4 of the Most Expensive Car Problems

Mechanic repairing a car
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Most of us are no strangers to car troubles. These troubles may result from bad luck, poor manufacturing, or improper maintenance. According to data published on Bankrate, the total cost of accidents caused by neglected vehicle maintenance was $2 billion in 2004. This amount has likely increased over the past 10 years, as during economic downturns, people simply don’t have the money to spend on car maintenance that they don’t feel is an immediate cause for alarm.

According to a AAA press release, the cost of maintaining your vehicle is around 5 cents per mile for a sedan owner. If you drive the average of 15,000 miles per year, your maintenance costs are $750 annually, or $62.50 monthly. This is less of a monthly cost than many of us spend on going out to lunch.

These maintenance costs are a worthwhile expense. While neglecting your car’s maintenance can cause an accident, it can also result in a larger financial problem down the road. Failing to perform the essentials, like regular tune-ups, oil changes, and tire rotations, can lead to a catastrophic mechanical failure. Some of these failures can come at such a high cost that the cost of the repairs exceeds your vehicle’s value, rendering your vehicle totaled.

Although not all large repairs will render a car totaled, many major repairs still cost a few thousand dollars. Car Problems Zoo analyzes data on vehicle repairs, and it indicates that since 1996, some of the most commonly reported mechanical failures are powertrain problems, problems with the electrical system, and issues related to the brake and steering systems.

To find out the most expensive car problems, we called and asked a Pelzer, South Carolina-based auto servicing business called Heatherly Bros. Auto Parts & Towing. The company said a “blown motor” is the worst news a car owner could hear in terms of cost, adding that problems with the “transmission, a blown head-gasket, and certain air conditioning problems are [also] really expensive.”

Mechanic repairing a car
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1. Blown motor

Engine issues are among the most commonly reported car problems, with 64,456 reported cases since 1996. According to Motorera, a blown engine is one that “has suffered some internal damage and will need extensive repair or replacement.”

A blown engine can occur as a result of problems such as a broken rod, a damaged valve, or leaking oil. If you need an engine replacement, a new one costs between $1,000 and $4,000, depending on your vehicle, the type of engine, and the shop where you get your car repaired.

Oftentimes, cars that need new engines have high mileage. When a car has more than 150,000 miles, The Car Connection suggests considering your options in terms of replacing other parts, as well. Vital parts, such as your power steering, radiator, and transmission, also have high mileage. If you only replace the engine, your car may be right back in the shop in a short amount of time. It’s wise to consider the whole picture, including your car’s value, with a large fix like an engine replacement.

2. Transmission replacement

Around nine out of every 10 automatic transmission failures occur as a result of problems with transmission fluid, according to Auto Service Online. In some instances, the transmission fluid does not get proper attention. This occurs because transmission fluid does not need to be changed as frequently as other fluids like oil, so it may slip an owner’s mind. In other cases, transmission fluid may overheat. To prevent this, you should change your fluid every two or three years.

With manual transmissions, improper driving habits like “riding the clutch” may cause the transmission to wear. The cost of a new transmission can be devastating. On average, you are looking at a cost of between $1,800 and $3,500 for a replacement. If you opt for a repair instead of a replacement, your cost is a bit lower. You car have a transmission or clutch repaired for between $1,000 and $2,000.

Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

3. Head gasket

A head gasket is essential to an engine’s proper functioning. Aiding in the compression process, a gasket seals an engine’s cylinders and stops coolant and oil from leaking. A blown gasket is is often caused by problems with timing, cooling, or manufacturing errors. When a head gasket blows, it causes mayhem within an engine. Coolant may leak, the engine can overheat, white smoke may come out of the exhaust pipe, and the oil may become discolored.

If your head gasket blows, you are looking at a serious cost.  Although the gasket itself is not the most expensive part in the world, the labor costs are high. According to estimates by The Engine Guy, you should pay between $1,200 and $1,600 for head gasket repair.

4. Air conditioning compressor

An air compressor allows air to cool inside of a car. It separates high and low pressure air to foster an environment where freon can do its work, cooling down you car. A compressor can malfunction because of a parts issue. A rod or valve inside of the compressor can break, causing the compressor to stop performing. Or another part within your car, like an engine belt, may cause a ripple effect that results in a malfunctioning compressor.

A new compressor may cost anywhere between $200 and $600, depending on the cause of the malfunction, your car make and model, and your repair shop. If you need additional services, such as freon charging, you will have to pay an additional cost of around $100.