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If you start your car and the check engine light comes on, it's probably a good time to visit a mechanic. But do you have room in your budget for an unplanned vehicle repair? It's hard to predict how much it will cost. You could be looking at something minor like a loose fuel cap, or there could be a serious problem that will cost hundreds of dollars to fix.

Expect the Unexpected

If you're feeling unprepared, you're not alone. A survey from AAA found that almost one-third of drivers don't have enough savings on hand to cover the average unexpected repair bill, which is usually $500-$600. Between routine maintenance and unplanned repairs, vehicle upkeep can be a significant expenditure. According to AAA, drivers spent an average of almost $800 on vehicle maintenance and repairs in 2016.

Common Repairs

Which repairs are you most likely to have to pay for at some point? While there are a multitude of things that can go wrong with a car, these are a few of the most common repairs:

  • Replacing Oxygen Sensors: CarMD reports that this was the most frequent check engine light repair in 2016, making up 8 percent of repairs that year. The average cost is about $259, including both parts and labor.
  • Replace Catalytic Converters: This came in second on CarMD's ranking, and it's an expensive one. The average total cost for parts and labor is $1,190.
  • Replace Ignition Coils and Spark Plugs: This averages about $401, including parts and labor.

AAA provides estimates of prices for other common repairs as well:

  • Replace Timing Belt: AAA advises that this can cost between $400 and $900.
  • Replace Alternator or Starter: This can cost from $400 to $600.
  • Repair Brakes: AAA estimates a price of $500.

Plan Ahead

Since it's not unusual for an unplanned vehicle repair to cost $500 or more, it's best to start saving now so that you're ready if your car breaks down. AAA recommends that people save $50 every month to prepare for unexpected repairs. That way, after 10 to 12 months you have enough saved up to cover the average bill. If you have an older vehicle that has undergone a lot of wear and tear, you might want to save more.

Finding out that your car needs work can be an unpleasant surprise, but if you consistently save up it can be a manageable expense.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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