Car repair prices fluctuate from repair shop to repair shop and car to car. Knowing if you were fairly charged can be very difficult to determine. Even online auto repair estimates miss the mark – often by hundreds of dollars. What makes it harder is that when you are overcharged it’s not for the hundreds or thousands of dollars we hear about in the news, but rather a little at a time, and over an extended period.
The clearest evidence for this is with vehicle maintenance. Repair shops and dealers have created elaborate maintenance schedules for your car. When these are compared to your manufacturer’s recommendations you begin to see just how much you are being ripped off.
It’s important to note that virtually all repair shops (dealers included) do not follow the recommendations of your manufacturer, but embellish the procedures with their own additional services, and more importantly the time schedule (i.e., the maintenance intervals).
Let’s take one of the most popular cars on the road as an example, a late model Honda Civic, and look at service intervals based on mileage for the first year. According to the manufacturer, a Honda Civic needs to be serviced every 7,500 miles. Given that the average person drives 15,000 miles per year, we can expect the Civic to be serviced twice in the first year.
There are three examples below to highlight the differences in price for maintaining this model. The first is from the manufacturer. The second is from a car dealer. The third is from a general repair shop. Note the additional services, the different maintenance intervals, and thus the change in price. All prices are approximated.
Manufacturer (7,500-mile service interval): First year maintenance will include two oil changes, some standard inspections, and two tire rotations. Total Cost = $120.00
Dealer (5,000-mile service interval): First year maintenance will include three oil changes, some standard inspections, two tire rotations, fuel system cleaning products, engine protection treatment – these last two services are not recommended by the manufacturer. Total Cost = $180.00
Repair Shop (3,000-mile service interval): First year maintenance will include five oil changes, some standard inspections, three tire rotations, fuel system cleaning products, engine protection treatment – these last two are not recommended by the manufacturer. Total Cost = $225.00
You’ll notice that the repair shop in this example is the most expensive. That’s because many local repair shops are still urging drivers to change the oil every 3,000 miles. If your shop is telling you this – find another place to service your car ASAP. No major manufacturer is the last two decades has recommended a 3,000-mile oil service interval. This is not to single out repair shops, dealerships can be more expensive; however, given the competition (as well as other reasons, upselling, marketing…etc), dealers can be quite competitive for auto maintenance.
So, what we see is a $60.00 increase between a manufacturer and a dealer and a $105.00 increase with a local repair shop. If a vehicle’s maintenance needs remained as they do during the first year we could easily extrapolate the overcharges. However, vehicles will need more and different services with age – although not as many as your repair shop or dealer is likely telling you – and so the math gets a bit more complicated.
We also want to keep in mind that we’ve been discussing only maintenance. Actual car repairs can have even more variables. What’s clear is that the overcharges skyrocket exponentially when you follow the advice of your service center. In short, stick to what the manufacturer has to say about maintaining your automobile. If your service center doesn’t know what your manufacturer recommends (and this is very often the case) you’re in the wrong place.