Economy takes its toll as drivers are keeping cars longer, deferring routine maintenance

Hamilton, NJ – Over the past four years, AAA has recorded a steady increase in the average age of vehicles needing emergency roadside assistance. In 2008, the typical age of a vehicle needing roadside service was 6 years old.  Today, that number has quickly grown to 9 years.

As more and more Americans are holding on to their cars longer, over 8% of AAA Mid-Atlantic’s annual call volume is for motorists stranded in vehicles 9 years old. This figure equates to 160,000 out of 2 million emergency roadside service calls in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C.

In a sign of the economic times, a AAA study released earlier this year found that more than half of American drivers said they are keeping their older vehicle to avoid the financial burden of owning a newer one.  In addition, 25 percent of drivers admitted to neglecting repairs because of cost, which increases the likelihood of being stranded and requiring an emergency roadside call to AAA.

“Economic conditions continue to take a toll on many Americans resulting in them putting off needed repairs on their cars, which can lead to roadside breakdowns,” said Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Drivers should realize that maintenance and routine service are critical when keeping older vehicles running properly and safely.”

2011 Top Five Reasons for Road Service

  1. 1.Tows: 872,640 - 41% of all calls
  2. 2.Battery Service: 536,804 - 25% of all calls
  3. 3.Tire Service: 328,784 – 16% of all calls
  4. 4.Lock out Service: 229,263 - 11% of all calls
  5. 5.Light Service: 56,089 – 3 % of all calls

Extrication, Fuel, and Ignition Lock/Key Replacement make up the remaining 89,429  or 4% of calls

AAA Automotive experts explain that a $1,000, $2,000 or higher repair bill can quickly appear – especially on older vehicles that have not been appropriately maintained. While repair costs can vary greatly by make, model, and type of repair, a transmission repair can be $2,000 to $4,000, while an engine repair can exceed $5,000. Major brake repairs may range from $350 to $1,000, and a new set of tires can run from $300 to more than $1,000.

“No one wants to be stranded in the cold when a car breaks down,” Noble stated. “Maintaining your vehicle is essential for the safety of all passengers and will greatly decrease the chances of your car letting you down.”

AAA recommends that motorists use a simple checklist to determine maintenance needs. Many of the items on the list can be inspected by a car owner in less than an hour, but others should be performed by a certified technician.

Motorists seeking a trustworthy repair shop to help maintain their vehicle for winter driving are encouraged to visit one of our newly opened AAA Car Care, Insurance and Travel Centers in Clifton Heights and Wayne, PA, Tom’s River, NJ, or one of AAA’s more than 8,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities.

AAA Car Care, Insurance and Travel Centers (CCIT) provide all of the regular services that AAA members have come to expect from AAA’s retail offices, the difference is that CCIT Centers also offer car repair services including maintenance, diagnostics, and repairs such as tires, brakes, tune-ups, air conditioning and cooling systems, battery replacements, and electrical work.

If there isn’t a AAA CCIT in close proximity, AAA’s network of approved repair shops is a free public service that enables consumers to identify professional auto shops that meet stringent quality standards in the areas of customer service, training and tools and equipment. Consumers can find Approved Auto Repair facilities online at

Car Care Checklist:

Battery and Charging System – Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. AAA members can request a visit from a AAA Mobile Battery Service technician who will test their battery and replace it on-site, if necessary. AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities can also test and replace weak batteries.

Battery Cables and Terminals – Make sure the battery terminals and cable ends are free from corrosion, and the connections are tight.

Drive Belts – Inspect the underside of accessory drive belts for cracks or fraying. Many newer multi-rib “serpentine” belts are made of materials that do not show obvious signs of wear; replace these belts at 60,000-mile intervals.

Engine Hoses – Inspect cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses and replace any that are brittle or excessively spongy feeling.

Tire Type and Tread – In areas with heavy winter weather, installing snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires work well in light to moderate snow conditions, provided they have adequate tread depth. Replace any tire that has less than 3/32-inches of tread. Uneven tire wear can indicate alignment, wheel balance or suspension problems that must be addressed to prevent further tire damage.

Tire Pressure – Check tire inflation pressure more frequently in fall and winter. As the average temperature drops, so will tire pressures – typically by 1 PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be in the owner’s manual or on a sticker typically located on the driver’s side door jamb. Also, check the spare. 

Air Filter – Check the engine air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.

Coolant Levels – Check the coolant level in the overflow tank when the engine is cold. If the level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. Test the antifreeze protection level with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.

Lights – Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs.

Wiper Blades – The blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that leaves streaks or misses spots. In areas with snow, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade frame in a rubber boot to reduce ice and snow buildup that can prevent good contact between the blade and the glass.

Washer Fluid – Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a winter cleaning solution that has antifreeze components to prevent it from freezing.

Brakes – If there is any indication of a brake problem, have the system inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.

Transmission, Brake and Power Steering Fluids – Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.

Emergency Road Kit – Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather. The kit should include:

  • Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats
  • Snow shovel
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Window washer solvent
  • Ice scraper with brush
  • Cloth or roll of paper towels
  • Jumper cables
  • Extra warm clothing (gloves, hats, scarves)
  • Blankets
  • Warning devices (flares or triangles)
  • Drinking water
  • Non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers
  • First-aid kit
  • Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)