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Californians pay more for car repairs, study finds

Car repairs are more expensive on average in California than in all but three other states, a national study finds, mainly because of higher labor costs.

June 30, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
  • Californians pay about 11% more than the national average for automotive repairs, both parts and labor, ranking fourth in expense among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to CarMD.com. Above, a Toyota dealership in El Monte.
Californians pay about 11% more than the national average for automotive… (Don Bartletti, Los Angeles…)

Californians pay more to get their cars fixed than drivers in almost every other state.

That's the finding of a study of more than 80,000 repairs made nationally in 2010 by a network of repair shops that trade data with CarMD.com Corp., an automotive repair information company in Fountain Valley.

Drivers in the Golden State pay the most — about 20% more than the national average — for the labor portion of their repair bills.

The difference from the national average for the parts portion of their bills is much smaller, 7%.

Overall, Californians pay about 11% more than the national average for automotive repairs, both parts and labor, ranking fourth in expense among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to CarMD.com.

Arizona was the most expensive state for auto repairs, with combined expenses about 18% higher than the national average. It was followed by New Mexico at 14% and Colorado at 12%.

"Labor costs in the West tend to be higher because the repairs relating to problems from dry air and residue from airborne dust tend to be more expensive and take longer to repair," said Art Jacobsen, vice president of CarMD.com.

Other factors also contributed to higher costs.

"Milder temperatures and lack of mass-transit options mean that living in Western states requires more year-round driving, which leads to added wear and tear," Jacobsen said.

The least expensive area was the District of Columbia, at 25% less than the national average. Missouri, at 17% less than the average, was the next least expensive. Ohio and Wisconsin, both at 16%, rounded out the least costly states.

CarMD.com studied repairs that resulted when drivers took their vehicles to repair shops after seeing the "check engine" light illuminate on their dashboards.

The differences between areas can be significant. The typical repair resulting from a check engine warning in California cost $394.49 in 2010. Although that was almost $30 less than the $421.49 spent in Arizona — the most expensive state — it was still about $130 more than the $265.29 drivers spent in the District of Columbia.

CarMD collects repair information to support sales of a consumer-targeted hand-held device that connects to the diagnostic port in cars to detect problems.

A faulty oxygen sensor is the most frequent reason for the check engine light to illuminate, according to the repair database. The sensor monitors the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust. It should cost about $260 in parts and labor to repair.

Fixing it will improve fuel economy, saving money at the gas pump. A bad sensor also can lead to a catalytic converter failure, which can cost more than $1,000 to repair, Jacobsen said.

"Catalytic converter failure is one of the top repairs nationally, but it should almost never happen if you are doing proper maintenance," he said.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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