The Most Expensive Places for Car Repairs – and Why

The worst place in the country to have your car break down is apparently Wyoming.

According to a summertime state-by-state ranking of repair costs researched by auto diagnostic company CarMD, Wyoming drivers “paid 17 percent more than the U.S. average for overall repairs, including 19 percent more for labor and 15 percent more for parts.” The average cost in the state: $389.18, about $100 higher than the cheapest states.

The numbers are based on more than 160,000 repairs made in 2011 related to a “check engine” light. Here are the top five most expensive states…

  • Wyoming: $389.18
  • Utah: $378.54
  • California: $367.86
  • Montana: $364.29
  • Arizona: $362.65

As CarMD points out, these are all Western states – the five cheapest states were in the Midwest and Northeast, where the average repair cost between $280 and $290. The higher average out west can “partially be attributed to higher amounts of airborne dust,” they say. “By putting off replacing air filters in western states, vehicle owners put their vehicles’ mass air flow sensors at risk. On average, this is a $400 repair.”

There’s no reason to risk such an expensive repair by skipping this simple maintenance step. It’s often necessary only once a year, every 12,000 miles, or whatever your owner’s manual says. It’s a 10-minute job you can do with two screwdrivers and a butter knife.

A full tutorial at Edmunds.com walks you through how to check and change your car’s air filter, but here’s how to find and open the air box it’s in…

The air filter is typically enclosed in a black plastic casing near the center-top of the engine (sometimes, however, it will be off to the side). It should be the largest non-metal assembly you see, about the size of a breadbox.

Most of them are held together by a couple of large metal clips on the side. Slide the butter knife or flat-headed screwdriver between the casing and the clip and then pry the clip away. Continue around the case’s perimeter, loosening all the retaining clips which should allow you to open the case up. Occasionally you’ll find an air filter housing that’s held together with several long screws, in which case you’ll have to unscrew them to get at the filter.

Some people say a fresh air filter can boost your fuel efficiency too. According to a 2009 government study, that’s not true in modern cars, although it may improve acceleration up to 11 percent and obviously keeps the engine cleaner. This job costs $10 to $15 to do it yourself – but could be twice that at the mechanic’s.

CarMD’s study also notes that the most common engine-light repair in 2011 was replacing oxygen sensors. “A faulty O2 sensor is often ignored because it may seem like the vehicle is driving fine,” says CarMD, “but can actually lead to as much as a 40 percent reduction in fuel economy.”

They say the average cost for this more complicated job is $246.39. If you think you’re handy enough to do it yourself, Popular Mechanics has an oxygen sensor guide and says it’s about $100 for the part.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,168 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • I.Popoff

    Before you run out to your car with a butter knife, consider that on many vehicles, getting to and changing the air filter may not be as easy as the author suggests. If you don’t have much car care experience, (and if you are approaching the job with butterknife in hand I suspect you don’t,) get a competent friend to at least guide you the first time. Sometimes there are hoses attached or hinged covers that can be difficult to get back in place or wires at risk of damage. I have on more than one occasion had an oil change place fail to put the air filter housing back together correctly after attempting to sell me a new filter. If the housing is not closed correctly the filter is pointless as dirt can enter the engine. If hoses are not re-connected properly, you will probably notice the “check engine” light is on.