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Costs to Repair a Car Engine

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The cost of owning a car can be high. According to a recent survey from AAA, 1 in 3 American drivers can’t afford an unexpected car repair bill without going into debt. This isn’t completely surprising, considering the average car repair costs $500 to $600, and many Americans don’t have an emergency savings fund in place.

If you’ve found yourself in need of a surprise car repair, this guide covers how to detect an engine problem, the cost of common car part replacements, finding a reputable mechanic and the best sources for funding the cost of car repairs.

Determining your car engine needs repairs

There are common warnings signs that your car might be in need of repairs. If your engine is stalling or won’t start, it’s obviously time to take your car to a mechanic. When lights on your dash illuminate, such as the “check engine” or “brake”, it’s also smart to take your car in.

However, there are more inconspicuous problems you’ll want to catch, and you can do so by paying attention to the following warning signs.

  • Your car leaves puddles and large wet spots while parked. If these aren’t simply water or condensation, they could be indicators of leaks or an overheated engine.
  • Your car smells strange or makes unusual noises. If you smell an odd odor while driving, such as burning, bitter, or rotten smells, this can indicate a range of problems such as overheating, leakage, an electrical short, or a problem with the catalytic converter. Of course, unusual noises while driving aren’t a good sign either, as they usually mean a part is loose or in need of maintenance.
  • Your car drives differently. You may also feel a difference while driving if your car is in need of repair. Your brakes or steering might not be working as smoothly as before, or your car might be pulling to one direction or accelerating poorly. Vibrations while driving, or abrupt jerking when shifting gears, can mean a transmission problem, although it can also be due to imbalanced tires.
  • Your car burns gas and fuel more quickly than usual. If you notice your car is burning fuel or oil more quickly than usual, there could be a leak or engine troubles.

Catching these problems early on can prevent them from worsening and keep your car repair bill under control.

Car engine repairs can be expensive

Unfortunately, addressing an engine problem often leads to a hefty repair bill. It’s important to understand that the cost of car repairs can vary widely depending on what you’re having repaired, what kind of car you need, who’s doing the work, your location and so forth. The average car repair bill costs up to $600, but if you haven’t performed regular maintenance on your car, that cost can increase significantly.

Keep in mind that some cars require more expensive parts than others. Luxury, European cars such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar and Porsche tend to be the most expensive to maintain, while American, Japanese, and Korean cars like Ford, Toyota, Pontiac, Lincoln, Buick, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda and Honda tend to be more affordable.

Different repair shops may calculate the cost of labor differently. Below you’ll find the average cost range for the most common replacement parts, according to YourMechanic, a mobile auto repair service.

Part Replacement cost (low) Replacement cost (high)
Air springs $224.77 $1,376.16
Car battery $167.07 $265.01
Timing belt $244.01 $1,147.79
Power steering belt $84.84 $274.50
Intake manifold gaskets $114.17 $742.71
Ignition coil $102.44 $459.09
Coolant temperature sensor $77.75 $324.45
Spark plugs $85.99 $567.32
Catalytic converter $280.66 $2,779.75
Oxygen sensor $98.72 $737.89
Headlight bulb $81.89 $210.36
Alternator $140.37 $1,042.23
Starter $146.85 $1,024.79

Should you repair your engine or trade up?

There’s a reason some people refer to their car as a “money pit.” As your car ages and begins to require more frequent repairs and expensive replacements, it may be time to consider whether it’s worth continuing to spend money to maintain an old car. When facing an expensive repair for a car that’s no longer worth a lot of money, it may be wise to simply trade the car in for a newer one.

Consider trading in your car when …

  • Your car is old and will likely require additional and frequent repairs immediately after the one you’re facing
  • The repair in question is extremely expensive
  • You’re ready for a safer, more reliable vehicle

Consider repairing your current car when …

  • The repair is easy and affordable
  • Your car is newer and likely to last for many more miles
  • You don’t have the money for a new car and the insurance and registration fees that will come with it

Once the mileage on your car nears 100,000 miles, you can expect to start seeing spendier repairs, such as timing belt and water pump replacements. However, given that these packages usually cost around $600 to $1,000, and trading in your car for a new one will likely cost significantly more, it’s economical to go ahead and repair your current car rather than trading up in this situation.

Replacing your transmission is one of the most costly repairs, so many people choose to trade up when their transmission finally fails. Engine failure can be similarly costly. Both run anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000. In these situations, you’ll want to consider the value and longevity of your car against the cost of repairs.

