While no driver looks forward to them, getting repairs is simply part of owning a car. Your goal should be not to avoid repairs altogether, but rather to do enough maintenance that you’ll be able to avoid the most expensive types of repairs, such as engine or transmission fixes. So if you’re looking to keep costs down, calling a local mechanic for a tune-up should be your first step; one survey by the Car Care Council found that 89% of the cars inspected needed at least one service or repair.
You shouldn’t put off repairs, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to get a good price on repairs when your car needs them. So how can ensure you’re being treated fairly, and not being overcharged in the $58 billion U.S. auto repair industry? It all comes to being able to read and assess car repair estimates.
The Elements of an Estimate
First of all, it’s very important that you get a written car repair estimate before you allow any work to be done on your car. What should you see on that estimate? Here’s a breakdown:
The specific problem that needs to be repaired.
The parts that will be needed for the repair. You may be able to get a lower price on the repair by having the technician use generic or remanufactured parts, rather than ones from the original manufacturer.
The anticipated labor charge, based on the repair service’s hourly rate and the projected extent of the project. Keep in mind that this labor charge often has the overhead of the shop rolled into it, so you shouldn’t assume that the technicians are actually taking that much home.
Any additional shop fees. Materials fees (things like shop towels) can often, though not always, be negotiated.
An agreement on how additional work will be handled. Make sure you’ll have to approve any work that exceeds the hours or dollar amount laid out in the estimate.
Comparing Apples to Apples
It’s smart to compare car repair estimates from multiple car repair shops before making a decision (although once you find a shop you really trust, you may want to prioritize that relationship and confidence in the quality of the repair over a few bucks). However, it’s important to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples. That can be difficult because shops may split up total costs into slightly different categories, but the above breakdown should help. A final caveat: Beware relying on “average” prices found online when assessing an estimate. Auto repair costs vary widely from region to region.
Do you have anything to add about car repair estimates? Share your thoughts in the comments.