The 10 Most Expensive Car Repairs
Claire Martin, of MSN Auto, writes about the “10 Most Expensive Car Repairs” and how you can avoid them:
“Like real estate and relationships, cars require upkeep. If you neglect to change the oil, ignore the check-engine light or skip routine servicing, you’re setting yourself up for a rude — and expensive — awakening. According to Art Jacobsen, vice president of CarMD.com, which publishes an online database of the most common and expensive check-engine-related automotive repairs, the key is to diagnose your car’s problems early: “You’ve got to tackle it; address it when it’s small, before it escalates.” Here are the 10 most expensive vehicle repairs and what you can do to avoid them.
Replace Turbocharger/Supercharger Assemblies
Turbochargers and superchargers help force air through the engine, allowing it to use more fuel, generate a bigger explosion in the cylinder and increase power. These devices typically operate at high rotational speeds, which make them vulnerable to damage and susceptible to heat. When they go bad, it can cost about $1,600 to replace them, with related repairs spiking the price by $700 to $3,000. If you’re lucky enough to have a turbocharger or supercharger, you’ll need to take care of it. “Make sure you have the right amount of oil in these units,” Jacobsen says, noting that too much can be just as bad as, if not worse than, not enough.
Replace Torque Converter Assembly
The torque converter assembly is a hydraulic coupling between the engine and the transmission. It’s similar to a clutch in that it allows you to come to a stop in an automatic-transmission vehicle without stalling the engine. But when the torque converter overheats, it can spring leaks and its parts can warp, and a busted torque converter may prevent you from starting — or more disastrously, stopping — your car. One way to avoid overheating this part, and incurring roughly $1,800 in repairs, is to not rev the engine while you have your foot on the brake.
Replace Catalytic Converter
Catalytic converters, which detoxify exhaust emissions, are important when you’re getting a smog check and if you care about your car’s impact on the environment. Most are built to last for 15 to 20 years, and before they go kaput, there are plenty of warning signs. Two culprits are busted oxygen sensors and misfires, which happen when fuel catches fire as it passes through the engine. When a catalytic converter fails, it’s pricey: Repairs can cost up to $2,692. It’s the parts that are expensive, not the labor. “They contain platinum, palladium and rhodium — three of the most precious metals known to man,” Jacobsen says.
Replace Hybrid Battery
A hybrid battery is often bundled with an integrated motor-assist battery, which charges it. Change one and you have to change both — to the tune of about $2,700. Because the technology is fairly new, it can be difficult to troubleshoot hybrid engines. “Hybrids are great, but when something goes wrong, you better have your checkbook ready,” Jacobsen says. That’s because there are a limited number of mechanics servicing hybrids and because parts are scarce. Hot weather in the South and Southwest taxes these batteries. To avoid repairs, you’re best off driving them in mild climates.
Replace Injection Pump
A clogged injection pump, the device that delivers fuel into the engine’s cylinders, is a relatively common problem for drivers, and the repair costs can vary widely. A Honda fuel pump might run a couple of hundred dollars and be straightforward to change. But in trucks and SUVs, the repair can cost upward of $2,900 because it’s labor-intensive, requiring the mechanic to put the vehicle on a hoist and disassemble its rear. If you follow your vehicle’s scheduled maintenance program and change the fuel filters regularly, your fuel pump should stay clog-free.
Camshafts operate the valves within a vehicle’s engine, pressing down and forcing them open. The system controls how your engine takes in air. Normal wear and tear — buildup on valves that comes from not changing your oil often enough or using low-quality fuel — is frequently the culprit behind camshaft failure. Maintenance on camshafts is simple: Change your oil often and get your valves adjusted. But camshaft replacement is hard work, which means you can shell out anywhere from $1,600 to $3,100 for a new one. “It’s expensive because it’s very labor-intensive,” Jacobsen says.
Replace Cylinder Head Assembly and Spark Plugs
Spark-plug trouble usually causes misfires in your engine, which if neglected can also heat up the cylinder. How will you know if your engine is susceptible? A flashing check-engine light. “When it’s flashing, that’s a misfire, and you’re doing mechanical damage to your vehicle if you keep driving it,” Jacobsen says. The damage is usually to the catalytic converter or the cylinder, the replacement for which costs about $3,500. “You need to get it addressed,” Jacobsen says. And look after it immediately. “It’s not a question of if but when you’ll do damage to your car,” he says.
Replace Transmission Assembly
The transmission takes the power from the engine and makes the wheels go — an important role, and according to Jacobsen, many transmissions are neglected. “A lot of people overlook the transmission and take care of the engine,” he says. “But if your transmission isn’t working, you’re not going anywhere.” Replacing it runs as much as $3,600, if not more. Luckily, automakers are often aware of their vehicles’ transmission weaknesses, and by keeping tabs on your car’s technical service bulletins (available from the dealer or through the CarMD website), you can find out when to come in for what may end up being free transmission work.
Replace Hybrid Inverter Assembly
“You can’t run down to your local Firestone and get an inverter,” Jacobsen says. They’re just not very prevalent, because hybrids themselves are still fairly scarce on the roads compared with their gasoline-only counterparts. The inverter, which changes direct-current power to alternating-current, doesn’t fail frequently, but when it does, it can cost $4,000 to $7,400 for a new one, depending on the vehicle. Unfortunately, inverter failure isn’t preventable beyond paying close attention to your check-engine light and heeding its warning. “I usually caution friends not to get an additional warranty, but with hybrids I would strongly consider doing it,” Jacobsen says.
Smaller problems like misfires can lead to bigger issues down the line. The biggest of all is cylinder failure. “The temperatures can get too hot in the cylinder when the proper mixture of air, fuel and spark are not there,” Jacobsen says. The parts are pricey, but Jacobsen says the labor is the real killer, because the mechanic has to disassemble the engine. The fix, which can cost upward of $8,000, leads many car owners to scrap the vehicle altogether. But cylinder failure is rare, and it typically happens only after continued neglect. “There are typically many warning signs,” Jacobsen says.”
(Listen to “In Wheel Time” with Don Armstrong and Mike Herzing on Saturday mornings, 10am-1pm, on 1560/The Game in Houston, Texas.)