Is Your Repair Estimate Fair?

Ford-EscapeWe received an email from a concerned car repair owner about the prices she was getting, as well as the explanations, for her repairs. We’ve re-posted it here as it is helpful to all car owners who are trying to navigate car repair costs, and wondering if they can trust their particular car repair shop.

She writes (some details changed to protect identity):

I’ve recently had problems with my 2001 Ford Escape, such as needing to change my water pump (I have over 150,000 miles on my car)  an axle because the rings for the ABS are cracked and its apparently cheaper to just change the whole thing. I’ve also already changed my timing belt and intake valve. I live in North Dakota. I know you’re located in MA, but I’m trying to figure out if I’m being overcharged for these repairs. The water pump is like $400 and the axle is about $500.

Does it matter that I’m in North Dakota?  Should I confront the auto repair shop with the figures you have on your website? Also do you have any insight on how much this should cost? I appreciate your response and hope to hear back soon. I had to take my car to the shop today since it is an integral to my daily commute. Thank you.

Our response:

Thanks for your email. I can feel your frustration and appreciate the position you’re in. The prices and trouble you’re experiencing do not sound out of the ordinary. The reality is that you’re driving a 1st generation, 13-year-old car with 150,000 miles on it. As far as pricing, again, it sounds within reason. The figures on our sites may or may not reflect your specific concerns – and things can get tricky with age and mileage.

As a tip to try to save some money, remind your repair shop the amount of money you’ve already had to spend – do it nicely, respectfully. And then ask if they could knock $100 bucks or so off the repair.

It also may be time to think about a newer vehicle, especially as a commuter – I’m partial to Hondas (Civic is a great value), but there are lots of options.

I hope this helps.

Best to you,

PS…it often is cheaper to replace the axle versus replacing the ABS ring

Extended Warranties For Cars

Extended car warranties cover repair costs after the manufacturer’s warranty ends. Plans are available for both new and pre-owned vehicles. Extended warranties are valuable for people who want to budget for car repairs in advance. Often one major repair can cost enough for the warranty to pay for itself.

On the other hand, if the reliability record of the automobile that you’re buying is strong, potential repair cost savings may not justify the price of the extended service contract. These warranties also may not make sense for buyers who tend to trade cars every few years.

Once you have decided whether an extended warranty makes sense for you, there are many options to help you find the best coverage at a competitive price.

Automobile dealers frequently offer extended auto warranties from the car’s manufacturer, such as Chevrolet or Toyota. However, warranty shoppers can also find online quotes and information from many third-party warranty companies. For example, Warranty Direct and CarChex provide details about coverage and instant quotes on their websites. Motor Trend magazine recommends a company called Easy Care as a best buy for extended warranty protection.

AAA, the well-known auto club, also offers warranties. The AAA extended warranty not only covers your car repairs, but also offers traditional auto club benefits, such as rental car coverage while your car is being fixed. If you have a warehouse club membership, check to see if the club offers extended car warranties. Costco and Sam’s Club often have deals with competitive pricing and comprehensive coverage.

To avoid the risk of an insolvent warranty company, check ratings by insurance rating firms, such as AM Best, before purchasing a warranty. Also check the Better Business Bureau’s online ratings for companies you are considering. Determine whether there are convenient service locations in your area as well as areas where you frequently travel. Ask about claim processing time, and research online ratings from customers. If it’s important for you to choose which repair shop performs your repairs, be sure to ask if you can select the shop, or whether you must use repair locations designated by the warranty company.

You may choose to buy an extended warranty when you buy your car, but many companies also allow you to buy coverage later. Whichever option you choose, research and careful consideration of your needs will help you get the most for your money.

How To Donate A Car

When it’s time to get rid of a car, there are plenty of options: Trade it in, sell it to a private party, give it to a child, and so on. However, car donation is a good option for owners who want to do something for charity as well as benefit from a tax deduction at the same time. Here is how to donate a vehicle as well as some pros and cons of doing so.

The first thing to do is decide what charity/cause to support when donating a vehicle. There are a number of charitable organizations that run their own car donation programs, including Purple Heart (which helps veterans), or the National Kidney Foundation. Most charitable entities, however, do not have their own donation program.

If there is a cause that interests you, and the charity does not have their own donation service, there are many other donation groups that take cars, sell them, and send the proceeds to the charity of the donor’s choosing.

Tax Deduction
To receive a tax deduction for a donated vehicle, the donor must choose to itemize their deductions on an income tax form. When doing this, the individual is allowed to deduct the full price provided it sells for over $500. If it sells for less than $500, the donor is allowed to decide whether to deduct what he/she considers to be the fair market value (as long as that amount is less than $500) or the price the car sold for.

