Inflation may be cooling — but drivers can’t seem to catch a break

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New York

If you’re sitting in rush-hour traffic in Arlington, Virginia, there’s a good chance you’ll spot Hunter Scott in his helmet and elbow pads scooting right past you on an adjacent path.

For the past year, Scott, a 38-year-old Navy pilot doing work for the government until his next deployment, has been commuting 12 miles from his home in Washington, DC, via motorized scooter. When it’s raining or snowing, he throws on his Navy-issued high-tech weather gear, if necessary.

Even though the second-hand scooter he bought from Craigslist for $500 can only go up to 20 miles an hour, he said it’s saving him a lot of time compared to when he drove to work. Now he doesn’t have to walk a mile from the nearest parking lot to his office or wait for the Metro, which can often be unreliable, Scott said. And it means he can spend more time with his one-year-old daughter.

It is also saving him a lot of money at a time when just about every car-related cost is more expensive.

Scott said he got the idea to scoot to work last year when gas prices were near record highs and inflation rose to a 40-year record high. “The cost of living was just getting more expensive,” Scott told CNN. “We weren’t willing to make sacrifices on the quality of food that we buy.”

Scott estimates he and his wife, who also commutes via scooter, are saving $4,500 this year from not driving to work. That’s according to calculations he made on an Excel spreadsheet that factors in savings from not having to repair their cars as much, the auto insurance reductions they get from driving less and the reduced fuel use.

Even though gas prices have been rising lately, they’re still significantly lower than a year ago. But other costs associated with car ownership are continuing to skyrocket. In fact, if Scott and his wife switched back to driving today they’d likely find that they’re saving well above the $4,500 he calculated.

It will cost you 19.5% more to repair your car now than it did a year ago, according to July’s Consumer Price Index report, released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another hefty expense is car insurance, up 17.8% from a year ago. Car repairs and car insurance were the second- and third-largest annual price increases, respectively, tracked by the CPI.

On top of that, car maintenance and servicing, body work, tires, parts and equipment and even state registration and licensing fees are all costing drivers more.

Pam Franks, a retired Louisiana state Medicaid analyst, balked when she got a notice from State Farm informing her that her six-month policy for her 2017 Toyota Camry would increase by 41% to $408 this August.

“It’s aggravating when I haven’t had any wrecks or tickets,” Franks, who lives in Pineville, Louisiana, told CNN.

Pam Franks, a resident of Pineville, Louisiana, said her car insurance policy rate increased by 41%, despite the fact that she has not had any recent collisions or tickets.

She said she tried shopping around for better rates, but couldn’t find anything cheaper since she bundles her auto insurance with her home insurance. Switching to another auto insurance policy would have pushed up the cost of her home insurance, she said.

She’s one of many Louisiana drivers seeing their rates increase after the state’s Department of Insurance signed off on State Farm’s 17% average rate hike across all policies earlier this month.

“Inflationary pressures and supply chain issues, along with higher claim costs continue to drive our rate changes in Louisiana and beyond,” Roszell Gadson, a State Farm spokesperson, told CNN. “We continue to adjust to these trends to make sure we are matching price to risk.”

One of the reasons car repair costs are up is that Americans aren’t replacing their older vehicles, said Kristin Brocoff, a spokeswoman spokesperson for CarMD, a vehicle diagnostics provider.

The average age of cars in use in the United States hit an all-time high of 12.5 years last year, according to an analysis from S&P Global Mobility of 284 million cars.

That’s partly because car production still hasn’t caught up with pent-up demand from the pandemic, resulting in more expensive new cars.

But trying to extend your car’s life span can add up.

Model year 2007 cars were the most likely to need a repair related to the “check engine light” message in the past year, according to CarMD’s April Vehicle Health Index report that analyzed 17.7 million check-engine light readings from model year 1996 to 2022 vehicles driven last year. Some of the most common check-engine light repair issues include replacing catalytic converters, oxygen sensors and ignition coil and spark plugs, according to CarMD’s report.

The average car repair cost $403.71 last year, a 2.8% uptick from 2021 and a record high since CarMD began reporting on this in 2009. CarMD estimates average repair costs using annual industry data on the cost of car parts, labor rates and the average amount of time required to complete a repair.

On the labor side, rates were down by 0.5% from last year. Car parts were up 5% from a year ago, which pushed up overall repair costs.

Paul Baxter, a mechanic who owns Bullet Proof Off-Road & Auto, a car repair shop in Mesa, Arizona, said he’s paying 30% more for car parts compared to before the pandemic. That’s a result of persistent supply chain issues and higher shipping costs, he said.

He said he has no bargaining power and has to accept the price manufacturers are charging for parts. To keep the lights on, he marks up car parts he sells to customers by 20% to 30%, he told CNN.

Baxter hasn’t had an issue finding and retaining qualified mechanics. Still, he raised his three workers’ wages by $5 an hour to $25 an hour over the past few years to keep up with the higher cost of living.

Paul Baxter, who opened his auto shop in 2016, has had to raise prices due to the rising cost of car parts.

Baxter said the industry publications he subscribes to that are critical for him to learn how to repair the newest car models raised their prices. Even the company from which he purchases water coolers so customers can have a drink in the waiting room now charges more.

That’s why he recently charged $2,300 to replace a customer’s air conditioning. A few years ago he said he would have charged $1,500 for the same exact job.

Customers constantly tell him he’s charging too much, said Baxter, who’s been repairing cars professionally since 2008 before opening his shop in 2016. “People don’t understand the back end of running an auto shop and the expenses I take on to keep it open,” he told CNN.

When he explains how he arrives at an estimate, customers are more sympathetic, he said.

Ted Canty, a 67-year-old retired FedEx operations manager living in Wimauma, Florida, said he is at his wits end with car repairs. A year ago, he paid $1,950 to replace the water pump in his 2017 Volkswagen Golf. That’s around what his monthly Social Security check is, he said.

That meant Canty and his wife, who is also retired, had to cut back on dining out and seeing movies so they could save more money for future car repairs.

Ted Canty, a retired resident of Wimauma, Florida, tries to avoid driving after paying almost $2,000 for a car repair and seeing his car insurance rates increase.

When his anti-lock braking system recently went out, though, he knew he couldn’t push it off for too long. In the past, he’s almost always gone to Volkswagen service centers for repairs because he says he doesn’t feel comfortable getting it done at shops that aren’t as familiar with his car. But the Volkswagen service center wanted to charge him $525 to repair it, he said, leading him to shop around for better rates at other places. In the end, he paid a quarter of what Volkswagen was charging.

Canty is worried about the next car repair he’ll inevitably need, especially because he and his wife have limited sources of income outside of their Social Security checks and his pension.

“We could be driving more because we’re retired and want to go places. But we cut it back to keep the miles off the car,” he told CNN.


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