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Cost of a distributor repair - is it legit?

Hey there,

So I just had to have my car towed to a shop yesterday when my car wouldn’t turn over after parking, shutting my vehicle off, and coming back to restart about ten minutes later. My car was taken to a shop were they did diagnostics on my car to figure out was wrong. Here is the initial shop diagnostic verbatim on my receipt:
“Check for no start. Found it has no injector pulse or spark. Has no check engine light. Has no power to efi relay. Found no power at ignition fuse in dash. Replace blown fuse and it blew out again. Traced short and found it has internal short in the distributor. Need to replace dist asy/ dist cap and rotor - done.”

My question is this - is it reasonable that I payed $610.54 (after a 5% AAA discount) for labor and the replacement of the distributor asy (?), cap, and rotor? They have a $99/hour diagnostic fee, and it took an hour and a half to figure out what was initially wrong. The cost break-down according to my receipt is as follows:
Job01 Check no start - labor $148.50, mini-fuse-s $6 , Job02 replace dist asy - dist asy-s $291.82, shop supplies misc-n $10, dist cap-s $29.06, rotor-s $8.80 = total balance due (with $297 labor, 345.68 “non taxable”, -32.14 AAA discount) $610.54.

Reasonable price, slightly pricey, or did I just get straight hoodwinked? (Side note, the shop is AAA approved, and has high ratings on the community board here on Car Talk and Yelp.)

What year, engine? With the info you have given I guess it is possible it was reasonable.

A fault in a distributor is not the 1st thing you’d expect in a no start car, so the time to diagnose isn’t out of line, but the charge to diagnose seems high. A distributor assembly is an expensive part, even more expensive on some models (ie Volvo, BMW). Some distributors are not difficult to access and pull and replace, but some can be really difficult. So, it really helps to know the make, model, year, and motor in the car to evaluate the price. If the car is fixed now, then at least they tracked down the root problem. The price seems reasonable for many cars, but that $150 to diagnose is a bit steep.

Uncle Turbo- The OP already said the shop rate is posted at $98 per hour. If the hour and a half seems reasonable, the labor charge to diagnose is right on. The labor to replace the dist. comes in at 3 hours. I have never taken that long but I don’t know what kind of car it is. The part price seems reasonable.

What kind of car do you have? That would help figuring out what the cost of the distributor replacement would be.

As for the diagnosis, where I am there is a standard fee of $90 for diagnosis and testing of a “cranks no start” like yours. That gets you up to an hour of time for testing and troubleshooting. And often the trouble is found in a matter of minutes, in which case I’ll lower the check-out fee. I tell customers that it’s highly unlikely that the trouble won’t be found in an hour, but sometimes an unusual problem comes up that requires additional testing and therefore money.

Replacing a blown fuse and having it blow again immediately tells us that there is either a failed component on that circuit or that there is wiring damage somewhere. Wiring problems can be very time consuming (expensive). You wanted to be sure that replacing the distributor would fix the car, and therefore additional testing was needed. All in all sounds fair to me. What makes you think otherwise? It sounds like your car is running again on a timely basis.

Labor rates vary widely–almost as much as housing costs. Around here $99/hour labor is right on the mark for a small independent shop.

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The OP tagged it as a Toyota Camry, but doesn’t say what year or engine.

Without that information you can’t look up if there’s any TSB’s related to the problem.


I thought that $6 for a mini fuse was too high, but everything else looked Ok to me. If you were waiting on the car and in a hurry, the mechanic may have had to drive to the parts place to get the distributor and included the trip time in the R&R.

Sounds fair to me. If the shop was really going to screw you over they could have easily tacked something onto the bill that stated “4 hours labor tracking short in wire harness” and billed for that over and above what they did.
That’s not to say that 4 hours (and much more) can’t be spent wrestling wire harness issues. It does happen.

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I had a distributor repair done in 1972 that turned out OK. I was having erratic dwell readings for my Ford dual point distributor in a stock 1963 406 cu in 405 hp. When I wiggled the rotor it seemed to have excessive play. I pulled the distributor and took it to a local automotive electric shop named E.H. Burrell. They replaced the shaft bushing, points, condenser, advance springs, and ground wire. They also put it on their machine to set dwell and advance. Total cost $15.45. 20 years later the Bosch alternator in my Fiat was overcharging. I pulled it and took it to E.H. Burrell. The man at the counter said “sounds like a bad black box”. He put it on the machine and the diagnosis was “yep”. He removed the regulator, pulled (from under the counter) and installed a new one. He put the alternator back on the machine and declared “good to go”. Total cost $15.45. How ironic!

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1.5 hours to diagnose the problem is reasonable, b/c a distributor fault is an uncommon cause for this symptom. With the distributor part costing $300, and the time to secure the other related parts and to replace it, I don’t see how you get out of there for much less than $600. Provided the problem is fixed, I think you were treated fairly.

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A thorough diagnosis and a successful repair are usually nothing to complain about. There are many posts on this message board about replacing $2,000 in parts and the “mechanic” can’t get the car started.

You might find a shop that will charge 20% less but I think you should stick with a shop that has been known to do a repair correctly the first time.

Just took my Nissan xterra 2001 to the shop looking on line the distributor and the module are over 300.00 my shop charged me 90.00 for the diagnostic check, and they’re charging me 750.00 out the door. I just don’t have the time to put it in myself or I would for half the cost.

Duly noted…


And another ancient thread rises from the dead.

$750 for all that seems entirely reasonable. Yes, you could have done it yourself, but I’ll bet you made more than $750 by doing your other work that needed doing instead. You made the correct common sense decision. Which is probably the same decision made by most car owners.