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Will car repairs in the future financially cripple you?


Car Repair Prices: Cutting-edge, Not Cutting Costs
Fiberglass bumpers and fenders, like those shown at a Honda factory in Indonesia in 2007, are lightweight and increase fuel efficiency, but often require repairs after a collision.
Fiberglass bumpers and fenders, like those shown at a Honda factory in Indonesia in 2007, are lightweight and increase fuel efficiency, but often require repairs after a collision.
Dimas Ardian/Getty Images

In May 2008, Forbes Magazine released a list of the most expensive cars to repair. It's not surprising that luxury cars were at the top of the list. We accept that luxury cars cost more and that their repairs are pricier, too. But why should that be?

The answer is because luxury cars boast more advanced features. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHA), the cost to fix a crumpled front corner bumper on a 2007 Hyundai Sonata following a 6 mph collision was $739 [source: IIHA]. The same test was conducted by the IIHA on luxury cars. By contrast, the Infiniti G35 racked up $3,544 in repairs for the same damaged front corner the Sonata endured [source: IIHA].

One reason body repairs on today's cars are expensive is the use of composite materials. In other words, as far as body repairs go, they don't make 'em like they used to. Materials like fiberglass make cars lighter, which increases fuel efficiency. But composites don't absorb impacts well, cosmetically speaking.

The high-tech gadgetry found aboard today's luxury cars also explains why high-end cars rack up big bills at the mechanic's garage. For instance, replacing a single Xenon headlight with a wiper system on a 2006 Mercedes C Class can cost $1,644 [source: BankRate]. The rearview camera (that helps you see what's behind you when you back up) installed on a 2004 Cadillac Escalade costs $4,217 to replace when it goes on the fritz [source: Weston]. Even the brakes on luxury cars can cost more to repair. Audis' brakes include adjusting sensors which have to be removed, complicating the brake replacement and driving up labor costs [source: Forbes].

Hybrid cars, too, are often more expensive to repair than a conventional car of a similar price class. In a hybrid vehicle, a conventional gasoline engine works in conjunction with an electric motor, or both can work independently of one another. This is a huge departure from conventional cars, whose power trains are driven exclusively by energy created from a conventional combustion engine. Hybrids are even different from all-electric cars, which run exclusively on batteries. Gas-electric hybrids require a special transmission -- the most predominant is the continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Due to a continuously variable transmission's unique design, replacement can be much more expensive than replacing an automatic or manual transmission on a conventional car. A new CVT on a 2001 to 2003 Toyota Prius, for instance, can cost around $8,695 [source: Consumer Guide Automotive].

Both hybrids and luxury cars represent the potential future of automotives. Since the repairs associated with these future-tech cars are pretty steep for those who can afford them, will future car repair bills be as high for the rest of us when we can afford these cars? Maybe not. Find out why on the next page.


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