The Most Expensive Places for Car Repairs – and Why

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Learn how to avoid a common $400 repair with a $20 do-it-yourself job. And as for tools – if you've got a butter knife, you're ready.

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 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.

Stacy Johnson

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