Buying a pre-owned car or truck is already fraught with peril, particularly with regard to its mechanical condition. While the prudent course of action when considering any used vehicle is to take it to a trusted mechanic for a proper inspection, it’s a fact of life that an older car will almost certainly require regular trips to the shop for repairs, with the cost coming directly out of an owner’s pocket.
But as many motorists who’ve owned multiple models can attest, some cars inherently cost more or less than others to keep running. To that end, the statisticians are the auto-service website CarMD.com just compiled their annual Vehicle Health Index that highlights the cars and trucks from previous model years that are the least-expensive to repair when the “check engine” light on the instrument panel illuminates. The results are based upon reported repairs from Oct. 1, 2016 – Sept. 30, 2017 for 4.2 million cars and trucks from the 1996 through 2017 model years,
Among vehicle brands, Hyundai was found to exact the lowest check-engine-related repair costs at an average $306 per visit, followed by Mazda ($310), Kia ($317), Chrysler ($336), Dodge ($341), Infiniti ($352), Jeep ($352), and Chevrolet ($353).
The vehicle CarMD.com determined has the lowest repair costs when the check engine light flashes on is the (since discontinued) 2012 Mazda5 compact minivan, with an average cost per visit of just $109. It should be noted, however, that check-engine repairs are generally related to a vehicle’s emissions system, with (as in the Mazda5’s case) the most common symptom being a loose gas cap. Vehicles that have a high percentage of finicky gas caps often have lower average repair costs, simply because the issue is so cheap to resolve, either by just tightening a loose gas cap (free) or having a defective one replaced for around 10 bucks.
On the other hand, among the costliest common check engine repairs is having the car’s catalytic converter replaced at an estimated $1,190 or more. But CarMD notes that the highest-cost (though extremely rare) check-engine fixes include replacing the cylinder head assembly and spark plugs at an average $2,493, and the budget busting full engine replacement at a whopping $7,124.
We’re featuring the 10 cheapest-to-fix used cars, noting average repair costs and the most common reported check engine light-related issues in the accompanying slide show. Of course, noted repair costs may be higher or lower where you live, given the local prevailing wages for auto mechanics and other factors. According to CarMD.com, those living in the Northeast U.S. pay the most for check engine fixes, while Midwestern motorists enjoy the cheapest average repairs. Costs can also vary according to a vehicle’s age and how well or poorly it’s otherwise been maintained. The full 2017 Vehicle Health Index with year-over-year scores and top 100 vehicle rankings can be found here.
In addition, CarMD.com lets vehicle owners obtain a Vehicle Health Report, searchable by the car’s vehicle identification number, or the year, make, model and mileage here. The report includes upcoming maintenance procedures, repairs that are most likely to be needed in the coming year and the percentage of their likelihood, along with any safety-related recalls and/or technical service bulletins on the books for that particular make and model.
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