No one likes surprises when it comes time to pay for automotive repair service. There are things a consumer can do to avoid these surprises. The first thing is to educate yourself in how repair charges are established beforehand and then make a decision of where to have your repair work done. The basis of the repair charge to repair your vehicle includes the following:
1. Diagnostic Charge – To diagnose the root cause of an electrical or driveability complaint will require the automotive technician or mechanic to diagnose the issue. Because it takes some time to conduct this activity, there usually is a diagnostic charge to do so according to the labor charge of the shop.
Note: An automotive technician and an automotive mechanic are not necessarily one and the same. An automotive technician is generally one who is factory trained for diagnosis on a specific area(s) of the vehicle and is usually the same brand.
An automotive mechanic is one who knows the mechanics of an automobile and can repair multiple brands (makes). The person may or may not be knowledgeable of the diagnostic procedures of the automotive computer systems. Someone can have the skills to be an automotive technician and mechanic. A master tech or master mechanic is a very knowledgeable person.
2. Flat Rate Charge – The method for determining the labor charge of dealers and many other independent shops is based on the Flat Rate Labor Guide that says how long a specific repair job should take. Depending on what the shop labor rate is, multiplied by the flat rate hours will give you the charge for the labor alone to repair the vehicle. For example, if the Flat Rate Labor Guide says it takes 2 hours to replace a water pump @ $90.00 per flat rate hour, and then the labor charge would be $180.00 (not including any diagnostic charge and charges for the water pump.)
However, if the mechanic can replace the water pump in 1 hour, the charge under the flat rate system would still be $180.00. The benefit of replacing the water pump in one hour instead of two hours goes to the mechanic. Check your local library for a Chilton or Motor Labor Flat Rate Guide (for the year of your vehicle) and look up the flat rate time to see what the amount of time it should take for doing the job you’re interested in.
With this information, you can calculate the flat rate time with the shop’s flat rate charge plus the parts and diagnostic charges. This amount will put you somewhere in the ballpark as far as the price you reasonable should be charged. However, if the repair estimate of a shop is in the stratosphere, find out why or go to another shop BEFORE any work is started. You should be informed along the way before additional work is performed with an estimate of what is the expected cost to complete the job.
3. Parts Charge – The parts cost will usually be at a retail price and higher than what you can purchase by price shopping. Many repair shops will not install parts that you bring to them unless you have a good relationship with the shop. They can also quote you the best price from their suppliers. This is a benefit to having a specific shop that you deal with consistently where they may reward you for your loyalty. Be sure to sign up for any rewards program the shop may have.
Labor charges are not cheap, especially with the sophisticated nature of today's vehicles. However, by having knowledge of what comprises a repair estimate, you can determine what the hourly labor rate is for a particular shop and by using a Flat Rate Labor Guide you can learn how much time a repair take. Combined with the labor rate you can come somewhere in the ballpark of the repair cost.
If the estimate of a particular shop far exceeds what you have researched, then you'll have the knowledge to know to find another shop.