Auto Repair Estimates – Predatory Practices

When we get an auto repair estimate how do we know that it was done properly? Was it calculated according to manufacturer specifications and industry guidelines? The short answer is probably not. Manufacturer specifications and industry standards are not only not adhered to, but they are interpreted differently from repair shop to repair shop.

This is a primary reason why auto repair estimates fluctuate so greatly. However, there is an automotive term that we can use to help us reduce any excessive car repair prices. It’s called “overlap labor.”

Many car repairs have multiple procedures. For example, if you need to replace a waterpump, the technician will have to remove the drive belts. The removal of the drive belts is called overlap labor. In other words, it was part of the original repair procedure and there should be no additional labor costs.

Now, most labor time guides (industry books and software that determine labor times) provide a break down of each auto repair. While this may seem convenient, this break down is often used incorrectly (intentionally or not).

So, the replacement of a water pump by itself may have a labor time of 1.8 hours. Replacement of the drive belts on the same car may have a labor time of .7 hours. The service representative doing the estimate will often add these together for 2.5 hours. This is price-gouging. At $100.00 per hour, the additional .7 hours would cost you $70.00. There should be no extra labor, as the removal and re-installation of the drive belts is supposed to be included in the original 1.8 hours of labor.

This is a very minor example – it can get a lot uglier. What to do? Always ask if there is any “overlap labor” that may reduce the labor time. Just asking this question will help to ward off any predatory labor practices in general, as only an insider would know this information. Don’t be surprised if your service representative doesn’t know the answer (or the term), as he has likely only worked at your dealer for 6 months. If they don’t know, ask for the service manager. If he doesn’t know, ask for the service director just to let him know you’ll be going to another shop.

~ Ted


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