/ Money, Motoring

What’s your most costly car repair bill?

There’s never a good time for something to go wrong with your car, but expensive repair bills somehow crop up at times when you want them least. What’s your biggest ever repair bill?

As a former two-time Alfa Romeo owner (glutton for punishment), I’m fully aware of the horror moment when a mechanic hands over a repair bill that makes your jaw almost drop to the floor and your wallet clench in distress.

I’ll not forget the knee-buckling receipt for my Alfa GT diesel when I took it to a franchised dealer for a minor service. £1,200 for a non-major service almost floored me, and the experience was further compounded when the car had an electrical fault on the way home from the dealership and went into limp mode. If anything, I could have used the four-sheet-long repair bill as tissues to wipe away the tears…

Cars Editor, Claire Evans, is just as familiar with the situation:

‘My Renault Modus suffered a faulty electrical control unit that pushed my annual service bill over £600 for 2012. Until it was fixed, I had to indicate left to turn the windscreen wipers on and right to turn them off!’

The most expensive car repair bills

But it’s an experience I know many motorists face each year. And we find out the severity of annual repair bills each year in the Which? Car Survey.

Last year, 47,500 of you told us about the 57,000 cars you own, including what the most common faults were on your cars, and how much your annual repair bills totalled.

And for some car owners, the results were rather costly.

Land Rover Discovery 3 owners had it worst, with an average annual repair bill of £478. According to our data, 23% of all Discovery 3s suffered from suspension component faults, which would be one of the main reasons for the costly repairs.


Tell us about your most costly repair bill

The Which? Car Survey 2014 is ready for you to fill in now so you can tell us about your repair bills in the last 12 months, as well as how satisfied you are with your car over the last year of motoring.

What you tell us about your car has a direct effect on which cars we recommend and which we don’t, so we would love to hear from you. And if you do fill in the survey, you’ll be entered into a free prize draw to win £2,500 – the equivalent of free fuel for a year.

And as well as filling in the survey, leave a comment below to tell us what your most expensive repair bill has been in all your time of motoring. Can you beat my £1,200 shocker?


My only large bill was when my three year old car developed a major problem in 1989. Without much pressure, VW agreed that the failure was due to a manufacturing defect and authorised the main dealer to install a new short engine provided that I paid for labour. It still cost several hundred pounds but I managed to persuade the dealer to fix a developing problem free-of-charge.

Stephen Baxter says:
20 December 2013

Several years ago VW identified a defect in the Golf heater matrix. Not only was
my own Golf put through the recall but I managed to save a Swiss colleague
some £100s of pounds after the matrix in his Golf failed and he was then able
to have the repair done under the same recall.

Good point. It is worth checking to see if your vehicle has been recalled: http://www.dft.gov.uk/vosa/apps/recalls/

Stephen Baxter says:
20 December 2013

Several years ago I purchased a VW Passat Estate
2nd hand via Autotrader. The vehicle was in good condition and
had air conditioning. I took out a warranty for
the vehicle and sure enough the air con failed
8 months later. The bill at the VW dealer
was £500 and took a few follow up phone calls
to the Warranty company to secure payment.

Stephen Baxter says:
20 December 2013

This time a 3 year old Toyota Avensis CDX that
I aquired from my father. The car was still under warranty.
There was a bad scratch in the paintwork
that I thought might cost me £100. Border Toyota
manager to fix just by using cleaning materials
and did not charge me.
6 months later at service the same dealer
found 2 worn brake discs and said that
they would be replaced under warranty.
The repaired car returned with a £300
bill that was reduced to zero when I reminded
the Dealer of the Warranty claim.

I am impressed. I thought than brake disks were generally excluded from warranties because they are subject to wear in normal use. Perhaps this was because you had only had the car for six months, even though it was over three years old.

A common recommendation is to use air conditioning periodically even during the winter months, supposedly to keep seals lubricated. I do that anyway to help demisting in winter. The air con was still working fine after ten years without any servicing after ten years, on my last two cars.

