When your car is trying to tell you something, don’t ignore it. If you postpone repairs, you risk additional damage that can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to fix. So if you see the light come on, make an appointment with your mechanic promptly.
And here’s a reason not to worry about the bill too much: Overall car repair costs are holding steady, according to CarMD’s 2016 Vehicle Health Index.
The report, based on 2015 data, also lists the main problems that can make your check-engine light go. Follow along to see which two new repairs have made their way into the top 10.
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For the sixth year in a row, oxygen sensor malfunctions remain the most common car repair, accounting for 7.01% of repairs in 2015.
The so-called O2 sensor can fail as a result of neglecting car reairs, engine issues (such as internal leaks or burning oil) or simply from using gas with a higher concentration of ethanol. Because the sensor works with the car’s on-board computer to create the fuel-to-air ratio, a malfunction can result in as much as a 40% drop in fuel economy and can affect performance. The average cost of the repair decreased $10 from the prior year.
For the second year in a row, catalytic converter troubles are the second most common issue drivers face.
This is primarily because these parts won’t fail unless there is an underlying problem. It represents 6.97% of repairs in 2015, an increase of more than 1% over the prior year. This is the most expensive repair in the top 10 by far.
Up from fourth place from the year before, this accounts for 6.19% of repairs in 2015 — nearly double from 2014, when it was 3.58% of repairs.
Because ignition coils use the current from the car battery to ignite the spark plugs, ignoring spark-plug problems can result in a faulty ignition coil (or coils). These parts also fail over time due to high under-hood temperatures.
Drivers are getting the message that the check-engine warning can be triggered by a gas cap that’s loose, missing or damaged. It also allows gas to evaporate. This problem accounts for 3.84% of repairs, compared to 7.1% in 2014.
Tightening a loose gas cap is free, but expect to spend about $15 if the cap needs to be replaced.
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No. 5: Replacing thermostat
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Average repair cost: $210.81
Up from eighth place last year, this represents 3.7% of repairs.
A car’s thermostat regulates the engine’s temperature by opening and closing to regulate the flow of coolant. If the coolant isn’t changed as recommended, or the car itself is driven in extreme temperatures or in an acidic environment, corrosion can occur, causing it to fail prematurely.
Replacing the ignition coil or coils (some cars have more than one) accounts for 3.69% of the repairs in this year’s study, down from fifth place last year.
Ignition coils can malfunction due to high under-hood temperatures and the overall age. Pay attention to problems, as ignition-coil failures can cause other problems, including the pricey catalytic converter.
A malfunctioning mass air flow sensor, or MAF, accounts for 3.49% of repairs, according to CarMD’s latest study.
Problems with the MAF can result in decreases in fuel economy between 10% and 25%, since it’s the MAF that measures the air coming into the engine and is what calculates how much fuel to inject. In addition to this repair dropping one place in rank, costs have also declined from $409 to $382.
Dropping one spot from last year, this represents 3.42% of repairs.
Replacing a spark plug can cost just $10 if you do it yourself, but drivers spend $331 to have spark plugs and their wires replaced by a technician. When these items fail, they can cause the engine to misfire and your gas mileage to decline. Ignoring the problem can result in permanent damage to your car’s expensive catalytic converter.
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No. 9: Malfunctioning evaporative emissions (EVAP) purge control valve
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Average repair cost: $168.11
Up from No. 14 in 2014, this represents 2.83% of check-engine-related repairs.
This valve prevents vapors from your car’s gas tank from being released into the atmosphere and instead channels them into a charcoal canister to be burned in the engine. Over time, the valve sticks and often needs to be replaced.
Jumping from No. 15 in CarMD’s study last year to No. 10 this year, this represents 2.27% of all repairs.
Like the purge control valve (at No. 9), the solenoid is part of the car’s EVAP system, controlling how much fuel vapor escapes into the atmosphere. It is controlled by the engine control module or powertrain control module and typically needs replacing when it starts to fail.
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