherever you are. We can help you with that because we partner with trustworthy shops that guarantee their work and will honor the prices listed in our estimator tool. 

But some cities have higher average labor rates, or have harsher weather that will take a toll on both roads and cars. Others may be short on technicians, meaning you might have to wait longer to get your car into (or back from) the shop.

To start, here’s the rundown of the toughest cities for auto repair.

 

20 worst metro areas for car repair

1. Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawaii may be an island paradise, but for the nearly 1 million people in the Honolulu metro area, car ownership isn’t the best part of it. In fact, it’s the worst in the U.S., when it comes to auto repair. 

We know cost of living there is higher, so it’s not a big surprise that Honolulu has the third-highest labor rate and third-highest average repair order cost. 

But mechanics are also hard to come by — the area has the second-fewest repair workers per car. And its roads are the fourth-worst among cities we looked at, doing drivers no favors. Thankfully, the beach isn’t far away.

2. San Jose, California

Commuters in the Bay Area will tell you how bad traffic is there — no, really, just ask us — and that takes a toll on cars. As a result, the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area comes in second on this list.

The area’s roads and repair labor rate are both second-worst in the country, behind only neighboring San Francisco. Put those two things together, and you get the second-highest average repair cost, as well. So, while Silicon Valley continues to innovate, its drivers are paying the price.

3. Oxnard, California

California is pricey, too, and the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura metro area in California, just northwest of Los Angeles, is no exception. Oxnard has the highest average repair ticket cost, at $731.

While the area has a good number of repair shops, those facilities have a comparatively small number of employees, meaning you might wait longer than average to get in or get out of the shop. And the notoriously bad roads in California’s big cities mean these drivers may need repairs more often.

4. New Orleans, Louisiana

The New Orleans-Metairie metro area doesn’t do terribly in labor rate or road quality, comparatively. So what drags it down to fourth place overall? A lack of mechanics.

With more than 550 commuting vehicles per repair shop worker, getting your car looked at in a timely manner could be tough. The average repair bill is also high despite the more reasonable labor rate — between flooding and infrastructure issues such as giant potholes, cars in the Big Easy can take a beating.

5. Los Angeles, California

Traffic in L.A. is a fact of life. But car repair in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area is no joke, either. With the third-worst roads in the country and a California-size labor rate, the City of Angels comes in fifth here.

Still despite the high labor cost, the average repair ticket comes in just 18th-worst overall. This can be partly attributed to good California weather, meaning a lower chance of rust on expensive exhaust parts or body panels.

6. Tulsa, Oklahoma

The cost of living isn’t as high in the Tulsa metro area, but the main factor that puts it on this list is the poor ratio of cars to mechanics, as it ranks ninth-worst in that category. 

The area’s labor rate is also higher than most cities in the region, which drives up the average repair order cost, as well.

7. San Francisco, California

With San Francisco being one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., it’s no surprise to find the S.F.-Oakland-Hayward metro area on this list. It has the priciest labor rate (almost $146 per hour) and worst roads in the country. 

What keeps it from being higher on this list? A lot of mechanics — San Francisco has one of the best car-to-shop-worker ratios. So, while it’ll probably cost you a lot to get your car fixed, at least you’ll be in and out quickly.

8. Denver, Colorado

As one of the economically hottest places in the country, the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metro area has a lot of people commuting to work. They’re also paying a lot for their car repair. 

The area has the 10th-highest labor rate and ninth-highest average repair cost, but is helped by having a good number of mechanics per car. 

9. Bakersfield, California

The Bakersfield metro area, north of Los Angeles, has the lowest labor rate of any California metro area that we looked at, ranking in the middle of the pack nationally. But a poor mechanic-to-car ratio and a high average total repair cost propel it into this list.

10. Fresno, California

The Fresno metro area, in central California, is the sixth representative from the Golden State on this list, due mostly to high average repair costs and aging roads. Its saving grace is a good car-to-mechanic ratio.

11. Riverside, California

12. Colorado Springs, Colorado

13. Memphis, Tennessee

14. Sacramento, California

15. Dallas, Texas 

16. Houston, Texas

17. Des Moines, Iowa

18. Madison, Wisconsin

19. Las Vegas, Nevada

20. Seattle, Washington

» MORE: Get an estimate for your car repair

jacksonville floridaJacksonville, Florida

20 best metro areas for car repair

On the flip side, the following cities are the best for drivers and their cars, when they need repairs. 

