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Consumer Repair Guide
Getting Estimates

In some states, repair facilities are required by law to provide a written estimate. The estimate will include parts and labor.

Labor rates vary across the country. The range is from $30 to $100 an hour. Many factors go into determining a labor rate, such as:

  • Cost of labor in your area.
  • Types of vehicles worked on.
  • The repair facility's overhead.
  • Skill level and certification of technicians.

Keep in mind that your technician does not receive the hourly rate you are quoted. This rate reflects his pay plus overhead expenses for the facility, such as utilities and equipment leases. Because so much diagnostic and repair equipment is now needed, running a garage is not a low-overhead business. For example, a front-end alignment machine can cost around $40,000. The purchase or lease of new equipment, such as transmission, power steering and coolant flushing machines, also is expensive.

Most shops quote a "flat rate" based on a manual that tells them the average time it takes for a specific repair on your make and model vehicle. (You can ask to see this manual.) A flat rate is the number of hours it should take for a proficient technician to do a specific task. The "flat rate" is then multiplied by the shop's labor rate to reach the actual labor charge for the service. Diagnostic work and some types of computer and electronics work will not be charged at a "flat rate." By its nature, the time can't be accurately estimated in a book.

If you are facing a major repair, such as engine or transmission work, consider a second opinion. A second opinion is inconvenient and will cost more money, however, it may provide you with added comfort about your decision. Your technician may even help you find a qualified specialty shop for your specific repair.

In considering an estimate, make sure you understand everything that will be replaced and what kinds of replacement parts will be used. An estimate should clearly state what work will be performed and which parts (if any) will be replaced.

Like so many things in life, cheapest may not always be best. The quality of parts and labor vary widely. It is very difficult for most of us to determine the individual quality of either. Auto parts come in many different packages and with many levels of quality. In most cases, you get what you pay for. Ask the shop what types of parts are being installed. Are they original equipment or a professional line made by a reputable company? If not, you may end up with a smaller repair bill but much bigger headaches.