YONKERS, N.Y. — A poll by Consumer Reports revealed that cash-strapped consumers are delaying automotive maintenance at the potential cost of their safety. Forty percent of respondents who are involved in repair decisions stated that they are postponing car maintenance or repairs on their primary vehicle.

This delay in servicing items such as brakes, tires, light bulbs or other internal mechanical parts has consumers running the risk of larger, more costly problems down the road. Forty-four percent of those who deferred work in the past year also admitted that they felt the value, safety or reliability of the vehicle would suffer, with some saying the car was becoming an embarrassment.

Those in lower income households were more likely to delay necessary work, and the youngest drivers, aged 18 to 34 years, were more likely to delay work on wear items, such as brake pads or tires, the report said. Twenty-one percent of this age group also admitted to not attending to a wear item in a timely fashion, compared to 14 percent of those aged 55 or over.

Adding to the issue is the fact that, with the economy being so poor, drivers found themselves holding onto their vehicles longer.

Many of the respondents bought their cars used, and have owned them for five years with plans to hold on to that vehicle for another five. Survey results showed that older drivers, residents of western states, and lower income owners go the longest before replacing their vehicles.

“The family car is the second largest purchase a consumer can make. It's also often one of the most abused," said Jeff Bartlett, deputy online automotive editor for Consumer Reports. "We expect our car to work even in the harshest conditions. So protecting that investment should be a priority, especially when it becomes a safety issue."

On average, owners have 78,000 miles on their current vehicle, which means many are quickly approaching major maintenance milestones that shouldn't be ignored. Among those surveyed, the types of non-warranty work most commonly postponed were led by minor manufacturer-recommended scheduled service (22 percent); wear items (17 percent); and body or other exterior damage (15 percent).

Interviewees said that a major repair bill, costing an average of about $2,000, would become a serious financial burden. Lower-income households ($1,418 average), women ($1,601), and younger adults ($1,749) were shown to be most vulnerable.

This means that a major repair bill could be 2.4 times the size of what respondents actually spent on maintenance and repairs over the past year before it would become a serious financial burden across the demographic groups, according to Consumer Reports.

The poll also revealed that car owners put a lot of faith in their chosen repair shops, with 83 percent of those involved in repair decisions saying they were confident they would get the right maintenance and repair work done for the right price.

More than half said they completely trust their shop, as respondents indicated that they used independent repair shops more often (37 percent) than dealers (30 percent) or repair chains (11 percent), according to Consumer Reports.

For more information, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.