10 most expensive car repairs

EV batteries, transmissions and cylinder heads top the list

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The average car repair reportedly costs around $550, according to Cox Automotive data, but many repairs can get much more expensive, with some occasionally exceeding $10,000.

So, what are the most expensive car repairs? Why are they so expensive? And what can you do to avoid paying for these repairs entirely?

Read on to find out.


Key insights

The three most expensive car repairs are hybrid battery replacements, transmission replacements and cylinder head replacements, according to RepairPal data.

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Nine of the 10 most expensive repairs cost more in parts than they do in labor.

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The three most expensive brands to maintain and repair are Porsche, Land Rover and Jaguar, according to RepairPal.

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You can avoid expensive repairs by purchasing a reliable vehicle with a good warranty, keeping up with maintenance, frequently washing your car, having the right amount of insurance and purchasing an extended warranty.

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What is the most expensive repair on a car?

We compared the average costs for 349 automotive repairs nationwide, courtesy of RepairPal, and ranked the top 10 below.

*According to RepairPal

Just know that you should take these averages with a grain of salt. Estimating the most expensive repairs across hundreds of brands, models and model years is never going to be 100% accurate. For example, a timing belt replacement on a Mazda Miata may only be $500, while the same service on a Mercedes-Benz S550 can cost $2,100+.

We’ve done our own investigations into how much major repairs cost, and the estimates we got from mechanics were sometimes very different from the average results we saw online.

Why do these repairs cost so much?

Most of the top 10 most expensive repairs require expensive replacement parts that make up the bulk of their cost, while one simply takes a lot of labor.

For example, about 95% of the cost of replacing a high-voltage traction battery in a hybrid goes to buying parts, according to RepairPal. That figure lined up with our own research, which showed parts estimates for our sample vehicles ranging from roughly 84% to 98% of the total cost.

Some car parts, like EV batteries and catalytic converters, contain rare materials that drive up the cost of replacements.

However, unlike the other repairs in our top 10 list, the cost of replacing a head gasket mostly comes down to the cost of labor. In fact, you can buy a replacement head gasket for as little as $15 at the time of publishing. Most mechanics need anywhere from six hours to several days to replace a head gasket, according to CoPilot, and when you’re paying them between $100 and $260 an hour, the total cost to replace a $15 engine part can quickly skyrocket.

» RELATED: A $1,000 repair would wreck most drivers' savings

What are the most expensive brands to repair?

Here are the top five most expensive brands to maintain and repair, according to RepairPal data.

As you can see, two British brands and three German brands make up the top five. (Mercedes-Benz barely escaped this list, coming in at number six.)

The pattern raises a question: Why is it that German brands tend to command such high annual costs ($900+) compared with their Japanese and Korean counterparts, like Acura ($501) and Kia ($474)?

The fatal flaw with German cars is that they tend to be over-engineered. Japanese and Korean cars tend to be simpler, and that ideology works well. ”
— Nick Zeman, shop manager at Fastlane Import Auto Repair

“Usually it's due to having a much more complex design,” said Nick Zeman, shop manager at Fastlane Import Auto Repair in Atlanta. “The fatal flaw with German cars is that they tend to be over-engineered. Japanese and Korean cars tend to be simpler, and that ideology works well.”

It’s also worth mentioning that RepairPal doesn’t publish data for niche or exotic brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini or Rolls Royce, which may end up being more expensive to own than any of the brands ranked above.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of car repairs and maintenance went up 31.4% from September 2019 (when RepairPal published its data) to September 2023.

