Car Repair Prices: Jiving the Talk, Jacking the Price

The automotive industry is expanding its vocabulary. For decades service customers were accustomed to such greetings as “Yeah, wudda ya want?” Or such in-depth diagnostic explanations as “It’s all set!” The industry is learning that it can’t get away with this “Joe’s Garage mentality” of service. What the industry has learned is to pack its vocabulary with value, real or fabricated.

Most service facilities get the repair description from the technician. A typical technician’s description of a repair is quite brief. He may write: “Changed oil.” If one is lucky, he may add, “and filter” too. For an oil change this may be good enough to justify the $29.95.

However, what if there was a serious diagnostic problem such as a car not shifting gears properly? What if the technician determines the vehicle needs a new transmission for $3700. A description stating: “Replaced trans,” for a whopping $3700 does not justify the expense—it doesn’t show the value.

To be sure, most repair shops still practice abbreviated descriptions; however, the sharper ones have discovered the value of jive talk. Jive talk is technical jargon used to embellish the repair or service description to inflate the price.

Some jive talk is justifiable, as today’s cars are very technical. Here’s a description that shows the value for transmission diagnostics and replacement:

Customers Complaint: Vehicle consistently hesitates when shifting between first and second gears.

Cause/Description: (Technician notes)…

Step One: Road tested vehicle. Mileage documentation 5 miles: 37,455 to 37,460. Confirmed customer’s concern. Vehicle is not shifting properly between first and second gears. Performed basic and visual inspections: no signs of exterior damage, transmission fluid clean and full, external conditions normal.

Step Two: Set up diagnostic equipment and performed full diagnostic scan. Retrieved multiple transmission codes” 0032—shift solenoid malfunction, 0098—park indicator malfunction, 0098—torque converter error, 0987—transmission control module fault.

Step Three: Per manufacturer guidelines, began diagnostic tests to pinpoint error. Cleared all trouble codes, recalibrated transmission and shift points, and road tested vehicle. Mileage documentation 4 miles: 37460 to 37464. No change in shifting concern. Rescanned vehicle, all codes returned.

Step Four: Continued tests per factory guides: Removed all necessary parts and hardware in order lower transmission pan to inspect valve body. Valve body intact, but found particles of metal at the bottom of the transmission pan.

Step Five: Continuing diagnostic evaluation, removed valve body to inspect. Found damaged retaining pin on top off valve body. Suspect major internal transmission fault.

Step Six: Dismantled transmission and found multiple broken and/or fractured transmission components.

Technician Recommendation: Vehicle needs a new or rebuilt transmission. (Estimate with parts and labor break down attached)

I won’t continue with a complete parts and labor outline, but the idea here is that this description (which would continue with the actual step-by-step removal and replacement procedure of the transmission) shows the value. In other words, you’ll be leaving the service facility with documentation longer than a paragraph, which in many ways is comforting—you got what you paid for.

Here’s the twist, the detailed description above was a total fabrication. It was a “real-life” car repair scam. The kind that occurs every day.

While the vehicle did have a transmission problem, it was fixed with the replacement of a new control module and recalibration. The repair should have cost about $900, parts, tax, labor, and diagnostics.

With the industry’s new vocabulary skills, a little bit a jive talk opens wide the door for price-gouging scams.

This is not to say that every facility takes it to the extreme described above. However, by learning how to express itself, the auto repair industry has learned to charge significantly more for car repair prices without actually doing anymore work.