33% of Drivers are One Unexpected Car Repair Away From Debt

Auto repair
jimdoberman/Getty Images

You’re driving along, not a care in the world, when all of a sudden your car starts making a funny noise: Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-CHUNK, ka-chunk, ka-CHUNK…

It’s an alarming noise. Sounds like it’s going to be expensive.

Do you have the money to fix it?

According to a new AAA survey, 1 in 3 U.S. drivers can’t pay for an unexpected auto repair.

The average cost of car repairs is $500 to $600, and major repairs to the engine or transmission cost a lot more. That’s why 64 million Americans wouldn’t be able to pay for repairs without going into debt.

To avoid a crisis, AAA advises drivers to save at least $50 a month for unexpected costs. (For help with that, here are our tips on how to build an emergency fund.)

The cost of repairs can soar even higher when a vehicle has been poorly maintained. A previous AAA survey found that one-third of U.S. drivers skip or delay recommended service or repairs.

Before a breakdown happens, AAA recommends you:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.
  • Identify a repair shop you trust. Visit AAA’s site to find a local AAA-approved auto repair facility.

If faced with an unexpected repair, AAA suggests you:

  • Get a written estimate for the repair and clarify with the shop the work your vehicle needs. Consider getting a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Negotiate the repair bill with the mechanic. Ask if the shop offers any discounts or payment plans that can reduce immediate out-of-pocket costs.

Finally, AAA has these tips for maintaining your vehicle:

  • Batteries: They typically last three to five years. Have your battery tested when it reaches 3 years old and annually after that.
  • Tires: Keep tires properly inflated, and routinely check the tread depth. AAA found that 60% of Americans don’t check their tire pressure regularly.
  • Engine oil: Check the level and condition of your oil regularly.
  • Belts and hoses: Look for worn, cracked, blistered, or soft belts and hoses.

Your Turn: Could you pay for an unexpected car repair?

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He hates car trouble.