1. Jacksonville, Florida

Life is good for drivers in the Jacksonville metro area — and not just because the beach is a short drive away. A low labor rate, a solid pool of mechanics to choose from, and the best roads in the country (only 4% are rated poor, tied with Bradenton, Florida) make it the top place in the U.S. for car repair.

2. Greensboro, North Carolina

The Carolinas seem to have it good, as well — they landed five cities on this list, after all — and the Greensboro-High Point metro area stands out. While it doesn’t have a surplus of mechanics per car, ranking just 27th in that category, it’s average repair bill is just $254, third-best. Add in a good average labor rate and roads, and it just misses the top spot.

3. Richmond, Virginia

Virginia’s capital doesn’t stand out in any one area here, placing no higher than eighth in a given category. But the Richmond metro area does well across the board, meaning drivers should have a well-above-average experience when in need of repairs.

4. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The Winston-Salem metro area’s key to success is a low average repair bill — fourth-lowest in the country, in fact. But drivers may have to wait a little longer than average to get their cars looked at, as the city ranks just 37th in the cars-to-mechanics ratio. Still, when the price is right, waiting an extra day isn't so bad.

5. Knoxville, Tennessee

The Knoxville metro area also has a dearth of mechanics per car — in fact, it’s a paltry 55th in this category. So how is it on this list? The second-lowest average labor rate helps, at just $94.89 per hour. And with only 6% of its roads rated as poor, drivers may not need to search for a mechanic quite so often.

6. Dayton, Ohio

With the lowest average repair bill in the nation, you might expect the Dayton metro area to rank even higher on this list. And while its labor rate is also on the low side, its pool of mechanics per car and its road quality are middle-of-the-pack, dragging it down to sixth overall.

7. Charleston, South Carolina

The Charleston-North Charleston metro area brings South Carolina into the mix, using the same formula as the North Carolina cities on this list: Low overall repair bills, good-but-not-outstanding labor rates, solid roads and a so-so car-to-mechanic ratio. Of the top 10 cities, though, Charleston has the highest average labor rate.

8. Raleigh, North Carolina

The Raleigh metro area features the fifth-lowest average repair bill and saw just 10% of its roads rated as poor, helping overcome a subpar ratio of mechanics to cars. So workers in the bustling Research Triangle Park should have a positive repair experience, once they book an appointment.

9. Charlotte, North Carolina

Like we said, the Carolinas have it good. The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia metro area, which stretches into South Carolina, has the seventh-best average repair invoice and 11th-best labor rate, helping to offset slightly worse roads than its neighboring cities.

10. Providence, Rhode Island

The only place in New England on this list, the Providence-Warwick metro area, which stretches into Massachusetts, breaks into the top 10 thanks to a sub-$100 average labor rate and a solid pool of mechanics to choose from. That’s good, since 46% of its roads are rated poor, by far the worst among the top 10 cities.

11. Sarasota, Florida

12. Columbia, South Carolina

13. Tampa, Florida

14. Omaha, Nebraska

15. Deltona, Florida

16. Virginia Beach, Virginia

17. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

18. St. Louis, Missouri

19. Boise, Idaho

20. Salt Lake City, Utah

Other notables

California star: It’s not surprising that several California metros made the naughty list, but one that did pretty well is San Diego. A low overall average price total, an abundance of mechanics and overall decent roads put this sunny city toward the middle of the pack.

Where’s the Big Apple?: It’s average labor rate is high, and its roads are bad overall, but an abundance of mechanics and a surprisingly moderate average repair bill keep the New York metro area out the bottom 20.

Methodology

For each of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas, RepairPal created a score and ranking in these areas:

Number of repair shop workers per car: We used data from the 2017 U.S. Census American Communities Survey to determine the number of cars commuting in each metro area, and the 2016 ACS to determine the number of auto repair employees per metro. This accounted for 25% of the total score.

Labor rate: We used internal data from RepairPal certified shops to determine the average labor rate per metro area. This accounted for 30% of the total score.

Repair invoice totals: We used internal data from RepairPal certified shops to determine the average total invoice cost per metro. This included parts, labor and other fees. This accounted for 30% of the total score.

Road quality: We used data from a 2016 survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration to determine the percentage of major roads that were rated in “poor” condition in each metro area. This accounted for 15% of the total score.

Note: We had to eliminate 27 metro areas due to insufficient data in at least one category.

 

Wes Schwengels

About the Author

Wesley has been editing a wide range of content for nearly two decades, gaining a depth of knowledge about automotive maintenance and ownership.