Your Check-Engine Light Is On — How Much Are Repairs Gonna Cost Ya?

Posted on: August 3, 2020, by :
Car being serviced on a garage lift

Motorists in the nation’s capital and most populous state paid the most in 2019 to address problems indicated by vehicles’ check-engine light, according to a study by CarMD. Citing data gathered from nearly 16 million vehicles that needed repairs in 2019, the Irvine, Calif.-based automotive diagnostic info provider said today that California and the District of Columbia ranked highest and second-highest, respectively, for such repairs in 2019. Californians who needed repairs to address check-engine lights doled out $414.24 per repair, on average, to address such problems in 2019. The District of Columbia came in at $410.16. Georgia ranked third, at $409.92, while New Jersey ($403.43) and Virginia ($403.19) rounded out the top five.

To some extent, those results reflect the local cost of living. An Insure.com study published in April ranked California and the District of Columbia among the top three priciest states to live, with New Jersey and Virginia landing in the top 15. Georgia, meanwhile, is an outlier: The Peach state landed a peachy-keen ranking on Insure.com’s list — it’s the 10th cheapest place to live — yet ranked third priciest for check-engine repairs from CarMD.

What about the least-expensive states for such repairs? Try Vermont ($342.14, per CarMD), Ohio ($348.79), Wisconsin ($349.08), Michigan ($350.77) and Iowa ($356.57).

How Costs Are Calculated

Repairs encompassed vehicles dating back to the 1996 model year, when the industry adopted its current OBD II standard for onboard diagnostic systems. Data from OBD II diagnostic tools sold by CarMD and Innova Electronics, an affiliated company, helped inform the study, as did data from CarMD’s private-label diagnostic tools, said Kristin Brocoff, a spokesperson for the company. Such tools chronicle regional problems that triggered check-engine lights in 2019, for which the company applied local repair rates.

Devices “report what the findings were to our database, and the database spits out the repair, and the master technician confirms that’s what the fix was,” Brocoff told Cars.com. “Basically this is the average in terms of parts and labor.”

2020 Repair-Cost Rankings

Rankings for all 50 states and the District of Columbia are as follows (keeping in mind that CarMD’s list excludes repairs that don’t trip the light, from suspension components to belts and hoses):

1. California ($414.24 per repair, on average)
2. District of Columbia ($410.16)
3. Georgia ($409.92)
4. New Jersey ($403.43)
5. Virginia ($403.19)
6. Hawaii ($402.91)
7. North Carolina ($402.86)
8. Colorado ($401.55)
9. Connecticut ($401.55)
10. Utah ($399.42)
11. Maryland ($399.33)
12. Tennessee ($399.08)
13. Alabama ($398.01)
14. Mississippi ($396.36)
15. Nevada ($395.84)
16. Oregon ($393.59)
17. South Carolina ($393.40)
18. Texas ($393.35)
19. Washington ($392.79)
20. Florida ($392.75)
21. Louisiana ($392.15)
22. Delaware ($389.99)
23. Kentucky ($389.01)
24. Montana ($388.66)
25. Rhode Island ($387.61)
26. Idaho ($387.11)
27. Arizona ($385.56)
28. Wyoming ($383.21)
29. Arkansas ($382.76)
30. Massachusetts ($380.67)
31. New Mexico ($380.17)
32. Pennsylvania ($379.54)
33. Oklahoma ($378.89)
34. West Virginia ($377.31)
35. South Dakota ($376.53)
36. New York ($376.08)
37. Missouri ($375.20)
38. Arkansas ($373.46)
39. Illinois ($372.51)
40. Kansas ($371.80)
41. Minnesota ($371.31)
42. New Hampshire ($365.71)
43. Nebraska ($364.38)
44. Indiana ($357.43)
45. North Dakota ($357.05)
46. Maine ($356.76)
47. Iowa ($356.57)
48. Michigan ($350.77)
49. Wisconsin ($349.08)
50. Ohio ($348.79)
51. Vermont ($342.14)

The check-engine light typically flags problems related to your vehicle’s emissions system, which is why an illuminated light usually means you’ll fail an emissions test. It can stem from myriad circumstances: In its Vehicle Health Index published in April, CarMD found nearly 1,300 possible fixes for an illuminated light. Those range from a catalytic-converter replacement (an average $1,375 repair, per CarMD’s 2019 data) to a loose or damaged gas cap (an average $26 in 2018). Indeed, the repair most frequently recommended in California — the priciest state in this year’s study of 2019 data, and the third-priciest a year ago — was replacing a catalytic converter.