If your car is old, has high mileage, and is worth less than the cost of repairs, think about trading up. However, if your car is more valuable and you think the replacement could lead to more than a couple years of additional usage, it can be worth repairing even costly problems when compared to the cost of a new car.

5 tips to finding a reputable mechanic

If you decide to repair your car, finding the right mechanic for you is key to minimizing costs while making sure your car is well taken care of. Here are some tips for finding the best mechanic in your area.

  1. Ask your friends and family for a recommendation: Referrals from people you trust are one of the best ways to find a mechanic you can trust. Ask around, and if you can, look for someone who has a car that’s similar to yours or had a recent repair similar to what you need.
  2. Read online reviews: Most mechanic shops will have a page on Google, Yelp or Facebook with reviews you can browse through. You should also check AAA and AutoMD, which will help you find a mechanic in your area and read their reviews.
  3. Look for shops with the proper certifications: Check to see if a shop is showing certifications from Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), and look up their rating with the Better Business Bureau as well. AAA also has an Approved Auto Repair network you can pull from.
  4. Get a quote: If you have an idea of what repairs you need, call around and ask multiple mechanics for a quote. Research average prices of the part you need online as well using the NAPA Repair Estimator Guide.
  5. Look for someone who works with your brand: Seek out a mechanic who has worked with your brand often, particularly if you own a unique car that requires special maintenance and parts.

Should you go to a dealership?

You might be weighing the pros and cons of going to a dealership to have your repairs done rather than an independent mechanic. While the latter is generally more affordable, the former comes with the guarantee that they know your car well, have access to the proper parts, and will repair and maintain it according to the books. A dealership may also be able to repair your car quicker, as they have a team of mechanics, are familiar with their brand’s common issues, and might already have the replacement part you need on hand.

That being said, some independent mechanics specialize in certain manufacturers and know your car just as well as any dealer. Going to an independent mechanic also allows you to work with the same mechanic on a regular basis and form a relationship with the person who helps you maintain your car.

Covering car repair costs: What you need to know

When possible, you should always pay for repair costs with cash in order to avoid paying interest and other fees. If you don’t have enough money saved to cover the bill, consider asking friends or family if you can borrow money or picking up a temporary side gig before resorting to debt.

If still don’t have the cash for necessary repairs, know that there are options. Below you’ll find information on other ways to fund car repairs to help you choose the best route for your needs.

Funding option Interest rate Other fees Typical amount Time to funding Credit score required
Personal loans 3.34% to 35.99%, fixed Origination fees, sometimes $1,000 to $50,000 One day to several weeks Fair to good
Credit cards 12% to 30%, variable Annual fees, sometimes $1,000 to $10,000 Immediate if you already have a credit card; if not, approval can take anywhere from a few minutes to weeks Fair to good
Payday alternative loans 5.99% to 36.99% Origination fees, sometimes $1,000 to $50,000 Next day to a few weeks None

Personal loans

If you have a good credit score and can qualify for a low interest personal loan, this can be the most affordable way to pay for car repairs when you don’t have enough money on hand. You can use a personal loan for a wide range of purchases.

Interest rates on personal loans tend to be lower than credit cards, but the best rates require a credit score of at least 640. Borrowers with low credit could face triple-digit rates. You’ll also need to go through the application process, whereas a credit card is immediate if you already have access to one.

Credit cards

Credit cards aren’t ideal for borrowing due to their higher interest rates, but they are convenient and quick, and they’re also better if you’re only short a few hundred dollars, as personal loans are usually offered in amounts of $1,000 or more. Plus, if you’re able to pay off your credit card before your statement closes, you won’t have to pay any interest at all, making them an excellent solution if you only need a little extra cash to tie you over until payday.

Unfortunately, most credit cards do require fair to good credit, but there are secured credit cards with higher interest rates that cater to consumers with bad credit.

Payday alternative loans

Payday loans are short-term loans that come with incredibly high interest rates of up to 400%, so they aren’t advisable. Instead, consider alternative loans from online lenders or peer-to-peer lending marketplaces. These platforms tend to be a little more lenient than traditional banks when it comes to your credit score, and some offer reasonable interest rates.

Maintaining your car engine

Follow the guidelines in your vehicle owner’s manual for maintenance schedules and advice, which you can find online through your car manufacturer’s website. Perform frequent checks of your car’s engine oil and tire air pressure, and each time you get your oil changed, have your air filter, exhaust system, constant-velocity-joint boots, brakes, fluid levels, radiator, and battery inspected as well.

Performing regular maintenance and doing thorough checks will help you avoid expensive car part replacements and surprise repairs down the road, and ultimately, your car will last longer.


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