The Cheapest State to Have Your Car Break Down In

Would that there were a way to control when the "Check Engine" light goes on. Because if there were, you'd definitely want to make sure it doesn't start flashing in the state of New Jersey.

The cost of the dreaded "Check Engine" light
As road-trip season shifts into high gear, the added wear-and-tear on your car increases the chances that you could end up needing a repair somewhere along your journey.

According to, the average repair costs for a "Check Engine" light problem rose 10 percent between 2011 and 2012 to $367.84. They say the hike in prices is due to higher labor prices from increased hourly rates as well as an uptick in more difficult, time-consuming repairs needed on aging high-tech vehicles.

For its annual state-by-state ranking of car repair costs, analyzed the cost of fixing more than 160,000 vehicles after the dreaded "Check Engine" light appeared.

What's clear is that early detection is key.

Temperature extremes on summer road trips are especially hard on car parts, so the CarMD experts recommend replacing failing parts as suggested by the manufacturer or your mechanic or as soon as any kind of problem is detected.

Heeding your warning lights and getting the repairs done before you hit the road will better ensure that you won't get stranded. It could also save you some cash.

CarMD's research revealed wide variations in repair costs from one state to another, and shows a shift from 2011 to 2012 in high-cost areas from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Four out of the top five most expensive areas for car repairs were on the East Coast in 2012, while all of the costliest states in 2011 were in the West. The five most expensive places for repairs in 2012 were New Jersey, the District of Columbia, California, North Carolina, and Maryland.

The increase in costs on the East Coast may be in part another side effect from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, since many flooded cars needed to be brought in for repairs.

According to the CarMD survey, states where motorists are addressing "Check Engine" warnings early fall on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to average car repair costs. Areas where more drivers ignored small problems rose in the rankings due to accumulated costs of more severe repairs that become necessary when minor repairs are left undone.

Car trouble brewing? Head to Vermont!
If you don't have solid road trip plans and if you think your "Check Engine" light could illuminate an issue, how does a trip to Vermont sound?

Vermont's the state that has the lowest prices in the nation for auto parts and labor. The average combined cost of parts and labor there for a car repair was $269.72. The second-lowest car repair costs, with an average of $310.49, are found in West Virginia.

Among the findings of the CarMD survey:

  • New Jersey drivers paid the most for "Check Engine" light repairs, with an average cost of $392.99 to have the problem diagnosed and repaired. Labor costs rose 20.7 percent from 2011 to 2012 in this state, while cost for parts increased by 8.2 percent. The CarMD experts believe the increase is partially a result from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which spurred more than double the number of trips by car owners to the repair shop.

  • Washington, D.C., had the sharpest year-over-year increase in car repair costs, up 20.26 percent from 2011 to 2012. The CarMD researchers attribute this spike to the need for more time-consuming repairs compared to quick-fix repairs. Repairs that cost more than $1,000 made up 10 percent of all repairs in 2012, compared to 7 percent in 2011.

  • Wyoming drivers saw the biggest drop in car repairs, down 17 percent since 2011, an indication that drivers there are maintaining their cars better or trading them in faster for newer cars.

While you can't always choose to travel in Vermont or West Virginia instead of California or New Jersey, proactively maintaining your car and responding to a "Check Engine" light can prevent your summer vacation from turning into a summer disaster.

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