Jul 7, 2023 - Economy

The cost of car repairs is surging amid widespread shortages

Illustration of a wrench turning adjusting a quarter

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The next time your car breaks down, expect to fork over more money — and wait longer — for repairs.

Why it matters: Americans already face record-high debt after a long battle with inflation, and pricey repairs for vehicles they rely on to get around will likely only worsen the situation.

Driving the news: Multiple shortages — a lack of mechanics, parts and new vehicles — combined with higher prices on all types of goods have hiked repair costs, experts say.

  • The cost of car repairs was up by 19.7% on an annual basis, according to the latest federal consumer price data.
  • More broadly, motor vehicle maintenance and repair was up 13.5% for the 12 months ending in May, the new figures from the Labor Department show.
  • The average cost hit $378.18 that month — a nearly 24% increase from May 2020, when the average was $305.57.

Why repair costs are so high

Americans are keeping their vehicles longer than ever because sticker prices for new cars are rising and existing vehicles are lasting longer.

  • Shortages of new cars — which have contributed to higher prices — are also fueling the trend, said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power.
  • Older cars mean more repairs, Sutton told Axios. “So you look at a staffing shortage that is compounded with people needing to get their vehicles fixed.”
  • The average age of light vehicles on the road in the U.S. has reached a record high of 12.5 years, per S&P Global Mobility.

Zoom in: The National Automobile Dealers Association found that for new car dealerships, service and parts sales totaled more than $137 billion last year — up from roughly $125 billion the year before.

  • Average body shop sales also skyrocketed from $719.64 in 2020 to $929.93 in 2022, a staggering 29% difference, the data shows.

Car repair appointments: Why the wait

People are also waiting longer for appointments, according to the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Customer Service Index, which surveyed 64,248 verified registered car owners and lessees.

  • The average appointment wait time is now 5.6 days for premium vehicles, such as those made by Tesla, BMW and Mercedes — up 1.9 days from the 2021 study.
  • The wait for Honda, Toyota, Ford and other mass-market vehicles was 4.8 days, up 1.3 from 2021.

Between the lines: A growing labor shortage of automotive technicians and the complexity of repairs is driving the wait times, and can also mean the repair takes longer.

  • There's an annual demand for 258,000 new auto techs, but only 48,000 graduate from programs each year, Ford and the TechForce Foundation said in a March press release.
  • Ford and General Motors are trying to help solve the problem through scholarships and training programs, the Wall Street Journal reports.

What's next: Sutton said consumers should see improvements with part shortages and car availability — but the labor shortage is different.

  • "The staffing shortage on technicians — that is not an easy solution," he said.
Go deeper