If money is tight, some people will stretch out the times between maintenance periods. Or they’ll ignore the manufacturer’s suggested timeline with an idea they’re being frugal.
According to the 2014 CarMD Vehicle Health Index, the most common “check engine” issue is a faulty oxygen sensor. This may be caused by something as minor as a dirty air filter – a simple and inexpensive repair. If replacing the sensor is necessary, you’re looking at a $260 average fix.
Not fixing it could lead to lousy gas mileage (up to $900 per year in additional fuel costs), vehicle misfiring and, ultimately, a catalytic converter replacement ($1,154 on average).
This “domino effect” on needed repairs demonstrates the importance of paying attention to your car’s needs, according to Doug Sobieski of CarMD.
The Vehicle Health Index analyzed more than 145,000 repairs done by Automotive Service Excellence-certified technicians during 2013. Among other things, the study noted that colder-than-usual weather had an impact on the past year’s auto issues.
For example, battery- and thermostat-related repairs were up in the Northeast and Midwest regions. In addition, fuel doesn’t vaporize as well in the cold and that can lead to droplets that foul spark plugs — an issue that, unlike a dead or nearly dead battery, doesn’t require instant attention.
Pay now or pay a lot more later
In other words, the Polar Vortex tried to kill your car. Extreme summer weather will want a crack at it, too. Your auto takes quite a beating from the elements, so don’t ignore vehicular cries for help.
Here are the others in the top five check-engine repair list:
2. Tighten or replace fuel cap. The good news: Most just need to be tightened. Not tightening/replacing could cause decreased fuel economy to the tune of as much as $100 per year.
3. Replace catalytic converter. As noted above, this is gonna cost you. But generally the converter won’t fail “unless a related part like a bad spark plug or O2 sensor is ignored for too long,” the survey notes. The moral of the story: When the check-engine light comes on, heed it.
4. Replace spark plug(s) and wire(s). This isn’t exactly cheap, either: $361 is the average. But it’s another example of how cheaping out can cost you. Spark-plug issues could result in ignition coil and catalytic converter issues, whose total costs average more than $1,500.
5. Replace mass air flow sensor. Never heard of it? Me either. This part measures incoming air and determines how much fuel to inject. If it goes wrong, fuel economy drops by as much as 25 percent. Well worth the $423 average cost to fix.
What have we learned? Pay now or overpay later.
Old Faithful is worth it
April is Car Care Awareness Month. If you’re not the kind of car owner who just naturally follows the manufacturer’s scheduled maintenance program, let this be the month you start to take things seriously.
Yes, scheduled maintenance costs money. So does fixing a problem you could have prevented. That $361 tab beats a repair that runs upwards of $1,500.
Put another way: My friend Linda B. pilots an 18-year-old Acura that’s been maintained faithfully. We’re driving it up to Fairbanks at the end of the month, a round-trip of more than 700 miles. I’m OK with that because I know the vehicle has had all its shots.
Readers: What’s the oldest car you ever drove? Do/did you follow scheduled maintenance?