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Hybrid Owners Pay the Most for Car Repairs Nationwide, Report Says

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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carmd,toyota,prius,hybridAmericans love cars, especially when they’re running well and not in the shop. When our veteran vehicles do need repairs, a behind-the-scenes company called CarMD.com Corp. collects statistics from garages and dealers nationwide on the repaired parts, the costs of these jobs, and where they were performed. After nearly 14 years of compiling this data the Fountain Valley, Calif., provider of automotive diagnostic tools and information recently issued its first Vehicle Health Index.

The report, which states that the average age of an automobile on the road today is 10.6 years old, summarizes about 250,000 fixes and diagnostic trouble code scenarios for 1996 and newer foreign and domestic vehicles in the U.S. The data for the report came from thousands of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified technicians throughout North America, with the hope that drivers will now be able to make better decisions when it comes to buying and maintaining their automobiles.toyota,scion,auto

CarMD.com uploads the information from the vehicle’s computer when it is in the shop. "Most people don’t realize there is a computer in their car, much less the data it contains," says CarMD.com director Art Jacobsen.

Hybrid autos are especially expensive to fix, not surprising since the technology has been on the road for only about a decade. Still, hybrids accounted for two of the top 10 most expensive repairs in 2010. This includes installing a new hybrid inverter assembly (about $7,000) or a new battery (about $2,700).

The most prevalent auto repair in 2010 was replacing the oxygen sensor, which Jacobsen says leads to a 40 percent decrease in gas mileage if ignored, costing each car owner nearly $700 annually in wasted fuel. The sensors monitor the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust and tells the car’s computer when there is either too much or not enough fuel in the engine.

From 1996 to 2009, loose, missing or damaged gas caps were the top reason for "check engine light" repairs. CarMD‘s research indicates that gas cap problems cause 147 million gallons of gas to evaporate into the atmosphere rather than power your car.

gm,chevrolet,camaro,autoOverall repair costs are down nearly 16 percent from a high point in 2006. Over the past 14 years, drivers in the U.S. Southwest have paid the most for repairs—an average of $341.37 every time a car was in a shop with an ASE-certified technician. This is 14 percent more than those in the Midwest paid and 9 percent more than their counterparts in the Northeast shelled out.

The five most common reasons a car’s "check engine" indicator would light up:
1.    The oxygen sensor needs to be replaced
2.    The car’s fuel cap is loose
3.    The catalytic converter needs to be replaced (a job that can cost as much as $2,000)
4.    The mass airflow sensor needs to be replaced. This sensor calculates the air coming into your car and determines how much fuel to shoot into the engine
5.    The spark plugs need to be replaced

The five most common reasons for vehicle failure in 2010:
1.    The engine misfires
2.    There is an evaporative emissions system leak
3.    The system is too "lean," which means the engine is receiving too much and not enough fuel
4.    There is an evaporative systems failure
5.    The catalytic converter fails

The five most expensive vehicle fixes between 1996 and 2010:
1.    Replace an engine cylinder ($8,216.97)
2.    Replace the hybrid inverter assembly ($7,391.57)
3.    Replace a hybrid auto’s inverter assembly with converter ($3,921.68)
4.    Replace the transmission assembly and reprogram the electronic control module ($3,699.34)
5.    Replace the engine cylinder head assembly and replace spark plugs ($3,608.36)

Images of Toyota Prius concept car, Scion and Chevrolet Camaro courtesy of Larry Greenemeier/Scientific American

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  1. 1. DInkSinger 10:18 am 05/9/2011

    The headline "Hybrid Owners Pay the Most for Car Repairs Nation-wide, Report Says" may not be accurate. While the survey said hybrids have the highest repair costs, it didn’t say the owners are the ones paying that cost. Both "installing a new hybrid inverter assembly (about $7,000) or a new battery (about $2,700)." on a Toyota Prius are covered by the 8 years/100,000 mile "Hybrid-Related Component" warranty. In California and the states that have adopted the California admission control warranty regulations, traction batteries are covered for 10 years/150,000 miles.

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  2. 2. GogBoggs 11:16 am 05/9/2011

    The article title and text seems to mistate the CarMD report’s conclusions. As I read it, the CarMD report says that some hybrid repairs are very expensive. That is very different from saying that "hybrid owners pay the most for car repairs…" While the repairs may be expensive, the report says nothing about the frequency with which they are performed. From what I’ve read, both the Toyota Prius and Honda Civiv Hybrid, the best selling hybrid models, have been very reliable.

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  3. 3. InquiringConstructivist 12:21 pm 05/9/2011

    Because CarMD is a car computer interface company, they’re data is only about repairs related to problems diagnosed by computers. So, tires, brakes, suspension, body work, etc. are not part of their study.
    This Sci Am report seems quite like an article in one of those magazines where you see an advert for the product right next to the article about that product.
    I’ve read the index summaries, and the CarMD report is not a report of all car repairs by model. It’s a report of which computer-diagnosed repairs happened and how much they cost.
    So I join the other commenters in calling for a revision of the article title. May I suggest "Hybrid’s special repairs among highest bills"?

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  4. 4. WholeBuffalo 12:18 pm 05/11/2011

    That is a terrible headline.

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  5. 5. electric38 4:16 pm 05/11/2011

    Interesting that the overwhelming majority of repairs were made on the gasoline engine components.

    Aren’t any of the electric car component’s failing? What a slap in the face to those of us who support the oil companies and the mid east oil barons.

    Oh, I almost forgot, there are way less moving parts and way less heat wasted in the transfer of power. No wonder the auto companies dragged their feet for years not to produce the electrics.

    Are the Scientific American advertisers helping to put together the titles of some of these types of articles. What a way to spin it!

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  6. 6. kingofbytes@hotmail.com 12:45 pm 05/12/2011

    Ha,
    nice try hybrid owners. The gig is up. This report validates one of my reasons for NOT going with a Hybrid. The other gas mileage then safety. I mean 4-8mpgs better for $5K-8K more at purchase? I can see the argument if these cars are getting 50-75MPG, but there’s a reason why most people steer clear (pun intended) of Hybrids.

    Feel free to drive your hybrids BUT STOP MANDATING that people drive them!!!

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  7. 7. bucketofsquid 2:46 pm 05/13/2011

    I shall continue to drive my gass guzzler until I go all electric. Assuming that I eventually go all electric. That won’t happen until the price per mile including purchasing and operating as well as maintenance costs are comparable.

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  8. 8. MathGirl 12:24 pm 07/1/2013

    InquiringConstructivist, I appreciate your comments.
    I own older vehicles: 1996 (2) and 1969 (1).
    Many repairs are not recorded online if it is not completed at a dealership.
    My newest vehicle a 2001 Prius. I replaced the original large battery with a reconditioned one by the company that makes these for Toyota. I got 48 mpg on my last road trip of over 600 miles. (Toyota would not replace the battery with the newest gen battery, but would only replace to original, which would cost more $3600).

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  9. 9. KathrinChandler 5:11 am 09/2/2014

    As technology is taking the first place in all the developmental sectors like automotive we are getting new hybrid cars and the best outcomes from it. It give us the right comfort with better mileage facilities and its our responsibility to go for the right servicing and maintenance in a right service station.http://www.monacomotors.com/

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