Seeing the "Check Engine" light glowing on your car's dashboard can create some serious anxiety. In addition to wondering just what is wrong with your engine, you also have to worry about how much it will cost to fix. A study released today shows a wide disparity among the states for how much you likely will end up paying.
An analysis of more than 145,000 cars whose check engine lights lit up in 2013 found the costliest state in America to have that happen is North Carolina, where diagnosing the problem and repairing it cost an average of $426, according to automotive software company CarMD.com. That's about 32 percent more than the average cost for the same work in Nebraska, the least expensive state.
After North Carolina, the most expensive states for repairs were Massachusetts, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia. On the the lowest end of the cost spectrum after Nebraska: New Hampshire, West Virginia, Michigan and New Mexico. The national average for the repairs is about $392.
What the states with the lowest repair costs had in common includes lower prices for parts, and fewer required major repairs. So-called catastrophic repairs include problems with the catalytic converter, anti-lock brakes and transmission. CarMD's study accounts for problems monitored by the onboard computer, which includes about 80 percent of the systems in a car. That excludes such things as tires and body damage.
Some factors that could lead to lower repair costs include a greater percentage of newer cars in a given state, better preventative care by owners, and a quicker response to problems. Doug Sobieski, chief marketing officer for CarMD.com, said car owners can do their part to control costs by both doing maintenance and quickly responding to the check engine light and other problems they observe.
Most often the light comes on due to an issue with the vehicle's oxygen sensor, the data shows. CarMD said a faulty sensor could negatively impact fuel economy by 40 percent. Delaying a sensor repair could lead to catalytic converter problems, a costlier repair. The one issue that most drivers likely hope is the cause, an improperly closed gas cap, is a long shot. That problem accounts for less than 1 percent of the check engine light issues.