1 in 3 Americans Have Zero Budget for Car Repairs

Family getting into a car

Car maintenance and repairs happen sporadically and, if you’re lucky, there are some car repairs you’ll never encounter. But the fact that car maintenance isn’t necessarily a monthly expense doesn’t mean you should forgo setting money aside.

However, not everyone thinks this way. We surveyed 1,000 Americans to learn whether or not people budget enough to properly take care of their car.

More Than Two-Thirds Don’t Save Enough for Car Repairs

The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends setting aside a baseline amount of $100 per month for car expenses ($50 for unexpected repairs and $50 for routine maintenance). However, over 66 percent of respondents said they deposit less than or exactly $100 into their car maintenance fund.

What’s worse, 36 percent said that despite owning a car, they don’t save any money per month for car maintenance or repairs.

Chart of Survey Responses: How much do you budget monthly for car maintenance and repairs?

Without a dedicated car repair fund, car owners can find themselves in a dangerous position. When unexpected repairs arise, those without funds may be forced to pursue financially risky options like payday lending or vehicle title loans. With extraordinarily high interest rates that can reach well into the hundreds, these predatory loans are an easy way to wind up in a debt trap that feels impossible to escape.

Graphic: Average car maintenance and repairs cost about $1,200 per year.

One in Five Will Put Off Repairing a Cracked Windshield

In addition to our budget survey, we also asked 1,000 Americans which car maintenance tasks or repairs they would put off due to cost. We found that 21 percent would drive with a cracked windshield to avoid the cost of the repair.

Just over 10 percent would be willing to drive with a broken side mirror, and 10 percent also said they would put off having a check engine light inspected.

Survey results: Which of these car issues would you put off addressing due to cost?

It may feel as though putting off a car repair is a cash-saving behavior, but in reality, it can turn out to be the opposite. According to CarMD’s 2019 Vehicle Health Index report, the average cost to repair a “check engine” problem was $381. 

However, ignoring the issue can destroy the engine, costing you up to 10 times what it would have to simply address the initial problem.

Similarly, a small windshield crack or chip can cost as little as $100, but if the compromised integrity of the windshield causes the crack to spread, replacing the windshield can cost a car owner several hundred dollars.

Graphic: In 2018, the average cost to repair a check engine light problem was $381, while the average cost to replace an engine was $7,150.

It’s easy to see why, on paper, it’s smarter to pay for car maintenance up front than it is to put it off and pay for greater repairs down the line. However, when you’re in the midst of dealing with debt — from loans, a mortgage, credit cards, etc. — it’s much harder to figure out how to set aside an emergency fund while continuing to make payments on time.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to balance expenses with debt payments, you may benefit from the help of a credit repair consultant, who can help you draw up a plan that takes both your current financial needs and your debt requirements into account. With an expanded assortment of financial tools, it’s possible to cope with even the trickiest debt in a healthy, productive way.

Methodology

This study was conducted for Lexington Law using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in March 2020.