Stephen Baxter says:
20 December 2013

Toyota warranties are very comprehensive and cover most parts of the vehicle.
This is in contrast to some aftermarket warranties which can be both vague and

I use aircon year round as I consider it an aid to driver safety.

better by bike says:
20 December 2013

Our 2007 VW Touran has recently required a new turbocharger and exhaust system, at a cost of £2,650. The car has done just 57,000 miles and been regularly serviced at a VW garage. This unexpected cost seemed unreasonable, and indicative of a manufacturing fault. However, VW were not prepared to make any contribution to the repair. Be warned!

Stephen Baxter says:
20 December 2013

Did you have the defective turbocharger professionally examined ?
Exhausts are a consumable item – was it the original one that failed ?
What engine is fitted to the vehicle ?

Stephen Baxter says:
20 December 2013

My first car was a Mk V Ford Cortina that I bought at auction in 1983. I took it to a local repairer to have the head taken off and reworked that was around £300 After I fitted electronic ignition it ran pretty well -another £100. Two new tyres at £100 plus driving lamps at £75. Then replaced the old Motorola radio with a Sharp Radio cassette at £100. For a total of £2075 quite a good vehicle. In the end rust got the better of the wings making it beyond economical repair so traded in after 3 years for a much newer Ford Fiesta.

Last month the clutch on our Subaru Forester went (only done 33,000 miles but is nearly 5 years old) and unfortunately it has a new type of clutch. Cost us £1500!!! One component (the extra part that isn’t in old style clutches) cost £600 + vat.

Stephen Baxter says:
21 December 2013

Always worth shopping around just to check
the work required and the cost.

Absolutely, but it depends if you can spare the time to shop around if the car is unusable. I was asked to sell a car for a friend and it needed a new clutch. I compared prices and got the job done for less than half the price of the first quote.

Investigating problems at the first sign and doing routine maintenance can avoid big bills and major inconvenience. Even replacing a battery when it becomes weak can save money by allowing you to shop around. Apart from when I bought a faulty battery, I have never needed a jump start in over 40 years driving.

Stephen Baxter says:
21 December 2013

I agree about keeping a good battery
under the bonnet. If the battery is on the way
then the vehicle ends up off the road
often more than once.
This brings up the matter of using original
parts on a vehicle as they go through tests
by the manufacturer for function and reliability.
Its critical to use the correct engine oil
and other fluids.
All season tyres are a great choice in the UK
so that when snow comes your vehicle remains mobile.

Not a lot of choice in this area, but the garage we use is owned by our immediate neighbour so am pretty sure he did not overcharge us, plus word soon gets around in a rural area if people are overcharged

Stephen Baxter says:
21 December 2013

I now replace all my tyres with all season
tyres. I prefer Pirelli as they have great performance
at reasonable cost. Don’t forget the spare
too as you just might need to use it.
It cost me £350 for a full set for my Passat.
Before they were fitted I could not use the vehicle
in snow.

It was my dream to own a Jaguar and in 1989 I had a 2 year old Jaguar XJS V12 Cabriolet and one of the pistons started to disintegrate. Because it was a V engine both sets of cylinders had to be stripped down and checked. The bill was £1,800 and the Jag dealer offered no help. I traded it in for a Mercedes and I’ve driven nothing else for 23 years.

The biggest cost was replacing the clutch – cost £159 – the car had only done 169,000 . The car is still working well – must be the way I drive it – The previous car only cost petrol and oil.

We had a Volvo XC90. When it snowed, we found out quite rapidly, that the four wheel drive system did not work. Local dealer was “surprised’, but checking a Volvo forum, showed it was a common problem on early models.(Now modified and improved.) Car out of 3 years warranty, but threat of legal action promptly got Volvo, and the dealer, to contribute 90% of the £2,000 bill.

