Procrastinating on Car Upkeep

The lowdown...
  • Drivers who own the same car for 8 years spend about $3,400 on repairs
  • Cars that cost less upfront cost more to maintain – as much as $700 more
  • Of the drivers we surveyed, 65% never replaced the spark plugs in their car
  • Our study found cars costing $21,000-$30,999 to be the cheapest to repair

Whether you drive a newer Cadillac or an old clunker, it’s important to keep up with routine car maintenanceThe problem is, many of us are tempted to save time and money by putting off repairs and ignoring car warning lights.

But does a pennywise approach to vehicle maintenance really pay off? And what are the consequences of forgoing an oil change or a tuneup?

To find out the true cost of procrastinating on vehicle upkeep, we surveyed 1,002 car owners to learn how many put off car maintenance and ignore warning lights. Read on to discover why giving your car a little TLC could prevent mechanical failures, nasty bills, and breakdowns.

Staying on Schedule for Maintenance

Checked your tire pressure recently? Nearly half of the drivers surveyed were overdue on a tire pressure check. It’s recommended that you check your tire pressure every month or else they could wear out faster, and you’ll spend more on gas.

How Many Drivers Are Past Due for Service?
ServiceRecommended Months Between Service (With Normal Driving)Percentage Exceeding Recommendation
Check tire pressure146.4%
Vacuum interior144.2%
Wash exterior139.6%
Rotate or replace tires636.5%
Change oil326.5%
Replace windshield wiper blades924.1%
Source: Survey of 1,002 Car Owners


And what about oil, the lifeblood of your car? According to our survey,
more than 1 in 4 drivers were overdue for an oil changePoor engine lubrication can cause engine corrosion and reduce your car’s mileage, so it’s important to book your vehicle for an oil change every three months.

Keeping up with car servicesEven the simplest form of car maintenance – washing your car – can prevent dust, dirt, and bugs from damaging the paint. Nearly 10% of the car owners surveyed said they’d never washed their car. 

Whatever the weather, getting into the habit of conducting regular car maintenance may prolong the life of your car and save you money. 

Repair Costs Over Your Car’s Life

So how much should you spend on car maintenance? Is spending as little as possible a smart strategy?

Procrastination Costs: Comparing Maintenance and Repair Service Spending

We found that drivers who had owned the same car for over 8 years spent an average of $3,400 on repairs.

It’s hardly chump change, but choosing not to visit a mechanic could be even more costly.

In fact, we discovered that people who spent the least on the purchase of their car spent the most on repairs, excluding those who bought upscale models. This is likely because parts for upscale cars tend to be pricier.

Whichever car you drive, you can extend its life by:

  •   Garaging your vehicle when possible
  •   Keeping up on fluid changes (oil, transmission, etc.)
  •   Replacing worn tires to prevent blowouts
  •   Staying on top of repairs
  •   Following advice in the owner’s manual

Follow these simple tips, and you can minimize the cost of every mile.

Blinded by the Light

Do you panic when an engine warning flashes on your dashboard? Or do you ignore it in the hope that it will go away? Over 1 in 6 car owners placed themselves squarely in the latter category by admitting that their check engine light was currently on.

Ignoring Indicator Lights: Average Weeks Drivers Wait to Address Warning Lights

Common reasons for an illuminated warning light include a faulty sensor and loose gas cap – but it could indicate something far more severe, such as a misfire.

It’s best never to ignore a warning light, as small issues have a habit of snowballing into big,  more expensive issues. All too often they can also lead to emergency situations.

As we discovered, the longer that drivers waited to address a dashboard light, the more they paid in repairs over timeIf you do encounter a warning light, take the safe route, and get it checked out by a certified technician to ensure your safety.

Don’t Wait to Address Indicator Lights

Warning lights are your car’s way of telling you that it’s experiencing an issue. Different warning lights on the dashboard indicate different faults, from overheating and brake malfunctions to worn spark plugs.

Take particular note of a flashing orange or steady red “check engine” warning light, since this could indicate a severe and urgent issue such as a misfire.

Delaying the Inevitable: Average Weeks Drivers Waited to Address Warning Lights

We found that the longer a driver owned their car, the more reluctant they were to sink money into it. The tragic irony of that reluctance, as we’ve already found, is that the longer drivers delay addressing a warning light – the more they’ll ultimately pay.

Researching a vehicle’s maintenance record is common practice during the shopping stage of car ownership, but continued preventative maintenance is equally important for anybody seeking to avoid the headache of future repairs.

No matter the age or condition of your car, make a beeline for an auto garage to prevent any further damage to the engine. It’s likely the best way to protect your vehicle – and your pocketbook.

Spotting the Warning Signs

How well do you know your way around your car’s warning lights? An impressive 84% of drivers correctly identified the brake warning light, while only 13% could identify an oil pressure warning light.

Identifying Indicators: Percentage Who Incorrectly Identified Warning Lights

It’s well worth hitting the books to understand the meaning of your car’s indicators – you’ll likely find a simple guide to warning lights in your owner’s manual. Can’t find it? Try looking it up online by searching for your make and model.

The more you know about your vehicle’s warning lights, the easier it is to diagnose the problem – and decide how urgently it needs to be resolved.

Maintenance Makes Sense

Whether it’s skipping an oil change or ignoring that mysterious warning light on the dashboard, many of us procrastinate when it comes to vehicle maintenance.

But as we’ve discovered, a little grease goes a long way. Saving a few bucks in the short term can actually cost drivers more in the long term.

Practicing good car maintenance is just one way to protect your vehicle – you’ll also want to shop around for the best car insurance. CarInsurance.org makes it fast and easy to buy low-cost auto insurance that meets your needs. We’ll help you understand state laws and find the best policy for you and your vehicle. Click here to save on your car insurance today.

Methodology

  • For this study, we surveyed 840 people who had purchased a new or used car.
    – 56.6% purchased their car used
    – 36.7% purchased a new car
    – 6.8% received a car from a family member or friend. The participants in that final group were not included in our visualizations. 
  • Participants ranged in age from 19 to 76 with a mean of 38.4 and a standard deviation of 12.3. 
  • We instructed participants to enter the number of months that had passed since they’d repaired various aspects of their car.
    – Answers of “0” were excluded from the analysis.
    – Outliers in spending responses greater than $5,000 were excluded from the analysis. 
  • We also instructed participants to identify a series of images of car indicator lights. We calculated the percentage that each respondent correctly identified and averaged the percentage correct of groups of respondents.

Limitations

This project is not comprehensive of all possible car repairs, and various car models and years may have slight variations in dashboard indicator lights. This was also based largely on self-reported data, which may be influenced by exaggeration or minimized responses. None of the data is weighted or statistically tested. 

Fair Use Statement

If you found this article beneficial, feel free to share our findings on vehicle maintenance for noncommercial use. In return, we kindly request that you link back to this page and credit CarInsurance.org. That way, everyone can save money by keeping his or her car in the best possible condition.