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Drivers Eat $5,000 Repair Bills to Avoid Used-Car Market Mayhem

Higher bills at the mechanic are adding to the pileup of problems for U.S. workers who depend on wheels for their jobs.

Chayney Shear and her children.

Chayney Shear and her children.

Photographer: Irina Rozovsky for Bloomberg Businessweek

As the cost of a used car has soared, mechanics are finding themselves inundated with ailing high-mileage vehicles, overhauling engines on autos once bound for the junkyard and having delicate conversations with desperate customers.

The dramatic climb in new- and used-car prices has changed the calculus of when to repair and when to replace. It’s put mechanics in an uneasy position as financial advisers, often offering the final word on whether a clunker is worth fixing. Americans who before the pandemic would buy another car rather than pay a few thousand dollars for a repair are now having to shell out $5,000 or more.