I got a call the other night from my uncle, who lives 300 miles away. He drives an older Hyundai Scoupe and his engine had been overheating. He asked me how much I thought it should cost to replace the thermostat on his engine. I said the thermostat itself usually costs around $10 to $15, and it should only take a good mechanic about 15 to 20 minutes to change it, assuming the thermostat is relatively easy to get at (which it is on his car). So I told him it should cost maybe $60 to $75 or so.
He told me the repair shop where he stopped at when his engine overheated wanted $196 to replace his thermostat. They told him the thermostat was $54 and labor would be $142 to replace it. They wanted nearly $200 to change his thermostat. No coolant flush or change. No replacing any hoses. Nothing else. Just $200 to change his thermostat.
Considering the fact that there are only two bolts attaching the thermostat housing to the engine, that's roughly $100 per bolt to fix his problem! Of course, the mechanic also has to drain some coolant out of the radiator and pour it back in once the thermostat has been replaced. But that's no big deal.
They obviously thought they had him over a barrel.
This is the kind of story that gives the auto repair industry a bad name.
The labor rate in most dealerships and repair shops today ranges from $60 to over $100 per hour. Why so high? Because it's expensive to run an auto repair business. In addition to the normal overhead such as the cost of the building and property, taxes, utilities, insurance, employee benefits, and so on, repair facilities have to spend thousands of dollars every year on equipment, scan tool updates, information access and other costs that are necessary to repair today's cars.
Consequently, when a shop quotes what seems like a very high price to change a relatively simple part, it may seem like they are attempting to take advantage of the situation and are overcharging for the repair. Maybe they are tying to rip you off, or maybe they are not. I can't say because every situation is different.
I've had dealerships and shops try to overcharge me for relatively simple repairs. About a year ago, our church offered to help a single mom in need get her car fixed. Her old Ford Taurus needed a muffler. I took her car to a local muffler shop, explained the situation and asked the service manager how much it would cost to replace the muffler. I made it clear that this was a charity repair job, hoping he might give me a break. No such luck. He said it would cost $450 to replace the muffler and adjoining pipes!
I said thanks, left and drove to the nearest AutoZone parts store. I bought a muffler for less than $40, and a couple of clamps and a hangar. It took me about half a hour to saw off the old muffler and install the new one. The total cost to fix it myself was less than $50.
A few years ago, the alternator died on one of my cars (an old Ford Probe my son was driving to collage at the time). I took the car to my local Ford dealer and asked for a quote to replace the alternator. They said it would cost nearly $600 for parts and labor. I said thanks, left and went home to call some local parts stores to check their prices and availability for a remanufactured alternator. The car took an odd alternator that was not in stock, so I ended up buying a reman alternator online for less than $100. It arrived in the mail a couple days later. The alternator on this car was a little difficult to replace because I had to disconnect the exhaust and remove the alternator from underneath. Even so, it took me less than an hour.
I could cite example after example just like these where me or a member of my family has been quoted an inflated price for a relatively simple repair. In most instances, I ended up doing the repairs myself.
Unfortunately, many people don't have the option of doing their own auto repair work. They may lack the know-how, the proper tools or a place to work on their own vehicle. So they have no choice but to take their vehicle to a dealership or other repair facility if it needs repairs or maintenance. And they may end up being overcharged or ripped-off. For more information about auto repair costs, Click Here.
Don't get the wrong impression. I'm NOT bad-mouthing the entire auto repair industry. After all, I've been part of the auto repair industry for most of my working career. Some shops do overcharge their customers every chance they get. Those are the bad apples that give the whole barrel a rotten smell. But in all fairness, there are also really good repair shops run by hard-working, honest people who do not overcharge or rip-off their customers.
One such shop is Chucks Import Repairs in Darien IL. I've used Chucks on numerous occasions when I have not had the time or the proper tools to do a repair myself. I am no spring chicken anymore, and frankly I don't mind paying somebody else do a repair I would rather not do myself. That includes many undercar repairs that really require a lift (which I don't have), or repairs that require exceptional patience (which I often lack).
So when the need arises, I don't hesitate to call Chucks and make an appointment. I don't have to worry about being ripped off because I know Chucks is an honest shop that charges fair prices and does excellent work.
My advice to anyone in need of auto repair is find your local equivalent of Chucks. They do exist. If a repair shop quotes a price that sounds unreasonable, get a second or third estimate someplace else before you part with your hard earned money. If a shop has ripped you off, do not go back. Take your business elsewhere. And when you do find a good repair facility that charges fair prices, be a loyal customer, give them your repeat business, and recommend them to your friends so they can avoid the places that would try to rip them off.
Word of mouth is usually the best form of advertising.
Look for repair shops that are members of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), or are affiliated with AAA (American Automobile Association), or subscribe to the Motorist Assurance Program Code of Ethics and business practices. Look for shops that have ASE-certified technicians. Check with your Better Business Bureau to see if a shop has had numerous complaints. Ask your friends where they have had repair work done, and avoid any shop they would not recommend.
As for new car dealerships, there are good ones and there are terrible ones. Some have service departments that are well run and customer-oriented, while others only want to hustle you in and out, and separate you from as much of your money as they can in the process. Many dealers push unnecessary and overpriced maintenance you often do not need. Dealerships typically charge the highest prices for both parts and labor, and can be much less personal to deal with if you have a problem than a local independently-owned repair shop.
Click Here for Auto Repair Shop Listings & Resources
So what happened to my Uncle? He found another auto repair shop to replace his thermostat for $90. That is half of what the first shop told him it would cost. Ninety bucks is still high in my opinion, but at least I didn't have to drive 300 miles to change it for him.