No one likes to see their check engine light come on. There’s just never an opportune moment for it to happen. But it will serve you well to heed the warning when it does. Addressing problems early on can save you money on costlier repairs down the road.
That said, CarMD is out with the top five reasons the red light comes on in its 2017 Vehicle Health Index of check engine-related car repairs, costs and trends. They are listed below along with associated average repair costs, including parts and labor. If left unrepaired, each can hurt fuel economy and harm the environment.
- Replace oxygen sensor – $258
- Replace catalytic converter – $1,190
- Replace ignition coil(s) and spark plug(s) – $401
- Tighten or replace fuel cap – $17
- Replace mass airflow sensor – $378
The study looked at data from more than 5.3 million vehicles from the 1996 to 2016 model years. Out of those, 2005 model year vehicles were most likely to have a check engine light trouble. Newer 2015 and 2016 models not so much. Less than one percent of those reported check engine incidents.
“While check engine issues can occur on any age vehicle at any time for many different reasons, this report reminds owners of 10- to 12-year-old vehicles to be vigilant with their maintenance routines and to be prepared for the possibility of a check engine light repair,” said David Rich, CarMD’s Technical Director. “CarMD has monitored car repair and maintenance trends for two decades and found that when vehicles are properly maintained, they tend to experience fewer check engine light problems than those whose owners put off scheduled maintenance and small repairs.”
According to CarMD, the average cost to repair a check engine problem in the U.S. in 2016 was $398 including parts and labor. The number is up 2.7 percent year-over-year.
It can be as cheap as $17 to replace a gas cap to $1,190 or more for a catalytic converter. A lot of it depends on where you live. Drivers in the Northeast paid the most for check engine repairs ($401) while drivers in the Midwest paid the least on average ($385) for parts and labor. In the West, owners had a slight reprieve with a 1.1 percent drop in car repair costs. More highlights from the report:
- The most common repair on vehicles in all four regions was “replace oxygen sensors” but the parts and labor cost for this repair varied from $253 in the Midwest to $266 in the Northeast.
- Vehicle owners in the Midwest experienced the largest increase in average repair costs, which were up 5.7 percent from $364 in 2015 to $385 in 2016.
- Vehicle age affects the likelihood and type of check engine light repair incidents.
- An 11-year-old model year 2005 vehicle was most likely to report having a check engine light on, accounting for 10.8 percent of such problems reported to CarMD in 2016. Model year 2006 vehicles comprised 10 percent of reported check engine issues, followed by model year 2004 vehicles (9.5%) and 2007 vehicles (9%).
- Model year 2015 vehicles were least likely to experience a check engine issue, accounting for just 0.40 percent of reported problems.
- The most common causes of a check engine problem on a 2005 vehicle were faulty ignition coils and spark plugs, accounting for 7 percent of repairs and costing on average $410 to fix. A loose gas cap is the top reason drivers of 2015 vehicles sought help for the check engine light, accounting for 13 percent of recommended fixes and almost always covered as a warranty repair.