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Bad economy means poor auto maintenance

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

A new survey by Consumer Reports shows that the poor economy has forced many Americans to skip needed servicing of their car or truck. And the long-term results of this neglect could be both costly and dangerous. 

Forty percent of those responding said they had deliberately delayed repairs or maintenance on their primary vehicle in the past year. These drivers had put off work on the brakes, tires, exterior light bulbs or mechanical parts – even though they knew it was needed. 

“This is of great concern because many of these items impact safety and reliability,” says Jeff Bartlett, deputy online automotive editor at  

Cash-strapped consumers are also holding on to their cars longer. Vehicles require more costly maintenance as they get older. 

“There is a real risk that if you put off a small maintenance or repair item today that it could snowball into a bigger and more costly problem down the road,” Bartlett warns. “You've got to keep in mind that breaking down along the side of the road is never convenient, it's often costly and may ultimately lead to missing a day or two at work." 

The typical person responding to Consumer Reports in this random survey drives a 2003 vehicle (often bought used) which they’ve owned for five years. And they said they planned to keep it for another five years.

Their vehicle has already gone about 78,000 miles and is quickly approaching a major service interval. Bartlett worries that people who’ve delayed small repairs are more likely to skip this major maintenance which can cost $500 to $1,000 or more. 

One of the most interesting findings of this survey is that people know the consequences of putting off needed repairs or maintenance.  Overall, 44 percent said it reduces the reliability, safety and value of their vehicle. Almost two in 10 said they are hesitant to take long-distance trips because of those safety and reliability concerns.  Eight percent said they are becoming “embarrassed” by their car. 

Consumer Reports just launched a new car repair information service for its online subscribers. The Car Repair Estimator shows you what various repairs cost in your area. There’s also a free section on this page, the Car Repair Encyclopedia, that’s available to anyone.