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New survey casts light on how long consumers put off repairs — and why

64% of respondents report delaying necessary maintenance, the current issues they are actively ignoring and how much they think different repairs cost

Delray Beach, Fla.—A new survey of 1,000 U.S. drivers cast a light on what car maintenance they are most likely to put off and for how long, what they think certain repairs cost, and how much they could afford to spend on vehicle repairs in an emergency.

To find out the most common approaches that drivers take when it comes to car maintenance and repairs, FinanceBuzz asked how they maintain their cars. The survey found out how long people put off repairs, the current issues they are actively ignoring, how much they think different repairs cost, and more.

Key findings

  • 46% of drivers say they have paid for a car repair in the past that they believe could have been avoided if they were better about getting scheduled maintenance done.
  • 69% of drivers say they delay getting maintenance done even after they know it is due.
  • 64% of drivers are currently putting off some sort of vehicle maintenance.
  • 58% of drivers say they could NOT afford an emergency car repair costing more than $1,000 right now.

The cost of putting off car maintenance

It isn’t uncommon for drivers to put off maintenance on their car. It can be easy to lose track of when an oil change is due or overlook the condition of your tires. And, depending on their financial situation and vehicle knowledge, drivers may ignore a “check engine” light or rationalize an unexpected noise as nothing to worry about.

Regardless of why drivers are putting off vehicle maintenance, it may be costing them in the long run. Nearly half of those surveyed, 46%, believe that they’ve had to pay for a car repair that could have been avoided if they had simply done a better job of keeping up with regular or scheduled maintenance.

How many people are putting off car maintenance

Despite such a large percentage of the population understanding from personal experience the dangers of putting off car maintenance, the majority of drivers are actively doing that right now. Sixty-four percent of people say they are aware of an active car maintenance need on their vehicle that they are currently putting off getting fixed.

The most common bit of maintenance being put off is an oil change, which more than a quarter of drivers (28%) are ignoring. While that is a maintenance issue that drivers can let slide for a while with relative safety, some other repairs that are being put off could have major impacts on a car’s driveability.

In that regard, nearly one out of every five people (17%) are driving on tires that need replacing, and the same percentage are actively ignoring a “check engine” light. Sixteen percent of drivers are on the road with wheels that they know need alignment or brakes that need an inspection, while 15% are driving around with reduced visibility due to a cracked windshield.

In addition to asking how many drivers are currently operating vehicles that need maintenance and repairs, the survey also wanted to know how long they typically wait to get those services performed once they become aware of the need for them.

Fewer than one-third of people, 31%, say they do not delay at all, which helps explain why so many cars on the road right now have maintenance needs.

Forty-three percent of people are relatively quick to perform repairs, getting them done within two weeks of the issue in question arising. However, that means that more than a quarter of drivers, 26%, wait two weeks or more to fix their vehicles, including 14% that take a month or more to get their car into the shop.

Why are people putting off car repairs?

If nearly half of those surveyed have had to pay for an avoidable repair due to negligent car maintenance, why do so many people put repairs off for so long? And why are so many people driving around while being fully aware of issues with their cars? The answer is most likely a simple and obvious one: money.

When asked how much they could afford to pay toward an emergency repair right now, 58% said they could not afford to pay for anything costing more than $1,000. That includes one-third of people, 33%, who say they could not afford a repair that comes with a price tag in excess of $500.

With those kinds of financial constraints in mind, it makes sense that the fear of a large repair bill would keep many people out of the shop as long as their car is still running.

How much do people think car repairs cost?

Such fears may be well-founded, the survey also found that many people do not have a good idea of how much certain major car repairs actually cost. If people don’t know the cost of a potential vehicle repair, it can make the actual cost all the more shocking.

Over three-quarters of drivers, 76%, underestimated how much it costs to repair a transmission, with the median estimate being half of the actual low-end cost for such a repair. Additionally, 43% of people underestimate the cost to replace brakes, and 53% of people underestimate how much it costs to replace an engine.

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