YONKERS, NY -- Forty percent of consumers involved in repair decisions are postponing car maintenance or repair on their primary vehicle, according to a new survey from the Consumers Reports National Research Center. And of course, putting off service on items such as brakes, tires, light bulbs or mechanical parts can compromise the safety of a vehicle, making the roads less safe for all drivers.

For the survey, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted 1,699 random nationwide telephone interviews of adult car owners from Nov. 3-7, 2011.

Those in lower-income households are more likely to delay necessary work. And the youngest drivers, ages 18 to 34 years, were more likely to delay work on wear items, such as brake pads or tires. One-fifth (21 percent) of this age group admits it did not attend to a wear item in a timely fashion, compared to 14 percent of those ages 55 and over.

Overall, 44 percent of those who deferred work in the past year admitted that they felt the value, safety, or reliability of the vehicle would suffer, with some even saying the car was becoming an embarrassment.

According to respondents, these were the types of non-warranty work most commonly postponed:

Repair work:

  • Minor manufacturer-recommended scheduled service – 22%
  • Wear items (e.g., break pads, tires) – 17%
  • Body or other exterior damage – 15%
  • Major manufacturer-recommended scheduled service – 11%
  • Replacement of exterior light bulbs – 10%
  • Repair of mechanical issues – 8%

Perceived impact of delaying work:

  • The car is worth less – 30%
  • Hesitant to take long-distance trips due to reliability or safety concerns – 17%
  • The car is less reliable – 14%
  • The car is less safe – 9%
  • Becoming embarrassed by the car – 8%

Because of the poor economy, drivers are holding onto their vehicles longer, which makes the need for expensive routine maintenance and repairs more likely. Researchers found that the typical respondent drives a 2003 vehicle — many bought used — which has been owned for five years. Moreover, on average respondents said that they expect to hold on to their current vehicle for another five years. The survey shows that older drivers, residents of western states, and lower-income owners go the longest before replacing their vehicles.

On average, owners have 78,000 miles on their current vehicle. This means many are quickly approaching major maintenance milestones, where replacing timing belts, brakes, and shocks becomes common and mechanical systems may begin wearing out. Drivers reported spending an average of $808 in the past year to keep their car running.

Interviewees stated that a major repair bill, costing an average of about $2,000, would become a serious financial burden.