YONKERS, NY — Cash-strapped consumers are delaying automotive maintenance at the potential cost of their safety. Forty percent of respondents to a recent Consumer Reports poll who are involved in repair decisions stated that they are postponing car maintenance or repairs on their primary vehicle.
This delay in servicing items such as brakes, tires, light bulbs, or other internal mechanical parts has consumers running the risk of larger, more costly problems down the road.
Forty-four percent of those who deferred work in the past year also admitted that they felt the value, safety, or reliability of the vehicle would suffer, with some saying the car was becoming an embarrassment. The failure to have small problems promptly repaired or regular maintenance performed on schedule can lead to larger, more costly problems down the road.
Those in lower-income households were more likely to delay necessary work, and the youngest drivers, aged 18 to 34 years, were more likely to delay work on wear items, such as brake pads or tires. Twenty-one percent of this age group admitted to not attending to a wear item in a timely fashion, compared to 14 percent of those aged 55 or over.
Compounding the issue is the fact that, with the economy being so poor, drivers found themselves holding onto their vehicles longer. Many of the respondents bought their cars used, and have owned them for five years with the intent to hold on to that vehicle for another five. Survey results showed that older drivers, residents of western states, and lower-income owners go the longest before replacing their vehicles.
“They family car is the second largest purchase a consumer can make. It’s also often one of the most abused,” said Jeff Bartlett, deputy online automotive editor, Consumer Reports. “We expect our car to work even in the harshest conditions. So protecting that investment should be a priority, especially when it becomes a safety issue.”
On average, owners have 78,000 miles on their current vehicle, meaning many are quickly approaching major maintenance milestones that shouldn’t be ignored.
Among those surveyed, the types of non-warranty work most commonly postponed were led by minor manufacturer-recommended scheduled service (22 percent); wear items (17 percent); and body or other exterior damage (15 percent). Interviewees stated that a major repair bill, costing an average of about $2,000, would become a serious financial burden. Lower-income households ($1,418 average), women ($1,601), and younger adults ($1,749) were shown to be most vulnerable.
This means that a major repair bill could be 2.4 times the size of what respondents actually spent on maintenance and repairs over the past year before it would become a serious financial burden across the demographic groups.
Car Owners Put Faith in Independent Repair Shops
Contrary to popular belief, car owners put a lot of faith in their chosen repair shops, with 83 percent of those involved in repair decisions saying they were confident they would get the right maintenance and repair work done for the right price. In addition, more than half said they completely trust their shop. According to the survey, independent repair shops were used more often (37 percent) than dealers (30 percent) or repair chains (11 percent).
While consumers are mostly happy with their maintenance and repair experiences, it is clear that being better informed can lead to higher satisfaction. Consumer Reports has launched the Car Repair Estimator, a repair information service powered by RepairPal, that can help drivers understand common problems, learn how components work, and receive a service estimate that reflect local prices.
RepairPal is a web service that was started in 2007 by a group of automotive enthusiasts to provide drivers with accurate, unbiased, and useful car ownership information. RepairPal is not owned, in whole or in part, by any automobile manufacturer, dealership, auto parts provider, or auto repair facility.
Reliability is the Leading Factor Behind Vehicle Replacement
With the average age of vehicles on the road today being nine years old, and given the tough economy, motorists are primarily driven to replace an existing vehicle because of poor reliability (82 percent), safety concerns (67 percent) or repair costs (47 percent). Other factors respondents cited as very important were: current vehicle no longer meets their needs (41 percent); poor fuel economy (35 percent); uncomfortable (27 percent); outdated technology (10 percent); and, being bored with the styling (6 percent).
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey using a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. 1,699 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+ whose household own at least one vehicle. Interviewing took place over November 3-7, 2011. The sampling error is +/- 2.4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.
Publication date 12/20/11
© Consumer Reports 2011. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for advertising or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. We accept no advertising and pay for all the products we test. We are not beholden to any commercial interest. Our income is derived from the sale of Consumer Reports®, ConsumerReports.org® and our other publications and information products, services, fees, and noncommercial contributions and grants. Our Ratings and reports are intended solely for the use of our readers. Neither the Ratings nor the reports may be used in advertising or for any other commercial purpose without our permission. Consumer Reports will take all steps open to it to prevent commercial use of its materials, its name, or the name of Consumer Reports®.