Cost is not the only problem in some cases. My previous car, MB C Class, suffered an ECU failure which left me in emergency ‘get home’ mode. Fortunately I was only a few hundred yards from the main service centre at the time so there were no problems getting there. Diagnosis of the problem was rapid, rectifying it was a different matter. It seems that the ECU is central to the car’s security system. It was necessary for the dealer to fax the VIN of my car to MB in Germany so that a replacement could be produced and despatched to the UK. The results were a tear provoking bill and the car off the road for nearly two weeks. By the way, I did check through some contacts that I have in Germany that this procedure is normal and not a dealer’s excuse for not getting on with the job.

stuckwithit says:
14 January 2014

When you buy a Mercedes-Benz you have an expectation of quality, durability and longevity since you pay a high price and they have a certain reputation – don’t they? The car is an SLK 350, bought new in 2006, full dealer service history, very nice to drive, fast, comfy, good handling, good transmission, just the job.

To cut a long and tedious story short, when the car was six and a half years and only 49000 miles old, I went to the garage with a window stuck half open, there was a lot more to it that that though. I had already had both window control units replaced under 3 year warranty but now they told me:
oil seals on the engine camshaft leaking (potentially leading to destruction of the wiring loom and electronics)
gearbox speed sensor faulty – the auto gearbox had stuck in 3rd gear after the garage had checked the window problem
alarm siren not working
driver’s door control unit faulty

It was off the road for 2 weeks while they got parts from Germany and all this cost me £3300. After many letters to MB they refused to make any contribution. The driver’s window went faulty again the next day and another replacement unit was fitted making a total of 6 control units in this car in 6 years. They finally gave me £211 for the window unit as a goodwill gesture!

MB tell me their cars are “of exceptional quality, not only in terms of design and performance but also durability and longevity”. They thank me “for the continued customer loyalty you have demonstrated towards the Mercedes-Benz brand. We are truly grateful for this support”.

Sadly, Mercedes are the worst cars I have ever had – after 2 bad ones there will be no more. Be warned – after 6 years you are no longer covered under breach of contract.

I have just broken down in my Audi A4 3.0tdi Cabriolet. The cause, I realised immediately was a broken alternator belt (not unusual in an 8 yr old car, with 60,000 miles). In my previous Passat, I had driven a further 80 miles including 2 starts, by conserving the use of power. On the Audi, thepower steering pump and as I quickly discovered, the water pump, were also driven by the same belt, but I was able to drive it to a layby, and call for assistance. I was thinking 45 mins to get here, 30 mins to fix it back on the road hour and a half.
Oh no! The engine is so tight in the compartment, that a roadside repair is impossible, the whole front of the car needs removing! As a quattro automatic, it can only be towed for 10 miles at under 30mph, so I had to wait for a recovery vehicle.
It looks like it will be off the road for 5 days and cost upwards of £300.
Anything made of rubber, should be considered a replaceable part, ie. belts, hoses, gaiters, etc.and they are going to fail between 6 and 10 years, regardless of mileage. Which? should consider this in testing new cars. Can this part be economically repaired at the roadside? If not, it should be listed as reason not to buy the car. (CVD gaiters are not roadside repairable, but don’t stop you driving – nevertheless, the cost of repair should be taken into account)
For me, I will never buy another “High-Spec” Audi, much as I love it, when it doesn’t need repair.

Stephen Baxter says:
29 September 2014

It is prudent to consider replacing these items regularly and hence avoid a costly breakdown.

I will be following up what checks are included in the standard service (They claim to check belt wear). But as I see it, you have to remove the front of the car to even adjust the belt tension (Multi microgroove). So this would be a costly pre-emptive repair, if not included in the service
The front lower suspension gaiters are not replaceable – you have to buy new lower suspension arms (£350) . It is an MOT failure, so has to be done. It is possible to shop around and fit spurious “zip on” gaiters, but there is a time element.

I have of course asked them to check and if necessary replace anything else perishable, while they have access.

