Experts are warning that the very equipment that’s meant to protect drivers is hitting them where it hurts: in the wallet. Increasingly advanced safety technology is sending car repair costs soaring.
Experts at Thatcham Research, the not-for-profit agency that works with car makers and the insurance industry, claim car repair bills have increased by 32 per cent over the last three years. The average repair bill is now £1678, says Thatcham. But what can car owners do about these increasing costs?
What’s causing car repair costs to rise?
Thatcham says cars are becoming more complicated to keep people safe. The main culprits are advanced safety systems, the increasingly sophisticated materials used in cars, and a skills shortage in the car repair industry. These are combining to push the cost of repairs up for insurers and, ultimately, consumers.
Why does safety technology cost so much?
Ensuring cars protect drivers and passengers is a noble cause. However, much of the sophisticated technology that goes into keeping us safe is expensive.
The most common parts relate to Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). These systems use cameras or lasers to see the world around the vehicle. They then apply a car’s brakes in an emergency, or help steer the vehicle at speed on main roads. Unfortunately, the cameras are typically located behind the windscreen in the region of the rear-view mirror. When a windscreen is shattered or chipped and needs replacing, the cameras need recalibrating at best, or replacing at worst.
How much to recalibrate an ADAS system?
Here’s the rub. Peter Shaw, CEO of Thatcham Research, says: “The cost for windscreen mounted ADAS calibration spans from £0 to £700 – across car manufacturers and often across similar sensors and technology. This is unacceptable.”
Thatcham cites popular cars such as the Ford Focus. When a new windscreen is required with ADAS calibration, the price rises by 123 per cent. In a Volkswagen Golf, the hike is 78 per cent.
Is that the only problem?
No. If the cost of windscreen repair or replacement becomes prohibitively expensive, because of the associated recalibration of ADAS equipment, insurers could end the current model of a no-claims bonus being unaffected. In other words, drivers would lose their hard-earned no-claims discount, just because a stone smashed their windscreen.
What materials makes cars costly to fix?
The Holy Grail for car makers is to reduce weight, improve fuel efficiency and slash exhaust emissions. To cut weight but keep the car robust, a wider mix of materials is being used in construction.
It’s now common to find different types of steel, aluminium, reinforced plastics and carbon fibre. Other materials can include magnesium and titanium on some sports cars.
But it’s the way these materials are mixed and matched that makes the job of repairing a modern car more time consuming. It also requires expensive equipment and demands specialist training.
What else is making cars expensive to repair?
Everything from the paint finish to accessories, fancy LED and laser headlights to hybrid electric powertrains, means that the average bill from a bodyshop is only going to rise.
What can drivers do to guard against it?
Unfortunately, these price rises are almost impossible to prevent. Even if you buy an older car without the latest technology, the average cost of insurance premiums is rising, so you can’t escape it entirely.