Car Repairs Are Getting More Expensive. Hybrids and EVs Aren’t Helping
The cost of new cars is forcing Americans to keep their old cars on the road, no matter the cost.
It's not just new cars that are getting more expensive; keeping older ones running is getting pricier, too. So found a new study that observed repair costs increasing dramatically in 2022, and found evidence that electric vehicle and hybrid battery repairs are rapidly becoming more common.
These conclusions were drawn from the 2023 CarMD Vehicle Health Index, an assembly of data from 17 million failures and repair orders over the last calendar year. The data came from car owners and shops with ASE-certified technicians, using info pulled from OBD2 diagnostic systems. It found that in 2022, the average vehicle repair cost increased by 2.8% and cost on average $403. That increase came despite labor and parts costs going down.
Last year, labor costs actually fell half a percent, which CarMD attributed to competition between shops and an increase in DIY maintenance. Parts costs, on the other hand, increased by 4.7%, owing to a combination of factors. There was inflation (read: price gouging) of course, but also the tendency for more expensive parts to fail as the average age of vehicles on U.S. roads increases to record highs.
The rising costs of maintenance is a side effect of the ever-decreasing affordability of new cars, which directly affects demand in the used market, and the value of any running vehicle. The more valuable the car, the more expensive maintenance is.
That holds particularly true for catalytic converter replacement, which was the most common service item in 2022. Four of the 10 most common services directly concerned emissions equipment, including the second-placed item, oxygen sensors, which may be damaged during messy thefts of cats. They still need occasional service regardless of theft, though, as emissions testing is required for registration in many states.
Curiously, the study has charted a rapid rise in demand for replacements of high-voltage batteries in hybrids and EVs over the last three years. In 2020, hybrid battery replacements were rare, coming in as the 428th most-common job, while EV battery services were so rare that they didn't rank at all. But together, they jumped to 348th in 2021, then 170th in 2022. They'll only become more commonplace as early hybrids age, and EVs make up a larger proportion of the private U.S. vehicle fleet. Replacing their batteries may also strain a battery supply chain that's at risk of chronic undersupply within a few years.
How electrification affects repair costs was not stated by the study. However, the cost of specialized training, tools, and equipment for servicing high-voltage drivetrains likely falls on the consumer. No matter what carmakers may say, EVs need service too, and they can split your wallet just as wide as ICEs can—if not wider when their batteries go kaput.
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