The breakdown itself did not cost me anything directly (except massive inconvenience), as I have breakdown insurance. I could not however use the onward journey hire car, because I do not routinely carry my “Paper part of my driving licence”, a situation that will change! BE WARNED!
So I had to get a taxi home (buses in my part of the world stop at 8pm.), which exceeded the £40 allowance. This seems a bit mean when the hire car must cost them more.

Alternator belts will probably show clear signs of wear long before they fail. When I check the oil and coolant I look at the condition of the belt and hoses. Spotting problems early can save a lot of inconvenience and cost.

Stephen makes a good point about replacing parts that might fail. I do this with batteries and I have never suffered a flat battery in all the time I have been driving, except when a new one proved to be faulty. By shopping around rather than making an emergency purchase I may have saved money, but I am quite sure I have avoided a lot of inconvenience.

My alternator belt was checked only 3000 miles ago, or so it is claimed, but access is so difficult that it may not have been a good check. I’m afraid £220 (The labour cost of removing the front of the car) to check an alternator belt is not cost effective!
Batteries today, particularly high starting current ones for diesels, have been reduced in size so much that they fail by “shorting out”. There is no question of one cell going down, or being able to detect it with a battery check; one minute it is perfect, and the next dead. The current battery is half the size of the one I had in my last car, but the battery tray is simply not big enough.
The last two battery failures (on different cars) occurred after being left parked for two weeks for a holiday. Another one occurred in a “second” car, which is not used much in the winter. If a car is used infrequently, then I recommend the use of a trickle charger at least once a month.

Stephen Baxter says:
29 September 2014

I have enjoyed watching Wheeler Dealers over the last six months. It is quite amazing the jobs that Edd China does in his extremely well equipped workshop. Most people do not have the luxury
of a workshop. For that reason I recommend purchasing a reasonably new vehicle with sound body work, mileage below 70,000 miles and full service history.
Interior Trim can be replaced at a modest cost by sourcing on Ebay. The audio system can be upgraded using manufacturers parts from Ebay. Tyres can be replaced at a local specialist. Servicing and minor body repairs can be carried out at a local independent garage. Do check for recalls and take to a franchised dealer for this work to be carried our free of charge.

Stephen Baxter says:
29 September 2014

Purchase the Haynes Manual for your vehicle.
Waxoyl clear aerosol is a great rust preventer all round your vehicle.
Use WD40 to displace moisture.
Source cleaning materials from Halfords to keep your vehicle looking new.

banjo says:
3 December 2014

How about £ 460 for a new radiator and water pump replacement on a Vauxhall Omega 3.0 elite,
which should have fixed a coolant/water loss but unfortunately it seems that the cylinder head
gasket is leaking coolant into the engine and this is going to cost a massive £1800 to put
right, thanks to it being a complex 24V 3.0L twin head engine ! Bad news at Christmas and
especially at my age !

I have an Audi A4 2.7 TDI. So the dpf decided to get too clogged that I needed to replace it. Audi originally quoted around £2,200 for the DPF and Sensor, including diagnostic and regen costs. They tried overcharging me as other Audi dealers quoted much less. Final bill £1,885. Few days later my water pump goes. Had an MOT test, after the water pump was changed. Required new brakes and discs. Total bill £875. All together in the last 2 week thats £2,760. Life sucks. Had to borrow money from family and friends

Helen Longhurst says:
27 August 2015

Susuki Jimny I have spent over £400 on an alternator last year but after 10years she has done well but now coming back from my friends yesterday my heater matrix split and all coolant everywhere and just been quoted over £600 but I know they are a problem to take off , do I stick with my little Jeep or do I invest in new and land myself with a bigger bill, I wonder ?
Any thoughts ?

