There are two types of car repairs: the ones that are frustrating and costly and the ones that induce terror and panic. From engine problems to worn-out clutches, some repairs are so expensive that they make you question whether it’s even worth putting that much money into the car — if you can even come up with the cash. The good news is that there’s often an alternative to some of the costliest common car problems that ensure your vehicle won’t drain your savings.
Repair: Busted Cylinder Head
Cylinders, which house pistons, are located in the engine block. When a cylinder goes, your car becomes expensive and immovable. Disassembling the engine and putting it back together is tedious and time-consuming, and replacing a cylinder can cost as much as $200 to $300 on average without labor costs. Particularly on older cars, it is rarely worth the investment.
Alternative: Replace the Whole Engine
You don’t need to buy a new car if you have a busted cylinder. But, in most cases, it will cost between $600 to $11,000 depending on the car type and condition of the engine, according to estimates from Bridwell Automotive Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. An engine swap will likely be simpler and cheaper than replacing a single cylinder. Even if it’s not, a brand-new engine gives you so much more for a comparable price.
Repair: Clutch Replacement
Unless you regularly tow heavy loads or put other undue strain on your vehicle, your clutch should last for at least 50,000 miles — as many as 100,000 miles on some newer cars. When the clutch finally does give out, however, it can be an expensive repair. The average replacement falls between $684 and $734, not including labor costs. With labor costs, that number balloons to an average of $1,296 to $1,507, according to RepairPal.
Check Out: 37 Cars You Can Own for Under $300 a Month
Alternative: Don’t Ride the Clutch
There’s no simple alternative to replacing a blown clutch, but in this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When driving a stick, your behavior can mean the difference between tens of thousands of miles on the life of your clutch. A fully depressed clutch doesn’t harm the car, nor does a clutch that’s fully released. But “riding” the clutch — keeping some pressure on it while in traffic or on a hill — creates unnecessary wear on the clutch pads, which can contribute to an early clutch death.
See Also: 20 Most Expensive Cars to Insure
Repair: Blown Head Gasket
Head gaskets create a barrier seal between the cylinder head and engine block. This barrier is critical to preventing water, oil, coolant and gases from leaving the engine. When they go, it’s ugly. Average costs for replacing a head gasket will cost anywhere between $1,277 and $1,593 on average — labor costs included — according to RepairPal. However, the cost of new head gasket falls between $234 and $276 on average.
Alternative: Buy DIY Sealant
When your car is overheating, has low coolant levels or you see white smoke pouring from your exhaust, you likely need a head gasket repair. The good news is that companies like BlueDevil sell liquid sealants that anyone of any skill level can pour directly into their car’s radiator. The product is advertised as a permanent fix and sells for as low as about $30 on Amazon. It’s effective for both gas and diesel engines.
For the best results, turn your engine on with the heater turned on the maximum temperature. Then, slowly pour the BlueDevil solution into the radiator and replace the cap. Finally, let it sit for 50 minutes at normal operating temperature.
Repair: Bad Catalytic Converter
When your check engine light comes on, your exhaust smells odd or your vehicle fails an emissions test, chances are good you’ve got a bad catalytic converter. Catalytic converters — aka cats — are environmentally friendly devices that filter exhaust and convert harmful gases into less harmful gases, like carbon dioxide. Replacing expensive cats, which contain precious metals like gold and palladium, can cost between $1,172 and $1,418 on average, according to RepairPal.
Alternative: Take Steps to Make It Last
Like so many systems that are designed to last the life of the car, prevention is the best medicine for catalytic converters. Go slow over speed bumps, make sure not to drive over curbs out of parking lots and otherwise avoid bumping the underside of your vehicle. Don’t drive through deep puddles or piled snow, either. It’s also critical to use the right fuel — using cheaper gas than your car requires can easily clog your cat. Finally, don’t ever bump-start or tow-start your car, which injects unburned fuel into the cat.
Repair: Bad Alternator
One of the hardest-working parts in your car — your alternator — is a built-in charger tasked with both charging the battery and supplying power to the car’s electrical system as the engine is running. When yours goes kaput,you can expect to spend anywhere from $539 to $721 total on average to replace it, according to RepairPal.
Alternative: Buy a Refurbished Alternator
Unlike catalytic converters — which by law must be replaced with new, like-for-like parts in many cases — alternators don’t have to be new. Opting for a refurbished or remanufactured alternator can save you a bundle of money over buying the part new. Even better, a well-built, refurbished alternator won’t suffer a decline in performance, and the warranty is often the same as a new version of the same part. You can pick up a remanufactured alternator for around $400, more than $100 less than a new one.
Repair: Spent Fuel Injectors
Cars became far more efficient when modern fuel-injection systems replaced the clunky carburetors of old. Fuel injectors are spray nozzles that can easily become clogged and require cleaning or replacing. There are repair kits designed for DIY types of people to clean these delicate, critical parts themselves, but that’s rarely a good idea. Replacing them can cost between $1,009 and $1,416 on average according to RepairPal.
Alternative: Change Spark Plugs
Fuel injectors, which dispense a precise amount of gasoline to the engine, can last the life of the car if you take preventative measures. The first steps to preserving your injectors are to change your oil and air filters on schedule — but those basic steps are critical to many of your car’s systems. What often gets overlooked is changing spark plugs. Cheap and DIY-able in many cases, changing old, worn spark plugs can prevent the buildup of soot and residue that is responsible for the downfall of so many fuel injectors.
Repair: Blown Starter
The sinking feeling of turning your key in the ignition switch only to have nothing happen can often be traced to your starter. When that’s the case, you could wind up paying hundreds of dollars to replace the little flywheel that only has one job — launch the ignition process. According to RepairPal, the average cost for a starter replacement falls anywhere between $266 and $405 on average for parts only.
Alternative: Check the Battery Instead
Starter problems are easy to misdiagnose. The intermittent starting problems, dim interior lights and other warning signs of a bad starter are identical to the warning signs of a bad battery, which is a whole lot cheaper to replace. According to Advance Auto Parts, experts estimate a new battery costs between $60 to $120. Before you go ahead with starter surgery, check — or ask your mechanic to check — the battery and charging system first.
Repair: Hybrid Battery Replacement
The benefits of modern, reliable hybrid cars are many — not the least of which is that they gobble up far less fuel, dramatically reducing the long-term cost of ownership and also reducing emissions. The problem is, if a hybrid battery goes, you’re going to spend a whole lot more to replace it than you would have on a standard combustion engine. For example, to replace a Toyota hybrid battery for the Prius “costs about $2,200 to $2,600 without labor depending on your model year,” according to Serra Toyota.
Alternative: Shop the Warranties
New hybrid batteries come with crushing price tags that rival even the dreaded transmission repair. The good news is that most states require manufacturers to warranty them for eight years and 80,000 miles, with some states requiring even more. That doesn’t mean you should have to spend all the gas money you saved for a $5,000 battery when your car is still in five-digit mile territory. When buying a new car, shop for a hybrid with a warranty that goes above and beyond what the law requires. Hyundai, for example, warranties its hybrid batteries for life for new hybrid models.
Click through to read more about what one couple did when a $20 repair turned into a $5K repair.
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