Have you ever had a rear bumper dinged and walked away with a bill for $800? Though it seems impossible, drivers often end up paying for other people’s mistakes, even though they are not at fault in an accident. Whether they pay a high deductible or see their rates go up, insurance companies have gotten away with charging people for accidents they didn’t cause.
While that practice borders on outrageous, car owners can avoid Geico and Progressive, the companies Consumer Federation of America found charged customers the most for not-at-fault accidents. However, when a car already off its warranty needs maintenance or a part replaced, drivers are on their own.
At times like these, you will be grateful you bought a car with a solid reliability record. That’s the only way you’ll avoid the expensive car repairs that hit when you least expect them. Here are some of the simple repairs that end up costing drivers a fortune. Unless otherwise noted, we used the Consumer Reports repair estimator for our figures.
1. AC condenser replacement
Say you were about to go through another hot summer in your 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee when the air conditioning went down. Things like a ding to the front of the vehicle or general failure in the condenser might be responsible. If your mechanic says your condenser needs to be replaced, the bill could top $700. That number is split about evenly between parts and labor. In a 2011 Chevy Colorado or similar vehicle, costs run closer to $850.
Next: Dim dashboard lights suggest an expensive repair ahead.
2. Alternator replacement
When you see lights dimming on your dash and weak headlights, run a battery check the first chance you get. It might just be worn wires running to the battery or the battery itself, which is not expensive to replace ($100 to $175). If a mechanic finds your alternator needs replacing, the price will jack up to over $700 in a 2011 Toyota Camry or similar vehicle. Pickup truck drivers will pay a few hundred dollars less for this repair.
Next: A dented bumper will cost more than it looks.
3. Bumper damage
Back in the days of heavier bumpers and no airbags, fixing damage to a car’s front was no big deal. Nowadays, with warning systems in place for deploying airbags and sensors on most new cars, Insurance.com estimates bumper replacement could cost $900. When the impact hits in the center of the car and affects the AC system or another part, the cost will rise. Insurance might cover this damage, but you still pay a stiff deductible and find yourself with higher rates following a claim.
Next: The wrong kind of engine oil can kill a car’s pump.
4. Oil pump replacement
If you end up with one of the used cars Consumer Report says to avoid, you will find repairs more common as the vehicle ages. The Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands are notorious for this type of trouble, and you should hope you don’t end up replacing an oil pump. On a 2011 Chrysler 200, this repair would cost about $820 along with a new filter, gasket, and a change of engine oil. The wrong oil type can contribute to this problem.
Next: This problem will lead to high repair bills and a failed emissions test.
5. Catalytic converter replacement
If you mess with an exhaust system for a little extra power, you might find yourself in trouble with the law and unable to pass the emissions test. However, several engine problems can lead to a catalytic converter failing on its own. You’ll get warnings in the form of a “check engine” light, so don’t wait too long when you see that notice. Once a catalytic converter can’t be saved, you’ll pay as much as $900 for that and a new gasket.
Next: The cost of replacing wheel bearings
6. Wheel bearing replacement
You might not be familiar with a car’s wheel bearings, but they support proper rotation of wheels and the car’s suspension in general. You’ll notice trouble with them if your vehicle drifts to the side when you pump the brakes. If you need a full set of new bearings (front or rear), your cost could rise over $1,000 in the average 5-year-old sedan. Parts for the hub assembly can top $800, while labor makes up the balance.
Next: A pickup truck’s radiator costs a fortune.
7. Radiator replacement
A gas-powered vehicle radiator is an essential component that keeps the engine at its proper temperature. When the system fails, you’ll find your thermometer showing high temperatures and warning lights flashing. If your mechanic says you need a new radiator, a new hose clamp and coolant will be part of the package. Running a price for this fix on a 2013 Ford F-150, the Consumer Reports repair estimator quoted an average of $1,333.
Next: The deepest paint scratches never disappear easily.
8. Deep paint scratches
On the surface, you would think paint scratches are the easiest thing to fix. After all, no one gets baffled at the sight of a steel or plastic car body. Yet removing deep scratches involves much more than dabbing the car with paint. Your mechanic might need to replace the door panels completely, as well as add expensive paint to make it look natural. Once you get the bill, you could be looking at $1,500 in repair fees, according to Insurance.com. Only drivers with comprehensive coverage might escape paying.
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