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Charged for an Estimate

My roommate took her 2004 Ford Focus in to the mechanic and has been waiting since yesterday to get an estimate and hear what is wrong with the car (it’s the engine mounts, fyi). The mechanic wants to charge her $130 just to tell her what is wrong with the car. The work is another $400.00.

This seems odd to me. I’ve never been charged by a mechanic to get an estimate.

Any thoughts on this?

Are you sure that you know all of the details?
Is it possible that the $130 would be credited to the bill for replacement of the mounts if she decides to take the car back there for repair?

Just playing Devil’s Advocate for a moment, don’t you think that the mechanic’s time is worth something? Yes, $130 does sound high to me, but nowadays I don’t know anyone who gives estimates free of charge, except perhaps for body shops.

  • generally speaking -
    When charged for an estimate ( home remodeling, appliance repair etc ) that amount is subtracted from the total bill if you decide to use their services.

In my opinion, two hours time is a bit much. Most automotive basic diagnostics ( in my area ) charge one hour.

When you visit your doctor to ‘see what’s wrong’…
You are charged for an office visit !
The doctor does not subtract THAT from the actual appendectomy.

It very much depends on what she asked him to do; if the work involved internal inspection of some sorts, it is legitmate to charge a fee based on the time needed.

These fees are always applied to the cost of the repair.

When there is something wrong with my car that I don’t understand, I’m happy with an educated guess by my mechanic, such as : “if it’s this, it will be about $x, if it’s that, it will be about $y.”

Please give us the whole story.

Thanks to all of your for your feedback. Definitely, the estimate will not be credited to her repair. She did ask them that. It is additional. She went in because the car was almost stalling when she would come to a stop (it’s an automatic). On the phone, they said that they had the car hooked up to a machine to diagnose it for “hours,” but they couldn’t find a problem. When she went in to pick-up the car, they told her that they found the problem and that it was engine mounts.

She was never told that there was a charge for the estimate, it’s not listed anywhere in the office, and it is not on the sheet of paper that she signed when she dropped the car off.

In my 20 something years of driving, I have never been charged for a car estimate… it sounds like I have been extremely lucky since the responses on the board indicate that this is standard. BTW, I sent her to this mechanic, and they have never charged me for the estimate. (not implying that I’m special… I’m just an ordinary girl with apparent luck in this situation).

Maybe she can ask them to put the estimate amount toward her car repair.

I really appreciate all of your help and feedback :slight_smile: I’m not knowledgeable in these areas.

and, oh yah… I do think a mechanic’s time is worth something- ABSOLUTELY… I don’t mean to imply otherwise. It’s a skilled job that I obviously can’t do myself, and I need him. I just thought that the estimate was chalked up to an investment of his time in order to get my business of thousands of dollars per year on car repairs and maintenance.

I’m more educated now. :slight_smile:

I’m thinking that you must live in a busy city. I was in L.A. where a service station had 16 cars waiting for work to be done. He didn’t have time to put you on a list. I drove it around for a while without a radiator fan. I found a place that had time to go to a junkyard and get the entire shroud, motor and fan blade for me because the fan was rusted onto the motor. I got away for $75. Busy places may have to charge for everything.

Yes! We are in LA… that makes sense. She did make an appointment, but they are busy.

That sounds like the charge is for the DIAGNOSIS, not for estimating the repair cost. I think it’s fair for them to want to get paid for spending a couple of hours to (try to) figure what needs fixed. But they shoud have told the customer that there would be a diagnosis fee. Maybe they did and she did not understand, or maybe the way she asked for service made them think she already understood. Sometimes there IS honest miscommunication.

Other peoples’ comments here are correct – I have paid for an estimate (for body work), with the cost being applied to the work if I had the job done.

art1966 is correct - it was the whole hook it up to the diagnostics machine that costs the money. That is standard.

roxy_77 - as maybe clarified by now the charge may be legit for the diagnostic time spent - not the estimate.

HOWEVER - you said that her problem is that the car almost stalls when she comes to a stop.

This is positively and absolutely NOT AT ALL related to engine mounts.

So she might have to give them the $130 for diagnostics - but do not have any work done there and do not take your own car back there.

What kind of a shop is it? A corporate chain-type operation?

I have never seen a machine that could find a bad motor mount…For $530, be SURE the shop GUARANTEES the repair will cure the problem. You DO NOT have to pay for their guesswork…

Just when I think I am on to something, there is Caddyman, so true, no machine says “bad engine mount”, and no bad engine mount causes stalling, no matter how far you want to stretch this.

Hours on a stationary diagnostic machine for a driveability problem? I’d be more inclined to think Tcc problem at first, depending on questioning the owner and actually driving it.

If a car is stalling any decent mechanic would use a machine as a tool for diagnosis. It would imply something more with the running of the car. However they found nothing but bad engine mounts. It could be that the bad engine mount is pulling something away enough to cause the engine to stall. We don’t have all the facts just 2nd hand info from a person who was not there.

That all being said $130 is steep. However stalling issues without a CEL illuminated or codes stored are difficult to diagnose.

What is comes down to is find a trusty decent mechanic and stick to them. You will get no estimate fees if your vehicle shows up for diagnosis only. My mechanic charges for diagnostic work officially. However he has never charged me when a CEL has appeared that he checks when I mention it while performing maintenance.

It has become necessary to charge for the time spent inspecting/diagnosing/estimating for repairs. Walk in customers too often want free diagnosis and estimates which they shop around to curbside parts changers. Shops can’t afford to give away service. An engine mount is a good example of a problem that takes more effort and insight to diagnose than to repair.

Another prime example is fixing electrical problems. For example:

Cleaning up a bad ground connection- $5
Knowing which ground connection to clean- $500

A charge to diagnose a problem is a normal and legitimate charge. The time the bay is tied up, the mechanic’s time, the machinery, someone has to cover it. And then there’s value in just knowing where to look.

As regarding a bad motor mount causing an operational problem, yes that can happen. A bad mount can cause an engine under torque to rotate in such a manner that it can affect its relationship to things like throttle cables. That movement can can operational problems.

Oh good! I’m half right and a wit too. Or is that a half-wit and right.

Estimates are justifiable and necessary in many cases and with modern cars there can be a lot of things to check before even making a half-wild guess. Mechanics work on commission and it would be very easy for a mechanic to diagnose stuff all day long and never earn one dime.

Many people will also come in with no intention whatsoever of fixing one thing. They’re looking for a free diagnosis so they can fix it themselves, have a friend do it, compare the price to another shop, etc. This is not a rare thing to occur.

It’s impossible to say in this case whether the fee was justified or not. That would depend on what the shop was told by the customer about this vibration when the car was taken in.
A shaking or rough engine could be caused by an EEC fault, ignition, fuel, mechanical problems in the engine, etc.
On the surface anyway, charging this much to check engine mounts would be way overboard so it seems to me that some of the story between the car owner and shop is missing.