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Advanced Safety Features Are Driving up the Cost of Car Repairs

Adding airbags into cars was one of the best moves in making vehicles safer. Today, they’re just one part of a vast array of safety features installed in cars. Although increased vehicle weight has blunted some of the progress, and distracted driving threatens more pedestrians, in terms of pure technology, there’s a lot more than an airbag between you and a potential fender-bender. Used trucks and SUVs may be getting cheaper, but newer ones are safer. However, these safety features do come with an additional cost: larger car repair bills.

How car repair costs have risen

2019 Honda CR-V
2019 Honda CR-V | Honda

Last year, one of my neighbors was involved in a fairly minor collision when she was driving her fairly-new Honda CR-V. The car behind hit her bumper while she was stopped, causing her to then hit the car in front. Damage was limited to her rear and front bumpers, as well as a cracked radiator. Not exactly cheap, but the accident didn’t even crumple her hood. But the repair bill for her $25,000-$30,000 crossover? $19,000.

AAA car repair cost increase
AAA car repair cost increase | AAA

And stories like this aren’t unusual. According to Consumer Reports, while the average car repair bill a decade ago was roughly $1600, now it’s risen to over $4000. A study performed by AAA found that even minor damage repair now costs about $3000 more than it used to. The cost of windshield replacement, in particular, has tripled. Jalopnik reported that a “minor left corner hit” on a Kia K900 could cost the owner $34,000.

What’s behind the car repair cost increase? Advanced safety features, aka ‘advanced driver assistance systems.’

How safety features affect car repair costs

ADAS demonstration
ADAS demonstration | AAA

Part of the vehicle size increase forcing the IIHS to up its crash-test severity is the vast array of sensors, cameras, and other equipment needed to run ADAS features.

Toyota aftermarket camera
BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 1: An aftermarket camera blends into the grill of a vehicle at Sound In Motion in the Allston neighborhood of Boston on Feb. 1, 2019. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The problem isn’t necessarily the sensors themselves, although they are somewhat expensive. Jalopnik claimed a parking assist ultrasonic sensor can cost up to $1300—and that’s one of the cheapest repairs. Some sensors require special adhesives, or they won’t work properly. But the biggest reason why something like a cracked windshield now costs several grand to repair, Jalopnik and the Boston Globe report, is because of sensor calibration. Wired reports calibration requires special technician training and dedicated tools, not to mention hours of work. All of that adds to the car repair cost.

And even after the car is repaired, ADAS can still cost you money. In an interview with NPR, Michael Klein, the president of personal insurance at Travelers, claimed that “at least thus far, the improvements in safety and accident avoidance hasn’t been significant enough to overtake the increase in cost to repair vehicles.” Basically, insurance companies have to pay out more for each car repair frequently enough that they have to raise your premiums to make up the difference.

How to deal with these costs

It may seem like the solution is just to drive an older vehicle, but that adds on other costs and risks. However, despite what Michael Klein discussed with NPR, it does appear that ADAS features do cut down on accidents.

The Car Connection reports that a University of Michigan study into GM vehicles found safety features like rear cross-traffic detection, emergency braking, and lane change alert reduced the odds of an accident by 36% on average. USA Today reported that a 2018 J.D. Power study found these features were credited by owners to reduce accident rate by 35%-49%. And the IIHS found that forward-collision warning could reduce the odds of crashes by 27%, and the risk of injuries from these crashes by 20%.

Velodyne Velabit lidar unit with playing cards for scale
Velodyne Velabit lidar unit with playing cards for scale | Velodyne

That the technology appears to be working is of little comfort to someone who has to shell out for an expensive car repair. However, these features seem to be getting cheaper. For example, at CES 2020, lidar manufacturer Velodyne unveiled a $100 lidar sensor smaller than a deck of cards. So, ADAS is expensive at the moment, but like cellphones, it’s starting to get more affordable.

In the meantime, the best solution is to train yourself to react in time to avoid accidents. It’ll make you a better driver, and save you money at the same time.

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