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Why Are Car Repairs So Expensive: 6 Most Common Reasons

CarShield Team

Posted in:
Auto Industry

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The level of technology in today’s cars is astounding.

Sensors monitor every aspect of a vehicle’s functions, and computer controls automate many systems that once relied on manual operation (if those systems existed at all). Emissions are lower than ever, yet horsepower has increased dramatically, as have reliability and durability.

Moreover, novel safety features like anti-lock brakes, side curtain airbags, and a slew of active systems like blind spot monitoring, backup cameras, radar cruise control, and automatic brake assist have saved countless lives.

However, all that added tech comes at a cost. If you’ve recently had to have your vehicle serviced, you probably wondered, “Why are car repairs so expensive?”

Despite modern cars being able to drive farther without oil changes and last hundreds of thousands of miles before needing a major fix, repairs are far pricier today than at any time since the invention of the automobile.

What You Should Expect When Going to a Repair Shop

Why are car dealer repairs so expensive? There’s more than one answer to this question.

Aside from climbing labor charges, modern car parts just cost more, and there are far more of them. The pandemic also created supply shortages and manufacturing delays that drove prices up. And manufacturers have gotten crafty about patenting the parts of their vehicles to prevent aftermarket companies from making cheaper alternatives.

Car manufacturers and their dealer networks want to push for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts wherever possible, not just to ensure quality but profits as well.

What are the most expensive parts to repair? Let’s take a look.


A new engine alone can cost upward of $10,000. Even if the existing one is salvageable, that doesn’t mean salvaging it will be cheap. Engine repairs can be exorbitant. Just consider the following average estimates:

  • Head Gaskets – Up to $2,000
  • Camshafts – Up to $3,000
  • Timing Belts or Chains – $500
  • Fuel Injectors – $500
  • Even smaller fixes, like replacing worn-out spark plugs, can cost hundreds of dollars.


    Transmissions have many moving parts that are constantly in motion, and modern ones have plenty of sensors and electronics. Replacing a transmission can cost as much as $5,000.

    Various Computer Controllers

    The most expensive of the various electronic control modules in your car is the engine control unit (ECU), which can be as much as $3,000 to replace. Depending on the vehicle, there may be others, including body control units (BCUs) and controllers for the braking system. Each of these can cost hundreds or even thousands to replace.

    Fuel Pumps

    Without the fuel pump, your car’s engine would be starved of gas and couldn’t operate. This item may run you anywhere from just under $1,000 up to $2,000.

    Brake Lines

    Your car’s brakes most likely rely on hydraulics to operate. Fixing these hydraulic lines is messy and complex, which means they’re also pricey. Expect to pay around $1,000 for the job.

    Air Conditioning Compressors

    If you enjoy having cool air circulate throughout your car on a hot summer day, you’ll have to fork over around $500 if your AC compressor goes out.

    6 Reasons Car Repair Costs Are So Expensive

    So far, we’ve only offered small hints at the exact reasons behind high repair bills. It’s time to dig deeper.

    1. Crumpling Structures

    If you’ve ever wondered, “Why are car body repairs so expensive,” there’s one major reason worth considering.

    In addition to the many electronics and sensors in nearly every area of the vehicle, modern cars are designed to crumple and deform in key areas to provide a cushioning effect for the occupants. These are the so-called “crumple zones.” While the collapsibility makes cars safer for occupants, the toll on the car itself is severe.

    A heavy-framed, stiff-bodied car from the 60s or 70s would be more likely to transfer the force of an impact to the driver and passengers but suffer less damage than a modern car. By contrast, minor impacts in newer vehicles cause more extensive damage.

    2. Labor Costs

    Why are car repairs so expensive? Part of it is the cost of materials. The other part is labor charges.

    It’s not uncommon to pay $100 per hour of labor for basic repair work. Many shops also charge diagnostic fees, which will siphon money from your wallet even before any repair work begins.

    This dramatic increase in fees isn't just due to inflation. It’s also because cars are harder to work on than ever before. Also, with a shortage of repair technicians, the skills of these professionals are in high demand. As such, they can charge more while experiencing high workloads.

    3. Tools and Equipment

    Shops require specialized tools and equipment, which include expensive computers and other digital diagnostic devices.

    Until the 1970s, most cars were completely analog machines, with mechanical systems like carburetors to regulate fuel, manual steering, no climate control, and zero emissions equipment. Computer controls make cars more reliable and cleaner, but they aren’t cheap to develop or fix.

    4. Supply Shortages

    The pandemic dramatically affected manufacturing, slowing production and leading to widespread part shortages. Consumers are still feeling the effects of these shortages today.

    5. Restrictive Patents

    When automakers patent components, they can effectively prevent aftermarket manufacturers from producing less expensive alternatives. The result is that consumers have no choice but to pay full price for the parts and accessories they need.

    6. Repair Difficulties

    Right to repair” law proponents claim modern cars are more difficult to fix not only because they’re more complex but because manufacturers often make them that way on purpose.

    Some automakers make accessing certain parts difficult or even impossible for owners by covering them in hard-to-remove panels and locking them down with proprietary tools. Doing so allows them to require repairs and maintenance to be done within their specific dealer network.

    This isn’t an entirely nefarious act, however, since government regulations require vehicles to be highly efficient and safe.

    To comply with the demands placed on them, automakers must increase the total number of computer controls, which are often designed specifically for individual vehicles. According to manufacturers, sealing off certain parts is a way of preventing undue tampering or modifications that can harm the vehicle.

    Will It Get Better in the Future?

    The right-to-repair movement is also pushing for laws that would force automakers to make information, tools, and data freely available to car owners and repair shops to fix their vehicles.

    Recently, the initiative made a progressive leap thanks to an Automotive Repair Data Sharing Commitment sent to Congress by three major industry organizations.

    However, advocates for right-to-repair laws say the industry commitment doesn’t go far enough to offer protections or provide enforcement.

    What’s more, patent restrictions still have the potential to drive up parts prices to astronomical highs. California’s proposed Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade, and Sales (PARTS) Act seeks to reduce design patent protections to open up aftermarket part support.

    As for the cost ramifications of supply shortages, manufacturing rates are returning to normal in the wake of the pandemic. Chip shortages are expected to persist throughout the rest of 2023 and into 2024, after which the semiconductor supply should be replenished. Inflation on auto part prices seems to be slowing as well.

    That said, one prevailing issue that doesn’t show signs of disappearing is the shortage of auto technicians. Current estimates predict that by 2024, the US will see a dearth of some 642,000 techs.

    To overcome this shortage, the lack of emphasis on skilled trade professions must be addressed, and schools must promote car repair as a viable and respectable career option.

    How You Can Mitigate Expensive Repairs

    Aside from engaging in regular maintenance and driving your car responsibly, the best way to lessen the impact on your wallet is to avoid paying for repairs in the first place. That’s why purchasing a vehicle service contract is a great idea. When your car experiences a parts failure, your service contract will allow you to get it fixed without eating a hole in your finances.

    Check out the contracts available through CarShield and get the protection you need for your vehicle, whether you’re looking to protect the powertrain, the electronics, or the entire car from bumper to bumper.

    Filed Under: Auto Industry
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    CarShield customer, Esekiez, used his vehicle protection to fix his broken power windows at his Nissan dealer.
    CarShield customer, Esekiez, used his vehicle protection to fix his broken power windows at his Nissan dealer.

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