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Car Trouble

Ron Wayne

I WAS HAPPY TO receive this year’s boost to my Social Security benefit—but I’m regularly reminded that it doesn’t match the endless inflation.

A case in point: The same oil change at the same gas station for my 2020 Honda Fit cost me 28% more last week than it did nine months earlier. With detailed invoices, I could compare the reasons for the jump. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the cost of four quarts of full synthetic oil, which was just 7% more, or the $8.63 filter, which was the same price.

To be sure, synthetic oil is pricier than conventional oil, but it’s becoming standard on most new vehicles and it’s believed to be the better choice, according to a 2019 Consumer Reports article. I drove almost 9,000 miles before the maintenance reminder suggested changing the oil.

So, what drove the 28% increase? As you might expect, labor costs were the main reason. The labor for the oil change went from $15 to $20, and the tire rotation from $20 to $30. I live steps away from this gas station and for months had seen the “mechanic wanted” sign on the curb. Maybe it’s no surprise to see a shortage of mechanics in this university town that’s overflowing with folks with graduate degrees, including me. According to Indeed.com, there were 164 auto mechanic or auto technician jobs available in the city. Most of the jobs pay $22 to $30 an hour.

A lack of mechanics is one reason car repair costs are now 23% higher than last year. That increase is four times higher than overall inflation, according to an ABC News story. Other reasons include shortages and higher costs for parts, and more high-tech vehicles requiring expensive equipment.

At the same time, 15 million more vehicles were added to our roads between 2016 and 2021, while the pandemic closed 19,000 service bays in 2020 and more in 2021. This trend is expected to continue to the point where there’ll be a record high number of cars and light trucks per service bay by 2025. On top of that, the growth in the number of electric vehicles is predicted to further stress the car repair business.

Of course, I know it would be far cheaper to replace my own oil and filter, but the condo rules don’t allow it. The good news: It doesn’t have to be done that often—because I don’t drive that frequently.

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