New Study Shows Most Common Seasonal Car Repairs

  • Do seasonal car repairs exist?  
  • A new study examines the most common repairs by season. 

Are certain parts in your car more prone to breaking down depending on the season? Are there such things as seasonal car repairs? Mobile car repair company YourMechanic came up with a study that covers the most common car repair issues by season. They analyzed the most frequent service requests and revealed some interesting yet unexpected results.

“While some of the results of our analysis are to be expected, it’s interesting to see there are other more unexpected issues occurring at certain times of the year,” said Rob Francis, VP, Growth & Operations, YourMechanic.

Top Seasonal Car Repairs

According to the study, spring is the most common time to experience issues with the window motors, window regulators, timing chain, and wheel speed sensors. The timing chain in particular accounts for 44 percent of repairs and will most likely be replaced during the spring.

By comparison, summer is not just about road trips, beaches, and refreshing drinks. The study also revealed that HVAC failure, broken cooling fans, timing chain repairs, and window lift motors are the most common car issues when the weather gets toasty. During the fall, plunging temperatures will cause problems with the air springs, engine distributor, timing cover gaskets, and heater system.

The frosty winter season is not without its usual challenges. During this time, your car’s heater system, oil cooler lines, windshield washers, and headlight bulbs will require extra attention.

Expert Analysis On Seasonal Car Repairs

“A lot of the issues listed are unpredictable,” explained Brandon Grade, Service Advisor at Findlay Toyota in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Regular maintenance and inspections can help a problem be caught before a catastrophic failure happens. But I don’t believe you are going to be able to prevent a window motor failure, regardless of how well you maintain your car.”

“The YourMechanic data is interesting, but also sort of misleading. For example, the data puts a lot of emphasis on failing window lift motors and regulators,” said Rocco DeMas, Parts Manager, VW Parts Vortex. “In my experience, this is a common problem all year long. Any drop-off in window repairs in winter is due to people using their windows less, and therefore unaware when a window lift motor or regulator fails.”

The data was analyzed by comparing the total number of each quote YourMechanic offered for different repairs in 2017 by season. From there, seasonal percentages were derived to uncover the most heavily weighted quotes by season. Only services with a minimum of 1,000 quotes were analyzed for the seasonal car repairs study.

Timing Is Everything

Interestingly enough, there is a consensus when it comes to timing chains. Timing belts, by comparison, will need to be replaced anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 miles, but timing chains are a bit different. Yes, they are made of metal and are more durable than rubberized belts. This means a lesser chance of the chain snapping off unexpectedly as you drive.

The chain is situated inside the motor and constantly lubricated by the engine oil. Replacement is not necessary unless a serious problem develops. For some manufacturers, the timing chain is not included on the service list. For the purpose of clarity, the symptoms of a bad or failing timing chain are engine misfires, a rattling sound during idling, and metal shavings in the oil.

According to YourMechanic’s study, timing chains are most susceptible during the spring and summer.

“This is likely due to spring and summer being far more dry seasons, resulting in a lot more dust and grit getting into the oil that coats the timing chain,” YourMechanic writes in the study. “This dust and grit could potentially reduce the timing chain lifespan.”

Seasonal Swings

It’s a common misconception that winter is the hardest season for a car. Although understandable, our experts have different opinions regarding the matter.

“I live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our winters are mild compared to a lot of the country, especially when it comes to cars. We rarely get freezing temperatures or snow but our summers are brutal,” Grade explained. “Anything that was mechanically weak before the heat hits, fails. At times we will see consecutive weeks of 110 degrees plus.”

DeMas says it’s not so much the engine during the winter, but the actual body of our cars that take the biggest brunt of the season.

“Winter is hard on cars because of collisions and corrosion, but people tend to drive less when it’s cold outside, so there’s less normal wear,” DeMas said. “People also like to let their cars warm up more, and that’s usually good for a lot of the parts in the powertrain.”

Owner’s Manual or Dealership: Which Knows Best?

There are times when the owner’s manual and the service department at the dealership will have a different take on vehicle servicing. In general, expensive repairs can be averted if you keep your car in the best possible running condition. Thus, under normal circumstances, you can expect thousands of miles of driving bliss.

“The people who built the car will know what should be done to maintain it. Knowing what the owner’s manual says will help you maintain your car properly,” Grade said. “As a service advisor, I try to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines as close as possible.”

In addition to reading through the owner’s manual, communication is also important.

“Ensure you plan regularly scheduled maintenance with a reliable mechanic and should any unknown issues happen, get in touch with them immediately,” Francis said.

“The dealership usually knows more about wear and tear in the local market, so it’s a good idea to listen to their recommendations. Still, everyone agrees the scheduled maintenance recommended by the automaker is the bare minimum,” DeMas added. “If you can build a relationship with a dealership for all your maintenance work, they’ll give you good advice and help you avoid spending money on work you might not need.”

In contrast to a traditional service department, YourMechanic does “house calls” seven days a week. The mobile car repair company covers over 600 maintenance and diagnostic services on average. Photo: YourMechanic.

Don’t Sweat It Too Much

In light of these most common seasonal car repairs, it begs the question: is there anything a normal person can do to prevent some or all of the maintenance issues found in YourMechanic’s study?

“As far as some of the listed failures per season, no,” Grade said. “This is why I highly recommend an extended repair warranty or extended maintenance contract with the dealership.”

“Most of the stuff listed in the YourMechanic article you can’t really plan for,” DeMas added. “There’s no required maintenance for the climate control system, or window regulators, or most of the other items listed.”

