New vehicles are loaded with sensors and technologies that protect and pamper occupants. But these gadgets boost the cost of repairs after an accident.

The average cost to repair damaged cars has climbed 36% in the United States since 2018 and could top $5,000* by the end of 2023, according to Mitchell International, a company that provides data and software to car companies. insurance and car repair companies. It is mainly for this reason that insurance premiums have increased by 17% between May 2022 and May 2023.

New vehicles – including electric ones – are now so complex and luxurious that some seemingly simple repairs cost a small fortune, automotive experts say. Insurers bear the bulk of these costs, hence the increase in premiums.

Body panels designed to bend to protect pedestrians or passengers, in the event of an accident, can be difficult, if not impossible, to repair. Bumpers must be replaced after low-speed impacts: the safety sensors they incorporate no longer work after repairs. Other systems, which do not appear to be damaged, need to be inspected or recalibrated.

“Modern digital architecture is so advanced that systems beyond the point of impact are disrupted,” said Ryan Mandell, director of claims at Mitchell.

Recently, industry experts have been scrutinizing the cost of repairing electric vehicles, which have a different design and parts than gasoline-powered cars. In addition, the majority of mechanics know nothing about it. Recently, reports and stories shared on social media have shed light on the astronomical bills for electric vehicle repairs.

Take the case of Chris Apfelstadt and his Rivian R1T pickup truck, which was rammed by a Lexus in February at a red light in Columbus, Ohio.

The damage appeared minor and the other driver’s insurer offered him $1,600. He went to one of only three Rivian-authorized shops in Ohio. The bill ? Some $42,000 to fix a bumper, about half the price of a Rivian R1T.

The collision had damaged an elegant body panel that extends from the rear of the pickup to the front pillars. Repairing and repainting it set off a cascade of expensive work, including removing the interior roof trim and windshield.

Repairing an electric model costs more than a gas-powered vehicle, on average, experts say. But a thorough analysis of the data shows that the difference is not that big. There are even cases where it is cheaper.

“The idea that there is a carnage of electric vehicles wrecked is a horror story that keeps insurers awake,” Mr. Mandell said. Does it happen? Yes. But it is rare. »

Mitchell’s data shows that in 2022, crashed electric vehicles cost an average of US$6,800 to repair, about $2,400 more than the average for all vehicles. The parts for electric vehicles are generally more expensive, their installation takes longer and sometimes requires the intervention of specialists.

But the primary reason for the higher cost seems to be that most EVs are late-model luxury. Tesla cars, which sell for between $40,000 and $110,000 in the United States, account for 75% of battery-powered models involved in collisions and claims.

Repairing a consumer electric vehicle — from manufacturers like Hyundai or Nissan — costs just $800 more than its gas-powered counterpart, according to Mitchell. In the high end of the 2018 and later model years, it’s the same: the bill to repair a battery and gas vehicle is around $7,000.

Matt Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, an actuarial research organization serving insurers, cites an analysis that refutes the idea that electric cars cost more to repair. For 11 models offered in gas and electric versions – including the Hyundai Kona and Volvo XC40 – the average repair cost for electrics is just 2% higher.

Gas-powered or electric, expensive, rare and higher-performance cars are involved in fewer but more serious crashes, in part because their drivers tend to drive fast and take other risks, Moore says.

“It happens fast and it hits hard,” he said. Each collision is a mixture of man and machine. »

*All amounts in this article are in US dollars.