Helen Longhurst says:
27 August 2015

Any answers to my previous email required as really interested in whether or not should buy a new vehicle x

I’d get your garage to look over your car. They should be able to give you an idea as to what might be in its way out. See what its worth and whether it might be worth spending money on it. If not, sell it privately while it is still MoTd and mobile and find something else would be my advice. I’ve just faced that decision with an oldish car.
If you keep a car for 10 years it might be worth looking at a new car. There can be big discounts available which brings them nearer to a nearly new (say 9-12 months) but used price. I got 25% off. Maybe decent finance terms as well. You get the spec you want plus a full guarantee, probably a service deal.

Helen – If you bypass the heater the car will be usable, so you could take a few weeks to make a decision about whether to have it repaired or to replace it. A DIY enthusiast would not be put off by this fault because the labour is the main cost of effecting a repair. I don’t know how much the fault would affect the value of the car if you trade it in.

I’m sorry you were charged so much for a new alternator. Specialist firms sell reconditioned alternators and starter motors at very reasonable prices, or will repair them. A friend took my advice and paid £75 for a reconditioned alternator recently. At least with some cars, fitting is simple.

Best of luck.

Helen, wave is correct. If you can find a local handy man and disconnect the two hoses to the heater and join them together
The hoses will be near beside each other going from the engine to the interior through the bulkhead
Most of these hoses are 15/16mmm or 5/8 and if you get yourself 1 x 3/8bsp male male nipple/ cupler from local plumbers and 2 x hose clips that’ll join them up thats all you need. The cupler has threads on the outside which give grip to the hose which it needs. Other than that the threads have no purpose in this case so dont tell the guy at the counter what its for because like everything today if its not designed for the job you’ll be advised against it.
If the hose is a larger 20mm type as 1/2 cupler will do
Alternately you can try radweld and remove the smaller of the two rubber washers on the radiator cap to stop the system being pressurised. That’ll take any pressure off of the system which is your biggest enemy at this point.
Keep the small washer in case you continue and need it again although I have seen 100s run without it. Antifreeze is more important than the pressure to prevent boiling
Then if you can get a young mechanic with no money which should not be too difficult you just might get a new one put in.
Either way like wave suggests either will buy you time. Replacement cars are not cheap so you may want ot have a search around
Hope that helps

My latest repair bill can trump them all. Model :- 2007 Toyota Avensis T180 Estate – cost new 24K – repaired under Warranty Bulletin WB553 ()v1.1) – August 2011 – F.O.C —- now requires full engine rebuild due to head gasket problems – Mileage 103500 – total rebuild cost:- Approx £4500. This is a vehicle which has been fully serviced from new, has always been filled with Branded diesel fuel and owned by a 74 year old ex private hire driver as a second vehicle! Toyota aren’t interested , despite the mileage limitation on the said service bulletin being set at 111,000 – (180,000) kilometers and considerable pressures from my reliable and sympathetic dealership. So folks, if I tell you that I shall NOT be paying the said sum involved but shall be scrapping the vehicle having had to pay £800.00 to establish what’s gone wrong with the vehicle would anyone in their right mind care to argue that Toyota are a generous company with whom to do business? By the way the dealership were prepared to undertake an Important Recall issue regarding a front passenger air bag inflator safety issues at ” No Charge ” whilst the engine repairs were being carried out.!

Out of interest was this a Toyota dealer’s price? Might be worth taking to an independent for an assessment and a price. Which? trusted traders might show one in your area if you don’t have a contact. You’ve probably thought of this!

I think your user name is not meant for repeating so you’ll remain nameless for me
£800 to diagnose the problem is right off of the ball part. Extortion/rip off/cowboy/thief they all fit in there
A head gasket is usually not a terminal engine rebuild job unless you drove it some distance after it boiled to cause further damage
I can only presume you cannot get the vehicle back without paying this extortionate amount. That being the case I’d tell them to keep it and if they are about to attempt to have a go at you for the money go ahead you’ll see them in court. Then go buy something and when you do dont but a “good brand” Complete waste of money. All these brands are selling you something they no longer have, an advantage. The only advantage they have is their name and you are bound to know just now that their name in reality is dirt
So yes I agree with you although Toyota are far from the worst.
Branded diesel fuel means nothing just as long as you know you didnt get laundered diesel anything else will do.
Hope they negoiate with you for the £800. Its patently obvious they dont want to repair your car Sir but 800. I have heard it all. This takes my breath away. 4500? for repair. Bonkers

