How long do drivers ignore the ‘check engine’ light? The answers may shock you

NEW YORK — There’s no question that America and car culture go hand in hand. However, that doesn’t mean drivers are taking really good care of their automobiles! Americans admit to ignoring their “check engine” light for an average of four months before finally seeing what the problem is, a new survey finds.

The poll of 2,000 American car owners also revealed that one in five drivers confess to putting off a maintenance check for six and 18 months! This may be because one-third of drivers (32%) will wait “as long as possible” before bringing their car into their local auto shop.

In fact, another 39 percent are likely to wait for a major problem or for something to actually break before even considering bringing their car in for service. The research also revealed that 35 percent end up regretting putting their car care off — probably because it resulted in unexpected repair fees (39%), emotional stress (22%), and even a roadside emergency (21%).

While the vast majority of American drivers feel that preventative car care is important (93%), almost half (48%) still push back getting their car serviced because of financial constraints.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Pep Boys, the data also showed that when it comes to car care, Americans are prioritizing some repairs over others, with exterior light issues (11%), window and windshield cracks (9%), and radio or sound systems (3%) ranking at the bottom of the list.

Drivers have had their current car for an average of seven years, and 93 percent own their car, compared to leasing it (7%). Each year, the average respondent spends more than $400 on car maintenance ($438) and estimates that they’ve spent an astounding $6,272 in total maintenance on their current car over the years.

Car Open Hood
Almost half of drivers (48%) push back getting their cars serviced because of financial constraints. (Credit: Gustavo Fring from Pexels)

When getting their car serviced, Americans are most likely to go to a dealership (31%) or a local mechanic (27%) — with the majority (62%) doing so every three to six months.

Despite turning a blind eye to those “check engine” lights, 38 percent of drivers say caring for their car is a “very high” priority for them. Regardless of their efforts, 21 percent feel like their car is going to break down any day now.

When asked what would cause the most stress if repairs were needed, engine trouble (66%), bad brakes (33%), and fuel system issues (31%) ranked as the top three car concerns. In fact, 26 percent even admit that their car stresses them out more than their finances or their relationships (14%).

Despite these worries, only 32 percent of respondents wished they lived in an area where a car wasn’t necessary, perhaps because the majority (65%) don’t believe that life would be easier without one. So much for taking a bus or riding a bike!

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 American car owners aged 25+ was commissioned by Pep Boys between March 29 and April 8, 2024. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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