It should be noted that donated cars are sold for less than what one might get selling it to a private party, as the charities are more interested in selling the car than obtaining a great price for it.

Selling your car privately will generally yield the greatest return. But donating your car can be a better option (sometimes) than trading it in, or investing in costly repairs. Trade-ins usually don’t net a good price from a dealer, and the ROI on repairs is unknown depending on vehicle condition and mileage. In many cases, donating a car is simply a better investment, and we can feel good about it.

Free Car Donation Services
Most car donation companies will tow your car for free, running or not, and handle all necessary paperwork. The process is simple and costs nothing.

Check out the car donation video below to learn more.

Fishy Car Repair

There’s an old adage in the car repair business. Never, ever, piss off a tech. It’s kind of like telling a doctor they’re a jerk just before they operate.

Auto mechanics have a tough job in a tough environment. Sometimes they vent their frustrations on car repair customers – it doesn’t take much to tick them off. The video below highlights some of the creative abilities of mechanics.

Enjoy the video!
~ Ted

Car Repair Video

Car Maintenance: Will it Really Help Gas Mileage?

Does auto maintenance really save gas mileage?

As gas prices continue to rise, the auto industry is out in full force touting the benefits of car maintenance. Many repair shops even have custom “fuel saver” services. While maintaining one’s car is indeed important, does it really save gas? Before we answer this, let’s step back and look at auto maintenance for today’s cars.

The first question we need to ask is – what does my car need (according to the manufacturer) for it to be considered “maintained.” Today’s cars no longer have distributor caps, rotors, points, and a variety of other ignition components – so these don’t need maintenance. Many vehicles now come with extended service parts such as 100,000-mile platinum spark plugs and life-time fuel filters.

Oil change intervals have been extended to 5,000 miles or more. The 3,000-mile oil change is ancient history. Coolant flushes and transmission services aren’t needed until 100,000 miles, if at all.

Yet, even if we performed all the above services, will they increase fuel efficiency? Probably not. Unless your vehicle is misfiring (i.e., not running on all cylinders), you’re gas mileage is likely fine.

So what part of car maintenance adversely effects gas mileage for the average driver of a late model vehicle? Three things: tire pressure, air filters, and excess carbon.

Tire Pressure: Setting your tire pressure is free, and is the best maintenance service you can perform to maintain maximum fuel efficiency. It’s that simple.

Air Filters: Air filters can indeed get plugged after a considerable amount of driving and can then restrict air flow, which will not allow your fuel to burn efficiently. This can also cause excess carbon build-up, which can reduce miles per gallon. The good news: air filters are cheap ($15 to $30), are easy to install, and usually only need replacement every 30,000 miles.

Excess Carbon: There is another auto maintenance service that “can” help gas mileage. It’s called a fuel system cleaning service. Some repair centers call it fuel injector auto maintenance, or a fuel injection service. Simply, chemicals are added to your fuel system through a variety of orifices to clean out excess carbon deposits on your valves, pistons and intake manifold. This naturally forming carbon (in excess) is not good for gas mileage. Excess carbon absorbs gasoline, which would otherwise be used to power your vehicle.

However, before you run out and spend the $150 + to have a fuel injection service performed, there is one important consideration – the service will only work for vehicles that need it. In other words, yes the stuff works, but you’re vehicle may not have any excess carbon build-up. You wouldn’t wash clean clothes – right?

When you see those “fuel saver” services for $100 to $300, they’ll likely include an air filter, tire pressure check, and a fuel system cleaning service. If you’re wondering whether or not your vehicle needs it, ask yourself the following:

  1. Do I use quality gasoline consistently?
  2. Have I replaced my air filter at least every 30,000 miles?
  3. Have I checked my tire pressure recently?

If you can answer these questions affirmatively, you’re probably OK. Buying cheap, no-name gas once-in-awhile is OK. Replacing the air filter and setting your tire pressure is common sense. Also, if you drive like grandma, get out on the highway and press the vertical pedal at your right foot “all the way to the floor” until your vehicle accelerates to speeds at which you’re not all too entirely comfortable. Then repeat a few more times. This will help clean out excess carbon – FREE – less the cost of fuel. Be careful. Watch out for cops.

In summary, follow your manufacturer guidelines for your car’s maintenance – not those designed by those who stand to benefit most. Use name-brand fuel, set your tire pressure now and again, pop in an air filter, according to your car’s recommended interval, and don’t be afraid to drop the hammer now and again.