My Hyundai Santa Fe is 10 years old and every year has been serviced by the local Hyundai dealer. At the start we were glad to have had 3 years of the 5-year warranty carried over and were lucky there was still 2 months left when the auto gearbox had to be replaced. The car has done 56000 miles and has not been thrashed, probably impossible to do as it is so slow, anyway it had problems starting and the battery failed to charge fully the second time I charged it. No warning lights came on so I simply changed the battery thinking that as it was 10 years old it was time for a new one. Soon afterwards charging light came on and it pointed to the alternator. Meanwhile we were getting a lot of water in the cabin which was steaming up, possibly heater matrix. Took the car into the dealer who had a look and told me it would be £610 for the alternator and £1100 for a new heater matrix although this may not be the fault. We thought that maybe it was time to change cars and wondered what they would give in part-ex bearing in mind the problems. I was told £2000 which seemed a little on the low side especially as WeBuyAnyCar offered £5360. Will be taking to local garage recommended by a friend, £297 for alternator.

GB, you can get alternators rewound. Might be cheaper than forking out for a new one.

Thank you malcolm r. I will mention to garage but I am having trouble finding someone to sort out heater matrix. Is the water definitely coming from the heater matrix and not the rain getting in as I have removed about a gallon with my wet/dry hoover.

If the water is coming from the heater matrix then you will be losing coolant and what gets into the car will smell of antifreeze, assuming this is present in the engine. I had a slight leak into my first car and it turned out to be a rubber plug that had been displaced rather than a faulty heater matrix.

Good man Wave,,,,,,,,,,,,,,I was writing while you were already answered the question

Thanks when I get car back from dealer, they aren’t doing the work you’ll be pleased to hear, I will check coolant but dealer said it was low. Car didn’t seem to smell of antifreeze.

I should have said “refurbished”. . sorry GB. I’ve had 4 done over the years – significantly cheaper solution than a replacement.



Bad bad diagnosis of both problems
Alternators not charging is a really simple thing to diagnose……………If they cannot manage this it’s time you moved
Yes,,,,,,Alternators can be rewound but it is unlikely to be the windings…………..I could count on my fingers the amount of burned out winding I’ve seen
Even–“Rewind” is just another way to at your money but if your not handy your going to have to take someone’s word for it
………….Some alternators today have their charging controlled from the vehicle ECU rather than having an on board voltage regulator…………Voltage regulator and brushes are the two popular items………………
Take it to an Auto Electrician………….

Heater matrix/water inside……..?????????
This is pretty simple again and this one you’ll figure for yourself………….
If the heater matrix is leaking the engine coolant will need topping up regular…………..
If the coolant is not dropping it is impossible to be the matrix as the heater circulates only engine coolant……………….No coolant used,,,,,,,,,,,,,no leaky matrix

You say a lot of water in the cabin………………A leak that big from the cooling system would most likely have the engine boiling its little head off literally……….
Some of these Korean 4x4s and for certain the Sportage/Tucson had some type of problem with a bulkhead panel that leaks serious amounts of water causing the floor to get wet……………………..My son in law had this very problem but he decided it was time for a change so I cannot advise further………………..I’m assuming the same company uses similar design across its cars…….
He got a couple of silly quotes for the panel which I cant see being a two day job

Hope that helps

I agree with DK that alternator windings are rarely the problem. Specialist companies will rebuild alternators and starter motors remarkably cheaply, and can cope with electrical problems and replacing bearings.

Thanks DeeKay , the water problem I feel is not the coolant. The engine temp has not been increasing and the water has been very dirty.