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AAA Survey: One in Four Americans Could Not Pay for Major Car Repair

(LOS ANGELES, Aug. 3, 2011) – One quarter of American drivers are neglecting major car repairs and maintenance due to the economy and more than half are keeping older vehicles to avoid the financial burden of buying a newer model, according to results from a new AAA survey.
The same survey showed that one in four American drivers could not pay for a car repair of $2,000 if faced with one today, according to survey results.  The survey also found that one in eight would be unable to pay for a repair bill of $1,000.
Of the one quarter of drivers who admitted to neglecting major repairs on their vehicles in the past 12 months, they cited the economic climate for doing so, which AAA automotive experts say can greatly increase the likelihood of their car needing a costly, major repair.
“The fact that motorists are delaying maintenance on their cars in the current economy is not surprising,” said the Automobile Club of Southern California’s AAA-Approved Auto Repair Program Development Manager Dave Skaien.  “But what they may not realize is that there’s a direct correlation between poorly maintained cars and big repair bills.”
Skaien said that larger and more expensive car repairs, and even reduced fuel economy, can result from delaying replacement of timing belts, hoses, batteries, tires and other parts, as well as putting off regular adjustments to front-end alignments.
“It’s also important for drivers to not only continue to maintain their vehicles, but also to have a financial emergency plan in place should they be faced with a sudden unexpected auto repair bill,” he added.
According to the survey, 38 percent of American drivers could pay for a $2,000 repair bill with funds in a savings account, while 20 percent would pay with their credit card.  Eleven percent said they would need to borrow money from their friends, family, retirement or home equity in order to pay for a $2,000 repair.
Slightly more Americans reported being able to pay for a $1,000 repair bill, with 46 percent saying they could use savings and 22 percent using a credit card.  Fourteen percent would look to borrow from their friends, family, retirement or home equity.
While major repair costs can vary greatly by make, model and type of repair, a transmission repair can be $2,000 to $4,000, while an engine repair can exceed $5,000.  Major brake repairs may range from $350 to $1,000, and a new set of tires can range from $300 to more than $1,000.
How can motorists avoid big repair bills that they may not be able to afford?
  • Check and adjust tire pressures (including the spare) at least once a month when tires are cold. Do not use the inflation pressure molded into the tire sidewall; this is the pressure needed to achieve the tire’s rated load capacity, and it may or may not be the correct pressure for your particular car. The correct tire pressure is most often listed in the vehicle owner’s manual or on a sticker located inside the driver’s side door.
  • Inspect the battery, cables, clamps and connections at every oil change. Batteries more than three years old should be tested during every oil change.  Promptly replace weak batteries which create drag on the alternator and sap fuel economy. 
  • Have your brakes inspected at least every 5,000 miles.  Any brake system problems that were noticeable in the summer may become worse in the first rain of the season. Make sure brakes are working properly before wet weather arrives. 
  • In many engines, loss of the timing belt while the engine is running may cause extensive damage to the internal engine components. Since more labor is required for its replacement, be prepared for a higher repair bill.  Owners who fail to replace the timing belt or timing chain before it breaks will face repair costs that could be thousands of dollars higher.
AAA offers services to help members save on costly repair bills including:
  • AAA Approved Auto Repair – AAA inspects and approves nearly 8,000 auto repair shops in the U.S. and Canada, including 630 in Southern California.  Approved shops meet tough professional standards for customer service, cleanliness, equipment, training, warranties and dispute resolution.  All AAA members receive a free maintenance inspection upon request in conjunction with any other paid service.  Additionally, many AAA Approved Auto Repair shops participate in the AAA Show Your Card & Save® program, providing discounts on repair and maintenance to AAA members.  A listing of nearby approved shops is available at
  • AAA Member Rewards Visa – For those who pay for auto repairs with their credit card, the AAA Member Rewards Visa® credit card offers members an opportunity to earn vouchers good towards auto repairs at AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities.  In addition to 2,500 bonus points, members receive one point for every dollar they spend with triple points on AAA and travel purchases and double points on gas, grocery and drug store purchases.  Members can redeem as little as 5,000  points for vouches good at any AAA Approved Auto Repair facility, allowing this month’s repair bill to help pay for future ones.  Members can apply for the AAA Member Rewards Visa at Rewards.
The telephone survey was conducted among a sample of 1,009 adults, 18 years and older living in the continental United States.  The survey has an average statistical error of ± 3.6 percent at the 95 percent confidence level of all U.S. adults.
CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.