Where Do Car Repair Costs Put the Most Strain on Budgets?

September 7, 2017

If you rely on your own car or truck for transportation, the cost of repair and maintenance is a familiar dread. It’s not hard to understand why. With cars becoming more and more complex systems, it’s understandable that the cost to fix them would also be correspondingly high.

At RepairPal, we’re dedicated to help consumers understand what repairs should cost, through data-driven, industry standard estimates, so you know what to expect at the repair shop. But just because you’re getting a fair cost doesn’t mean it’s any less of a ding to the budgets of American households.

Nationwide car repair costs

Over just the past year, RepairPal found that the average cost of a car repair bill peaked in March, at $492.

car repair costs by month in 2017

This amount is particularly troubling when you consider that, according to a 2015 Federal Reserve report, 46% of Americans say they wouldn’t be able to easily handle an emergency expense of $400 without borrowing money or selling something to cover it.

What's more is that, according to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income in 2015 is $53,889. That means that March’s average nationwide repair cost is nearly 11% of a household’s monthly pre-tax earnings.

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However, both incomes and - perhaps surprisingly - repair costs vary significantly from place to place. To understand which parts of the country have the most budget-breaking costs of repair, we analyzed average repair costs over the past 12 months as compared to median household incomes in 2015. Here’s what we found.

Average car repair cost vs. median household income by state

car repair costs vs median incomes by state map

car repair costs vs median incomes by state table

Not surprisingly, the states that top the list are those where the average repair cost is in the mid-to-high range, and where median incomes are lower than the nationwide figure. One likely contributing factor is the ownership rate of trucks among the states at the top. In Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi combined, 3 of the top 5 most-repaired vehicles are heavy-duty pickups.

Of course, factors affecting the impact of car repair might vary wildly from region to region, even within a single state. So, we dug deeper to look at the repair cost impact in the most populated U.S. counties.

Average car repair cost vs. median household income by county

car repair costs vs median incomes by state table

1. Bronx County, NY

Despite a slightly lower than average labor rate for mechanics in The Bronx ($92 vs $98 nationwide), this region tops the list largely due to its relatively low median income. Simply put, Bronx residents tend to earn less than the national median, but don't get a corresponding discount when it comes to getting their car fixed.

2. El Paso County, TX

With both a lower median income and higher average repair cost of $575, El Paso County residents come in at number 2. An average labor rate for mechanics in El Paso of only $79/hour vs $98 nationwide helps offset the higher overall costs slightly. However, with all of the top 5 most commonly-repaired vehicles in the area being heavy-duty vehicles like pickups and SUVs, the cost of the repairs will tend to be higher.

3. Suffolk County, MA (Boston)

Though the median income in Suffolk County is higher than the nationwide, it’s counteracted by the highest average repair cost among this list, at a whopping $755. The parts involved with auto repair in the Boston area appear to play a huge role here, as the average total parts costs of $409 is over double the nationwide average of $202.

4. Marion County, IN (Indianapolis)

This region has a median household income below the national median, which makes their higher average repair cost more difficult for residents to afford. In addition, there’s a heftier labor rate on average - almost $15 higher per hour higher than the nationwide rate - and pricer parts ($254 average total parts cost vs $202 nationwide) associated with repair in the Indianapolis area.

5. Kings County, NY (Brooklyn)

The average total repair cost in Kings County tops out at $637, 38% higher than the nationwide average of $461. Brooklynites experience all-around higher costs for both repair labor and parts, making Brooklyn car repair, along with nearby Bronx County, among the top 5 priciest as compared to median incomes.

6. Kern County, CA (Bakersfield)

The labor rate for mechanics in the Bakersfield area averages $120 vs. the nationwide average of $98, helping to push total repair costs higher for residents. This factor is common across California, where labor rates tend to be around $10 higher per hour, at $108.

7. Dallas County, TX

The average cost for a car repair in Dallas breaks the $600 mark thanks in large part to an average total parts cost around $50 higher than nationwide ($258 vs. $202). In addition, the total cost of labor for the average repair is almost $100 higher (at $298) than it is nationwide.

8. Allegheny County, PA (Pittsburgh)

In this Pennsylvania region, the average total repair cost is a full $170 higher than it is nationwide ($631 vs. $461). What’s driving the difference? Slightly higher parts costs ($267) as well as total costs of labor ($312) were significantly higher for auto repair in the Pittsburgh area than the nationwide averages (approximately $202 for both metrics).

9. Shelby County, TN (Memphis)

In Shelby County, the cost of both mechanic labor and parts costs hovered a little over the national averages, at $252 and $231 respectively. As a result, the total cost of auto repair in Memphis is on the lower end of this list, but still higher than the national average, coming in at a $546. Plus, a lower median income in the area means residents are unfortunately more likely to struggle to pay their repair bill.

10. San Bernardino County, CA

Residents of this southern California area tend to pay about $165 more for their car repairs than the average American ($626 vs $461). A higher labor rate for mechanics in San Bernardino ($113 vs. $98 nationwide) - and California at large - is partially the cause, but an average total cost for car parts, at $287, or $85 over the national average, can’t be ignored as a factor either.

How to counteract high car repair bills

If you’re worried about covering the cost to fix your car in the inevitable case that something goes wrong, here are some actions to take that can help.

  1. Keep on top of scheduled maintenance - a well-maintained car may be more money out of pocket now, but it’ll help avoid far pricier repairs down the road.
  2. Get a quote up front - RepairPal’s Estimator provides real-time data on what your repair should cost, taking multiple factors into account - like your vehicle type and age, your location, and the service required - to ensure you get the most accurate price possible.
  3. Book with a RepairPal Certified shop - our network of shops has been thoroughly vetted by industry experts to provide the best service by highly experienced technicians. Their work is backed by local and nationwide warranties, and they’re guaranteed to honor RepairPal Estimates - no negotiation necessary.

About the Author

John Gower is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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