How to avoid expensive car repairs

If you’re concerned about surprise four- or five-figure repair bills, here are some of the ways you can avoid them in the first place:

Almost all EVs and hybrids come with a battery warranty that guarantees your battery against malfunction or total failure for a time, usually eight years/100,000 miles.
  • Buy a reliable car: According to RepairPal, the five cheapest brands to maintain and repair were Honda, Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai. The average annual maintenance and repair costs for these brands ranged from $428 to $468 in 2019. Adjusted for inflation, that range would be roughly $562 to $615 in 2023.
  • Look for a long factory warranty: Your manufacturer’s warranties can protect you from large repair bills during the first few years of your vehicle’s life. Hyundai and Mitsubishi were at the top of our new car warranty ranking in 2023.
  • Keep up with regular maintenance: Your owner’s manual will have a recommended maintenance schedule specific to your vehicle. There’s typically something you need to do every six months, ranging from basic oil changes to drive belt inspections. And while getting an oil change every six months may sound tedious and expensive, it’s still much cheaper than replacing a blown head gasket or cylinder head.
  • Get regular car washes: Regular car washes won’t just help preserve your paint — they’ll also blow off salt and other road debris that can cause rust, corrosion and premature wear on your CV boots. That last benefit alone can prevent a $1,200 CV axle replacement.
  • Have the right amount of insurance: Floods, tornadoes, hail and jaywalking deer can all total your car and leave you with 100% of the bill to replace it. Thankfully, comprehensive insurance is relatively affordable and will cover all four scenarios.
  • Consider purchasing an extended warranty: Repair costs tend to rise exponentially after year five of ownership, which, coincidentally, is when all manufacturers’ bumper-to-bumper warranties have expired. An extended warranty won’t be financially worth it for everyone, but it can help if you’re in a tight spot or have an unreliable vehicle.

» MORE: Car warranty vs. car insurance

Quick and easy. Find an auto warranty partner now.

    FAQ

    What car repairs take the longest?

    It’s difficult to say which repair will take the longest on any particular vehicle, but, generally speaking, any repair involving internal engine components — such as head gaskets — can take anywhere from six hours to several days to complete.

    Does a warranty cover all repairs?

    Even the most robust bumper-to-bumper warranty will have exclusions for maintenance, wear-and-tear parts, and other things not related to manufacturing errors. Plus, auto warranties generally never cover repairs needed due to preexisting conditions, damage, neglect, abuse or misuse (e.g., racing or offroading). 

    » MORE: What does a car warranty cover?

    When is it better to sell your car than fix it?

    As a general rule, if the estimate to repair your vehicle is more than the vehicle’s current resale value, it’s best to sell.

    What is the most reliable car brand?

    While there are several reliable car brands, both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports rank Lexus as the most reliable car brand in their latest studies. In J.D. Power’s dependability study, the brand has been ranked as the most reliable for two years in a row. And, as Consumer Reports says, “Lexus proves that technologically advanced luxury vehicles can also be very reliable.”


    Article sources
    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Kelley Blue Book, “Here’s How Much the Average Car Repair Now Costs.” Accessed Dec. 22, 2023.
    2. Hoovies Garage, “The BIGGEST REPAIR BILL the Car Wizard has ever given me. Welcome to Ferrari 355 ownership…” Accessed Sept. 8, 2023.
    3. CoPilot, “How Long Does It Take To Fix A Head Gasket?” Accessed Sept. 8, 2023.
    4. RepairPal, “Car Reliability Rating.” Accessed Sept. 8, 2023.
    5. HotCars, “10 Most Reliable Supercars Ever Made.” Accessed Sept. 8, 2023.
    6. Road & Track, “Everything You Know About EV Repair Costs Is Wrong.” Accessed Sept. 8, 2023.
    7. J.D. Power, “How Often Do Tesla Batteries Need To Be Replaced?” Accessed Sept. 8, 2023.
    8. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, “Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Motor Vehicle Maintenance and Repair in U.S. City Average.” Accessed Dec. 28, 2023.
    9. J.D. Power, “Vehicle Dependability Slumps as Rate of Deterioration Increases, J.D. Power Finds.” Accessed June 6, 2024.
    10. Consumer Reports, “Who Makes the Most Reliable New Cars?” Accessed June 6, 2024.
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