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CarMD Vehicle Health Index reports on check engine light repair trends

In 2010, CarMD identified 675 different possible fixes for a check engine light. In 2019 that nearly doubled to 1,283

Irvine, Calif.—CarMD.com Corporation has released its 2020 CarMD Vehicle Health Index, marking 10 years since the first annual release of the report on check engine light-related repairs, costs and trends.

The April 2020 report includes a year-over-year ranking of the 10 most common check engine light repairs and associated costs in the U.S., as well as a breakdown by region. The report also looks back on a decade of diagnostic data from more than 41 million unique vehicles to identify how the type and cost of repairs have changed as vehicles become more technologically advanced.

“It’s fascinating to see how the type and cost of car repairs have changed over the years as the number of sensors and subsequent fixes on most vehicles has nearly doubled.”

Ieon C. Chen, CEO, CarMD

“It’s fascinating to see how the type and cost of car repairs have changed over the years as the number of sensors and subsequent fixes on most vehicles has nearly doubled,” said Ieon C. Chen, CEO, CarMD.

In 2010, CarMD identified 675 different possible fixes for a check engine light. In 2019 that nearly doubled to 1,283.

The 2020 Index finds that for the first time since CarMD has reported these rankings, “replace catalytic converter” was the most common check engine light repair. The average cost to replace a catalytic converter on a vehicle in 2019 was $1,375; back in 2010 the same repair averaged $1,008. A common precursor to catalytic converter failures, “replace oxygen sensor” has ranked as the most common repair for eight of the 10 years this index has been reported; in 2019 it was the second most frequently recommended repair.

Rounding out the five most common problems found to trigger the check engine light after 1) catalytic converter and 2) oxygen sensor were 3) ignition coil and spark plug, 4) gas cap and 5) mass air flow sensor. CarMD finds an increase in percentage of MAF sensors and fuel injectors needing replacement. Automotive aftermarket retailers and parts manufacturers can use this information along with other industry data to have meaningful discussions about inventory and parts forecasting, Chen said.

Another repair with a marked increase in incidences is “replace ignition coil(s) and spark plug(s),” moving from No. 20 and 1.1 percent of repairs in 2010 to No. 3 accounting for 5.23 percent of repairs last year.

In 2019, the average cost to repair a check engine light issue in the U.S. was $384 – up just 1 percent from the previous year. Average overall labor expense per repair was down just over 5 percent, and parts costs were up about 6 percent.

Car repair costs were up in three of four U.S. regions, with the exception being the Midwest where costs were down 1.6 percent over the past year. Over the past decade, the lowest average repair cost was $305 in 2018; the highest average repair cost was $397 in 2016.

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