The Most Common Car Malfunctions (and Their Costs!)

Car Malfunctions

Regardless of whether your car is new or old, you can guarantee to be at some point worrying about what those warning lights on your dashboard are trying to tell you. There are usually several and they are turned on when the engine control unit detects an error that is triggered by a sensor. There are usually 200 possible warnings at stake here, so don’t feel guilty if you have no idea what your car is trying to tell you.

Fixing your car yourself is, of course, going to be the cheapest option, but many of us either don’t have the time or skills. This article will run through the most common car malfunctions, whilst denoting the rough repair costs. Repair costs should be taken with a grain of salt. Not only is location a huge factor (some countries benefit from low material costs, whilst others may have high labour costs), but the type of car will also matter. Older cars where few models were manufactured may have a very bespoke composition and so when the garage struggles to find replacements, this may be very costly. On the other hand, makes such as Toyota have incredibly common parts, so repairs costs tend to be very cheap.


The gearbox breaking down is a common and expensive malfunction. In the United States, this is a slightly more common problem than in Europe, where stick shift (manuals) are the norm. The reason why gearboxes break down more in the States is that automatic cars are more prone to failure. This is due to there being more complex parts being prone to wearing down, leading to more gearbox issues.

In the UK, gearbox faults account for over 8% of all car problems. The average cost of repairing an automatic gearbox is a little over £1,000, whilst the average manual gearbox is £820.

Repair Cost: $500 – $3000


Slipping and the burning out of a clutch becomes very common as the mileage of a car begins to rack up. If you own a car with few previous drivers however, your chances of needing to repair your clutch are in your hands. The way you drive is the largest factor in how quickly it will begin to wear out.

Despite popular belief, automatic cars have several clutches. They actually work pretty well compared to how manual drivers use them, so they tend to fare a bit better.

Repair Cost: $400 – $700


All cars have batteries and an electrical system. New cars, however, are transitioning from machines to computers, as they are entirely riddled with electronics in every aspect of the car. Electric problems are actually the second most common malfunction, accounting for 8.2% of issues.

Because of these complexities, electrical repairs costs are rapidly rising. Suzuki’s have the lowest average repair cost, at around $300. Renault also have cheap electrical repairs, but unlike Suzuki, they have deemed the least reliable brand for electrics along with Bentley and Porsche.

Repair Cost: $300 – $1500


Failing brake pads is one of the most dangerous malfunctions in a car as it could leave you severely hindered when driving. The repair costs vary widely because there are several different problems it could be.

Low brake fluid is a common cause and an easy fix. Worn pads or a malfunctioning master cylinder are two costly problems but are still relatively cheap ($70 to $300). An entire brake job repair including everything will set you back around $700.

Repair Cost: $0 – $700

Air Con

Air Con is seldom used in many European countries, whilst others rely on it. If the A/C isn’t working you may be in need of a new condenser or to just replace a bit of the aircon pipe and gas it back up.

Repair Cost: $30 – $250

Cylinder head gasket

The head gasket is compressed between the cylinder head and engine block to ensure there is the maximum amount of compression. The gasket is exposed to many elements of the car including water, exhaust gas, fuel and oil.

Smoke and coolant leaks are common symptoms that the head gasket is failing.

Repair Cost: $500 – $2000


The alternator is responsible for generating electric power – it’s key to charging the battery. The car will actually run without one until the battery runs out of course. Symptoms of a faulty alternator are warning lights, odd noises, engine stalling and electrical problems/dead battery.

Repair Cost: $200 – $400

Uneven tire wear

The repair costs of fixing uneven tire wear depend on what the cause of the issue is. It could be from over-inflation and simply letting some air out can fix the problem. On the other hand, the mechanics and tracking may need fixing or getting a wheel alignment.

Repair Cost: Tracking = $0 to $150

Faulty windows

Manual wheel windows are a thing of the past; every single car being produced has automated windows. It is quite common however to have issues with the mechanism where the window doesn’t respond to its buttons. This can be particularly worrisome when you have a gap in the window that you cannot close as it means you’re highly exposed to thieves who can more easily break-in. It is also a common cause of interior flooding.

Repair Cost: $200 but varies widely on the issue

Starter issues

If your car will not start and the battery and fuel are fine, it’s possible you may need a new starter. Usually, you can hear a clicking noise when turning the key. This may only take a mechanic a couple of hours to repair, but the materials are costly.

Repair Cost: $300 – $550

Car Warranty

A car warranty will protect you from paying the labour costs and replacement costs of many parts of the car. Not all, but many. It’s important to read the warranty coverage very carefully and make sure it’s still valid.

Policies usually cover engine and fuel systems, clutch, gearbox, suspension, brakes and steering. Generally, wear and tear are not included. This means that it’s unlikely the warranty will cover you for new tires, worn-out exhausts, brakes and wheels. They rarely cover batteries, A/C, or the radio either. New cars come with a manufacturers’ warranty, whereas with used cars, you may have to find your own used car warranty or are the costs of repair yourself.