Hope this helps.

~ Ted

Is The Dealer More Expensive For Auto Repair?

Do dealers charge higher car repair prices? There are many who assume that local repair shops charge significantly less than the dealer for auto repair. While at times they certainly do; it’s not something one can bank on, nor compare – easily anyway.

We have to consider what type of service, parts, and quality of workmanship we are getting for our money at a local repair shop.

For example, a local shop can easily under-price a dealer by using aftermarket parts. However,these parts may be inferior and actually cost us more money in the long run.

During a recent interview, a woman stated that she called her dealership for a quote for front brake pads and rotors. Since the price from her local service center was the same, she had the local shop do the work. She was happy that, in her mind, she got a fair deal. But did she…?

What really happened was that the local repair shop used inferior aftermarket disc brake pads and rotors. Even though the labor rate was less, and the parts were less, she paid the same price as a dealer. A dealer would have had a certified technician install factory parts. Instead, she got inferior parts installed by some local guy.

Her repairs may not necessarily be unsafe. The parts may work fine. However, does it make sense (for the same money) to do this? Did this woman get a good value? No – she got ripped-off. The local repair shop marked up the parts and labor beyond reason.

What do you think?

Auto Repair – Is Your Mechanic Lying?

How do you know when your car repair costs are fair? There’s an old sales joke: How do you know when a salesman is lying? Answer: His lips are moving!

Similarly, when a mechanic is chatting about your car trouble, he’s often embellishing. The reasons for this requires a separate eBook, but incompetence, profit motives, and ignorance are the top three, and will provide the necessary backdrop for our discussion here. The following real-life example and the subsequent tips will help you recognize the danger signals during your next auto repair.

The repair customer in our example came to us with a common automotive complaint – squeaking brakes. You may have asked similar questions as him: Should my brakes be squeaking? Does it mean that I need brakes? Do they just need to break-in? The responses to these simple questions can get quite elaborate from the plethora of amateur mechanics in the field.

The original customer comments below have been edited here for grammar and context.

He writes:

My front brake pads were replaced recently, but the new ones only lasted a week before squeaking horribly at every stop. I returned to my repair shop and they said that I must have got a bad set of brake pads.

They installed a second set of brake pads, but apparently forgot to resurface or replace the rotors so the new brake pads went bad again, as this time I felt excessive vibrations in the steering when the brakes were applied at highway speeds.

They put on a third set of brake pads and installed new disc brake rotors. However, the third set was squeaking intermittently for over two months. When I returned again (the fourth time), they said it was just a rough spot that had to wear through. It didn’t.

Next, they proceeded to put on a different type of pad, stating that the last set “did not hold up.” It “seems” okay now.

The fact that this particular auto repair shop installed different types of brake pads suggests several things.

  1. The repair shop likely installed cheap aftermarket brake parts originally.
  2. They installed the wrong parts.
  3. They installed the wrong brake pads from a “material/OEM” standpoint.
  4. The brake replacement procedure was done incorrectly.
  5. They failed to recognize another brake component contributing to the squeak – a sticking caliper perhaps.
  6. They didn’t service the calipers properly during service – a very common error.
  7. Potentially all of the above at some point during the five attempts to fix a simple brake squeak on a car that “never” had squeaking brakes prior to this particular shop’s “Expert Brake Service.”

Brake pads do not cause vibrations. The condition the customer was describing is technically called “pulsating,” and is caused by the disc brake rotors being out-of-round. This is what was causing the “vibration.” The brake rotors were not replaced the first time – they should have been. Putting new brake pads on old, warped brake rotors are what caused the customer to notice the car’s vibrating steering wheel during high-speed braking.

Finally, the statement that the brakes had a “rough spot” and needed to wear through is a classic load of crap!

Auto Repair Help – Tips:

  1. Vague terminology like a “bad set of brake pads” is a signal that you’re dealing with an amateur
  2. Forgetting to do a certain procedure (i.e., installing new disc brake rotors) on a critical safety system such as brakes is a strong signal to run like hell
  3. Rough spots that your vehicle’s brake system needs to “wear through” are a mechanics way of telling you to go away in the hope that the real issue with your car will miraculously go away too
  4. If your shop is installing parts that just don’t “hold up” on a “brake system” take this as a clear signal that they may not have your best interest at hand

Happy driving!

Auto Repair – Just How Much Fraud Is There?

