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Worst, best states for car repair costs

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 (CarMD)

No driver likes to see the "check engine" light pop on. Sometimes, it illuminates for a minor reason, like a loose gas cap. Other times, the problem is much more serious. Unless you have a diagnostic machine at your beck and call (or a tricked-out smartphone in your pocket), you won't know what's wrong until you take it in for service. 

Unfortunately, motorists in different states can have very different experiences at the auto shop, and they're likely to walk away with very different bills. The folks at CarMD recently looked at repair costs across the U.S. and confirmed once again that those costs are going up. However, they're not going up at the same rate, and in some cases, they're actually falling. 

To gather its data, CarMD analyzed 161,350 repairs carried out on vehicles from model years 1996 to 2012 during the 2012 calendar year. (Those repairs were logged into a database maintained by CarMD's network of Automotive Service Excellence-certified technicians.) The study was limited to repairs related to the vehicle's "check engine" system, meaning that many other problems -- belts, hoses, tires, bodywork -- were left out.

Here are the study's major takeaways:

  • In 2012, the average cost for auto repair in the U.S. was $367.84, up 10% from 2011.
  • Drivers in the Northeast were hit the hardest, with price jumps of 11.56%.
  • As we saw last year, drivers out West are often stuck with much higher repair costs than those living elsewhere. In 2012, however, Western residents saw only a 6.53% increase.
  • Folks in New Jersey saw the biggest jump in repair costs: labor shot up 20.7%, with parts rising 8.2%. According to CarMD, that's likely due to "more than double the number of trips to the repair shop spurred by Hurricane Sandy-related flood damage that either resulted in new repairs or uncovered unrepaired problems that had been put off for some time".
  • The most expensive areas for auto repair in 2012 were as follows:
    • 1. New Jersey: $392.99
    • 2. District of Columbia: $391.62
    • 3. California: $390.37
    • 4. North Carolina: $389.91
    • 5. Maryland: $387.78
  • At the other end of the scale, here are the five least-expensive states for repairs:
    • 47. Iowa: $314.77
    • 48. Delaware: $313.62
    • 49. South Dakota: $311.88
    • 50. West Virginia: $310.49
    • 51. Vermont: $269.72

Perhaps the best news that CarMD uncovered is that hybrid repair costs are on their way down. In fact, drivers in New Jersey paid less than anyone else to replace their hybrid batteries -- just $2,005.05, far below the high point of $4,409.94 recorded in Arizona. That's likely due to the increased presence of hybrid vehicles, parts, and mechanics to service them.