Auto Tech

Tech to blame for ever-growing repair costs, AAA says

Welcome to a world where a tiny fender-bender could cost thousands to fix.


It's hard to remove a part from a new car without coming across a wire attached to it. As tech grows to occupy every spare corner of the car, many buyers might not realize that all that whiz-bang stuff is going to make collision repair an absolute bear.

Even seemingly small damages to a vehicle's front end can incur costs nearing $3,000, according to new research from AAA. The study looked at three solid sellers in multiple vehicle segments, including a small SUV, a midsize sedan and a pickup truck. It looked at repair costs using original equipment list prices and an established average for technician labor rates.

Let's use AAA's examples for some relatable horror stories. Mess up your rear bumper? Well, if you have ultrasonic parking sensors or radar back there, it could cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 to fix. Knock off a side mirror equipped with a camera as part of a surround-view system? $500 to $1,100.

To all the people who say "you can't put a price on safety," try telling that to the cashier in your dealership's service department.


Windshields are especially tricky. People who own cars with windshields that have embedded heating elements already have to pony up hundreds of dollars to replace what you might think is just a piece of glass. Factor complex camera systems (like autobrake) into the mix, and not only do folks get hit with the windshield replacement, they possibly have to find a trained professional to recalibrate all that tech behind it.

Thankfully, that's why insurance exists, and a deductible is much cheaper than a full-on repair, especially when new tech is involved. But that can raise a person's rates and end up costing the driver more in the long run. AAA notes that one third of Americans are unable to afford an unexpected $500 repair bill, so it stresses that consumers "perform an insurance policy review and consider potential repair costs of these advanced systems." Not buying a car loaded up with all this stuff is still possible, after all, and there are plenty of lightly used cars ready for a new home.

AAA wasn't the first group to realize how nuts these costs can get. On a recent episode of Autoline, a CEO of a nonprofit focused on collision repair education pointed out that a front-corner collision repair on a Kia K900 could cost as much as $34,000. Sure, it's a low-production luxury sedan, but is anyone truly ready to drop $34,000 on a car that starts around $50,000?

2019 Kia K900: See if you think this car is worth a righteously expensive front-end repair.

How to jump your car: Want to bone up on the basics of vehicle repair? Here's a good place to start.