Auto Repair – Charging for Convenience Despite Necessity

Auto repair is a necessity, right? Cars need to be maintained, they need repairs, and they need service. Certainly convenience is nice, but it’s an added bonus. One would think that convenience and the necessity of auto repair are indeed complementary – albeit rare. What few understand, however, is that the auto repair industry charges for convenience. In other words, you could and should be able to get your car repaired for less – sometimes lots less – but because you broke down here and not there, you pay more.

Repair prices vary greatly from shop to shop for a numbers of reasons (discussed at length in RepairTrust eBooks). The focus here is the mind-set in the auto repair industry that it is okay to charge customers extra for convenience.

For perspective, let’s break down of an actual transaction.

After a careful analysis of a $1600 auto repair bill, it was clear that $200 of it was excessive. The excessive charges were as follows: an extra $10 for a battery (compared to MSRP – Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price), an extra $125 for an alternator (compared to MSRP), and an additional $65 in labor (compared to industry guidelines).

While this particular customer was a busy executive and was glad for the quick service and convenience, what about the single mom struggling to make ends meet? An additional $200 in repairs might mean a late rent check.

Convenience charges are extremely common, but hard to prove. The justifications for these charges are numerous. They include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Business is Slow – see the article: Auto Repair Costs – The Worst Time of Year For Car Repair for an in-depth discussion of how car repair prices are manipulated
  • Overhead Expenses – the cost of doing business is repeatedly passed on to the car repair customer, very often unjustifiably
  • Competition – to keep a competitive edge against competition, shops will mark up prices stating that the client would have paid even more somewhere else. They will also use their own inferior parts from their own suppliers, despite the availability of better quality parts for less money.
  • Profit Margins – in the name of customer convenience, prices are frequently jacked up to maintain profit margins. For example, a repair shop will tack on an additional 20% to MSRP for a part that you could get for 20% less at a dealer.

What should you do…

In an industry that lacks standardization (that’s adhered to anyway) and an effective regulatory system, the auto repair customer stands alone.

Here are a few quick tips if you suspect convenience charges.

  1. Get it in writing – get your estimates and repair orders in a detailed printout to enable you to scrutinize the charges
  2. Ask questions – if you don’t understand a charge – ask. Don’t just pay and assume you were treated fairly
  3. Call another service center and request an estimate
  4. Compare part prices with MSRP
  5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate – ask for a discount if you’re having lots of repairs done. Check for specials, senior citizens discounts, coupons…etc
  6. Be nice, sincere, and shrewd. Repair industry folks respond much more positively to someone who is sincere, and genuine. But be cautious and question everything.

It’s clear that auto repair is a necessity. The nature of the automobile and the conditions under which it must perform demands it. Car repair and maintenance is vital for the community and the economic structure of the world in which we live. Yet, the industry is run and controlled by a pack of wolves. Since we’re not talking about running into a convenience store for an over-priced gallon of milk, a little more help (perhaps by way of transparent pricing standards) from Uncle Sam is in order.