DETROIT — For the first time in six years, car-repair costs are on the rise.
According to the third annual Vehicle Health Index coordinated by CarMD.com Corp. — an online provider of car repair data — repair costs went up 10 percent in 2012.
CarMD suggests that people are keeping cars much longer, with the average vehicle surpassing 11 years of age. With this comes more costly, complex repairs. These so-called “catastrophic repairs” saw a 24-percent increase in frequency in 2012.
Location plays a role as well, since CarMD noted repair costs rose 11.6 percent in the Northeast vs. 10 percent across the rest of the U.S.
The record-breaking heat of 2012 also contributed to added wear and tear on vehicles and increased repairs as a result, CarMD said.
Bucking the trend, hybrid vehicles actually saw a decrease in repair costs. Much of this drop can be attributed to an increase in the number of hybrids on the road, as well as increases in the supply of parts specific to hybrid-vehicle needs and technicians qualified to repair them.
Another bit of good news for car owners is that—aside from the increase in the frequency of costly repairs among older cars—newer cars are making fewer trips to the shop.
CarMD said cars and parts manufactured today last longer and vehicle owners are becoming more savvy in making minor repairs on their own, reducing the need for repair-shop visits.
One of the most common culprits for sending vehicle owners to the repair shop is the dreaded check-engine light. CarMD warned that the check-engine light may come on for something as simple as a loose gas cap, but regardless of its cause, the alert should not go unchecked.
The most common repair — 8.3 percent — in 2012 was “replace oxygen sensor” for the third consecutive year. A faulty O2 sensor costs less than $300 to fix, CarMD said, but can lead to as much as a 40-percent reduction in gas mileage if ignored.
The average cost to replace O2 sensor increased nearly 20 percent in 2012 vs. 2011 t to $293.88 in 2012 — comprised of $132.62 for labor and $161.26 parts.
“Tighten or replace fuel cap” remains the second most common repair, but continues to drop in percentage of repairs, accounting for 7.2 percent last year vs. 8.3 percent in 2011 and 9.3 percent in 2010.
If left unchecked, a loose fuel cap can cause a 0.5-percent decrease in gas mileage and harm the environment, CarMD said.
The rest of the top 10 are:
No. 3 — “Replace catalytic converter(s),” accounting for 6.3 percent of repairs. The average cost to replace a catalytic converter rose 7 percent to $1,101.44 this past year.
No. 4 — “Replace ignition coil(s) and spark plug(s),” accounting for 5.3 percent and costing $316.58 last year, up nearly 7 percent from 2011. This type of repair often is covered under a vehicle’s powertrain warranty, CarMd said.
No. 5 — Replacing spark plugs. This common maintenance item accounts for 3.5 percent of engine-related repairs. The average cost to replace spark plug(s) and spark plug wire(s) jumped nearly 9 percent last year to $342.55, although do it yourselfers can do this job for less than $10 per plug.
No. 6 — Replacing the Mass Air Flow Sensor (MAF), This accounted for 3.5 percent of repairs last year, at an average cost of $410.17, up 3 percent over 2011.
No. 7 — “Remove Aftermarket Alarm,” at an average cost of $98 in labor, up 20 percent.
No. 8 — “Inspect for Faulty Vacuum Hose(s) at EVAP System and Repair as Needed.” This repair accounted for 2.4 percent of repairs, costing an average of $107.32 last year, up 12 percent over 2011.
No. 9 — “Replace Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) Valve and Clean all EGR Ports.”
The average cost to take care of this was $325.95, up slightly from 2011.
No. 10 — “Inspect Battery and Charging System and Repair/Replace as Necessary,” which jumped six spots from the 2011 list. The average cost to address a battery and charging system problem rose 15 percnet last year to $100.63 in 2012.
CarMD has been collecting car-repair data since 1996 but only began publicizing the findings three years ago.
The results come from analyzing more than 161,000 repairs conducted by ASE-certified technicians between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012.