Preventive Maintenance Is The Cure

It’s not a matter of certain parts breaking down per season, nor is it about expecting the AC to intermittently blow hot air inside the cabin during summer. Yes, those things can and do happen, but the key to long vehicular life starts often with the most common maintenance items: things like oil and filter changes and tire rotations for example.

“Maintenance saves you money. If you ignore your low tire pressure warning light or ignore tire rotations, your tires will wear out faster. Instead of buying a new set every 50,000 miles, you’re buying a new set in 30,000, DeMas said. “If you decide to skip a fuel filter or air filter replacement, your engine will waste fuel. You save twenty or fifty dollars on a filter, but you waste five on every tank of gas. Before long, you’re in the hole.”

The idea is to do a little before you have to do a lot.

“Maintenance is spending a little bit of money now to save a bunch of money later,” DeMas continued. “Usually people don’t save anything when they skip or ignore it, at least not in the long run.”

“Leaving any concern unchecked can not only make a problem worse, it can also be dangerous,” Francis added. “Especially while out on the open road.”

Alvin Reyes is the Associate Editor of Automoblog. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine. 

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High-tech features, new materials boost car repair costs

Many new vehicles these days come loaded with all kinds of extras, including safety features that should help you avoid a crash.

Automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, forward-collision warning — the list goes on.

Advanced safety features have helped reduce fatalities for those behind the wheel and their passengers, and features that help vehicles avoid pedestrians have the potential to cut into the dramatic increase in pedestrian fatalities in recent years. 

But what happens when these ever-more technologically advanced vehicles crash? Experts say the cost to repair all that technology could be hefty.

John Van Alstyne, CEO and president of I-Car, a nonprofit focused on vehicle repair education, recently provided a jaw-dropping figure during an appearance on Autoline, an industry-focused program, to repair a “left front corner hit” on a Kia K900: $34,000.

“The Kia K900, for example, has a ton of technology around the front and the corners of that vehicle,” Van Alstyne told host John McElroy, who sounded, not surprisingly, stunned by the figure to repair a luxury sedan, which lists for about $51,000.

A Kia spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on the repair figure.

While other experts cautioned to be careful of focusing too much on that particular figure because of the wide array of variables involved in a vehicle collision and repair, it’s clear more technology can add to the cost of repair.

In its 2018 “Crash Course” industry trends publication, CCC, which provides vehicle repair cost estimate services, made that case, noting a 2 percent increase in average repair costs from 2016 to 2017 to $2,927 on top of a steady trend of yearly increases beginning in 2010.

“Growth in electronic vehicle content — items added to address vehicle safety or convenience — also add to the overall cost and complexity of repair and the need to understand (automaker) recommended repair procedures,” according to the publication.

Not only are more parts needed, but additional labor is required for resetting, calibrating and scanning operations, it said.

“The average it takes to fix a car is going up,” said Dan Young, vice president of sales and marketing for AsTech, a Plano, Texas-based company that provides vehicle scanning and diagnostic services. “There’s just so many systems that are being installed on these vehicles that operate in the modules and sensors.”

Advanced driver assistance systems, for instance, may employ radar, cameras and other technologies. With most automakers pledging to make automatic emergency braking systems standard on new cars by 2022, the complexity inside most vehicles will expand. 

“Minor fender benders now damage sensitive safety components located in bumpers, side mirrors and fenders, increasing the number of vehicles needing sensor calibration and repair,” according to information supplied by Young.

He noted that the technology is expanding beyond luxury vehicles.

“It’s a dramatic shift change in the speed with which this advanced driver assistance system technology is being placed on high-production, low-cost vehicles,” Young said. “This type of technology is going to help someone avoid accidents, (which) is great, and it’s going to reduce the frequency once enough of these cars get into the mainstream, but at the same time, once these cars do get involved in a collision, that’s where, I think, the challenge is from a severity standpoint.”

Dean Fisher, chief operating officer of Carstar, which operates a franchise network of independent collision repair shops, said fixing collision damage is a multilayered process, providing as an example the case of a side mirror with blind-spot monitoring that must be removed. 

“When you remove the mirror from the door to paint the door handles and everything, you may have to recalibrate the security system, the interlocking system in the vehicle and the blind-spot monitoring,” Fisher said. Simple repairs, such as painting a bumper, might need additional work to ensure safety systems are functioning properly before the vehicle is released.

“If you paint over the sensors, you have just changed the trajectory of that sensor,” Fisher said.

Repairs that might have cost a couple of hundred dollars in years past can now cost substantially more. Fisher referenced the once relatively modest cost of replacing a headlight. 

“With LED and xenon and then adaptive headlights, where it actually turns a corner with you as you’re turning … those headlights can move in the range of $800 to frankly $2,000,“ Fisher said.

Expanding use of materials such as high-strength steel, magnesium, aluminum and carbon fiber in vehicles, as well as design changes to better safeguard occupants during a crash, such as crumple zones, can also complicate the repair process or require full replacement of vehicle sections to meet automaker recommendations.

Fisher offered the example of a well-meaning but ultimately misguided mechanic deciding to space vehicle welds closer together during a collision repair in an effort to strengthen the vehicle.

“What you may have done is disrupt the ability for the car to crash in the way that it was designed to … crumple. In other words, you’ve made the car stronger than the manufacturer wants it to be,” Fisher said.

Such factors highlight the importance of following automaker guidelines for vehicle repair, the experts said, and paying the necessary price of safety.

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.

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