There are still skeptics, but the following illustrates the depth of fraud? We received an inquiry from a reporter recently with one simple question – how much fraud is there? We thought we’d share our response here as well:

You ask a great question. RepairTrust studies show that 98% of all car repair shops are charging excessively in one form or another. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that automotive service consumers are scammed tens of billions of dollars every year. And repair shops—dealerships, local shops, and franchises—are repeatedly at the top of consumer complaint lists every year.

RepairTrust Consumer Surveys indicate the following…

  • 86% of repair customers stated car repair prices are either too high or outrageous
  • 78% of car repair customers suspect that they pay too much for car repair
  • 70% are concerned about getting overcharged for car repair
  • 40% stated that they knew they were overcharged for car repair
  • 73% want a resource to determine fair car repair prices
  • 78% want information that will help them avoid car repair scams
  • 69% want information that would allow them to advocate for themselves
  • 62% want information that will help lower car repair costs

It’s important to note that there are three broad areas of car repair fraud:

Consumer Fraud – this is probably the area that you’re looking to investigate, and the area with which most are familiar

Warranty Fraud – very few realize the millions stolen from the vehicle manufacture by their dealer partner

Dealer Fraud – In-house fraud, or one department stealing from another (e.g., a service department billing fraudulent repairs to a sales department)

The information that we’ve collected from the auto repair industry is massive. We encourage folks to Get the eBook to discover more and learn how to save money.

~ Ted Olson
Founder –

Will Driving 55 MPH Save Gas?

If we slow down do we save MPG?

In the current gas crisis, many are touting the benefits of auto maintenance, hybrid cars, and driving-style strategies. Some suggestions are better than others. One, however, is down right dangerous – Driving 55 MPH.

Although a reduced driving speed does indeed save gas, there are three scenarios that will occur should one maintain such a cruising speed. They may happen individually or all at once.

Cussed Out: You will be sworn at, glared at, and thought of as an imbecile. This annoyance by your driving compatriots is justified from the perspective of the “go-with-the-flow” commuter attitude. It may even be argued that your efforts at fuel conservation are causing a domino effect, forcing thousands of vehicles to “hit the brakes,” which is one of the greatest wastes of energy for a car.

Cut Off: Cars will be whizzing by you left and right. Many will cut in front of you based on the aforementioned commuter logic. Getting cut off is not fun, and can waste energy (as you slam on the brakes). It will also significantly increase your chances of crashing, which is never a good gas savings method.

Killed: Of course crashing can greatly increase your chances of getting killed, or killing others. What is the death risk-factor to fuel savings worth? Should one opt for the latter, is that decision fair to the driving community?

To confirm the above, a panic-stricken, professional woman related the horrors of when she tried to drive 55 MPH during her commute. She stated that she was cussed out, cut off and “damn near killed.” Fellow commuters were making rude hand gestures, swearing, honking, and swerving in front of her of car. Fun stuff.

Until we get every driver to govern one’s vehicle to 55 MPH it’s probably best to go with the flow. In the mean time, check your tire pressure, and keep your vehicle maintained according to your manufacturer’s recommendations to save on gas.

Auto Repair – Tire Tips

I recently replaced the tires on my wife’s minivan. I decided to try a local facility that looked like it had its act together – and they did specialize in tires. I did my research at my favorite online tire resource ( and picked out 4 Yokohamas. Tip – be very wary of what your repair shop recommends for tires – do your research! Don’t just have them install what they have in stock – unless they’re good tires, of course.

I let the local auto repair shop sell me the tires, as by the time I had them shipped and installed – it just wasn’t worth the savings, which was minimal – plus I don’t mind letting shops make money – I made money for 20 years in the auto repair industry.

Prior to the work, I negotiated free installation (mounting and balancing), free disposal, free valve stems, a discounted alignment, and free nitrogen inflation. Tip – you can almost always negotiate auto service.

They did the work for a fair price and got it done when they said they would. That these two things were achieved at all was a miracle. However, they did screw up…

They put the wrong wheel weights on! Wheel weights are those little aluminum things they bang on to the outside edge of our rims to balance our tires. This may seem like a minor point, but it bugs the hell out of me.

Here’s why:

  1. The wrong wheel weights look like crap
  2. They fit poorly, and thus actually scratch the protective coating on the aluminum rims
  3. The scratched areas will corrode my rims, contribute to tire leaks, and make my shiny rims dull
  4. The weights don’t fit securely and can fall off, causing vibration, and requiring me to have my wheels balanced again and/or prematurely. A wheel weight that falls off while driving can also chip the paint on my fender.
  5. Did I mention they look like crap? 🙂

Click for more tips on tires