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One-in-Three U.S. Drivers Cannot Pay for an Unexpected Car Repair Bill

AAA advises drivers to save $50 per month for car care fund

Mechanic repairing brakes by Mario Anima
Photo copyright Mario Anima

According to a new AAA survey, 64 million American drivers would not be able to pay for an unexpected vehicle repair without going into debt, indicating that some drivers may underestimate the full cost of owning and operating a vehicle. Because some car repairs are unavoidable, and the average repair bill is between $500 and $600, AAA urges drivers to save at least $50 a month for unforeseen expenses, and identify a trusted repair facility before trouble strikes.


“The average cost of owning and operating a vehicle is more than $8,500 a year, and AAA has found that millions of Americans are failing to set aside a car care fund to pay for the upkeep of their cars,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “To avoid a surprise down the road, drivers should budget for monthly payments, insurance premiums, fuel costs and the inevitable expenses of routine maintenance and repair.”


“Poorly maintained vehicles mean expensive repair bills,” said the Automobile Club of Southern California’s AAA Approved Auto Repair Program Manager Dave Skaien.  “So it’s important to budget wisely to maintain your vehicle and avoid the big headache of sudden and unexpected car repair costs.”


Skaien said that even reduced fuel economy can result from delaying replacement of parts such as weakened batteries and  under-inflated tires, or performing needed services such as a fixing a front-end that’s out of alignment .


Although an average repair bill can set a driver back up to $600, the cost can soar higher when a vehicle has been poorly maintained and breaks down. Vehicles that break down can experience about $250 to $300 more in repair costs per visit versus bringing the vehicle in for maintenance regularly, according to Auto Club 2016 data.  A previous AAA survey found that one-third of U.S. drivers skip or delay recommended service or repairs, which increases the likelihood of unexpected mechanical failures and leaves a vehicle more vulnerable to roadside breakdown. In 2016 alone, AAA responded to nearly 32 million stranded motorists.


“Anticipating your vehicle’s needs before problems strike is important,” continued Nielsen. “While it may seem that skipping maintenance and repairs can save money in the short term, staying on top of car care can save drivers hundreds of dollars in the long run.”


Before a breakdown happens, AAA recommends that vehicle owners:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule to avoid roadside trouble.
  • Identify a repair shop you trust.  A recent AAA survey found that one-third of U.S. drivers have yet to find a trusted repair facility. Visit to locate a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility near you.

If faced with an unexpected repair, AAA suggests that drivers:

  • In California, providing a written estimate for the repair is legally required.  The shop should explain the work that needs to be done on the vehicle, including any deferred maintenance.
  • Ask if the shop offers any discounts or payment plans that can reduce immediate out-of-pocket costs. 


The AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) network consists of nearly 7,000 facilities, including 500 in Southern California, that have met AAA’s high standards, including, technician certifications, ongoing training, financial stability, facility cleanliness, insurance requirements, rigorous inspections and customer satisfaction. AAA members are eligible for special benefits at AAR facilities, including priority service, a 24-month/24,000-mile warranty, discounts, free maintenance inspections, dispute resolution assistance and more. To locate an AAR shop in your area, visit



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.