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Estimating costs for software

Where would I be able to get a list of cost/prices for estimating repairs for autos?
I am considering writing an estimating software package.

Subscribe to a maintenance site like Alldata, take the standard times they give you, multiply them by you local shop rates, add the parts estimates, and you’re good to go.

Problem is, they’ll only be good for standard work. Anything that requires diagnosis gets iffy. With any kind of “problem”, you never really know until the diagnosis is done or you’re knee-deep in the work. .

Thank you for your suggestion. I will look into alldata.
I understand the issue you laid out, partly why I wan’t to write a software package.

I see that they sell estimating software, wonder if they will sell me the info?
Anyone know where they get their info from?

For 50 years, repair shops have used “Flat Rate Manuals” published by various sources including the car manufacturers themselves to estimate the cost of repairs…Mechanics are paid this way in most shops…

But today, many automotive problems are electronic in nature…Mechanics have to deal with complaints like “My left seat gets much warmer than my right seat no matter where I set the controls…” The range of repair problems becomes limitless…To compound the problem, few mechanics have been trained to deal with these problems…

@Caddyman that is where vehicle specific forums come in handy for repair problems. However some mechanics don’t do there as a (potential) reference too. So they never here of problems that are solved by others on the internet.

I would hope each car maker had an internal forum that is monitored by factory support engineers.

What you’re trying to do is NOT going to be easy. Actually the programming is pretty straight forward. It’s the input that is missing.

Caddyman pointed out to a good part of the problem. Estimating based on symptoms. That’s pretty much impossible to estimate. Oh sure some things will be very easy to estimate…but there are THOUSANDS you’ll never be able estimate accurately.

As for estimating an actual repair. The problem has already been diagnosed…now it’s just fixing the problem. The labor estimating is pretty straight forward once you have the data. You look up the number of hours for a particular job…then multiply that by the hourly rate. HOWEVER now you have to start putting in some added logic into the program. If for example you look up in the database the number of hours to replace a timing belt on a Honda Civic it’ll say something like 5 hours. Then look up the replacement cost of a water pump for the same vehicle…it’ll say something like 5.5 hours. Now someone comes into the shop asking to replace the timing belt AND water pump. Based on the look-ups to the database…it would estimate it to 10.5 hours…HOWEVER…the estimate SHOULD actually be 5.5 hours…since 5 hours of the 5.5 hours is replacing the timing belt. The timing belt MUST be removed to access the water pump. There are many many examples like that. And it’s very specific to the vehicle.

Try this:

let us know if it is any good.

You need to keep a few things in mind. Repair costs will vary a lot by locale, shop labor rates, the parts sourcing and markup, and so on. Two shops in town may have a widely varying price on the same repair. Does that mean the higher priced shop is gouging? No, it could be their particular business has a much higher overhead than the other and they must charge more to make a profit.

Another is that if you check the foreword to flat rate manuals that are currently published you will see a disclaimer in there that those times can be considered guidelines only and do not take into account other factors. (Rusted bolts, having to sort out someone else’s mess, etc, etc)

There are also many repairs in which a solid estimate cannot be given. This usually involves electrical diagnosis and even engine performance problems.

Let me clarify what I am looking for.
I want to write a software application that a shop could use to do estimating.

Where would I get the book time estimates and part costs?

What’s going to be the input???

You want it to estimate based on a specific job??? Or a symptom??

As for parts…Most/all mechanics buy locally. Many of the mechanics here in NH buy from one of the big local parts stores. They call them up and order the part and it’s delivered to them usually within an hour. You would need access to their database for parts. And for the sake of argument…let’s say that they have a DB and will allow you to connect search it. But you’d have to customize it for each parts vendor a mechanic uses. And many parts are dealer items only. A good independent with lots of business will buy parts from many sources. It’s not uncommon for a dealer to have bought from 10 different parts places (local, national chain and dealers) each month.

I don’t think you’ve fully thought this through yet. Before you go further you need to fully define your requirements.

What you’re trying to accomplish has already been done years ago. If you’re looking for paper to work off of then Chiltons and Motor manuals have flat rate labor guides and so on.
Sorting out the thousands of operations is going to be time intensive and there are many operations that will not be found.

Check this site out.

This is what I want to do.
What I need is the information that I expect ultimately comes from the manufacturer and that is, how long does it take and what else needs to be removed to replace a front seal or to replace an alternator, also how much will the part(s) cost.
What I want to do is to write my own version of the software in this demo.

You may have the programming skills…but you’re missing a lot of information before you can even think to start a project like this.

Mitchell is one of the big names in repair cost estimating. Looks like they now have a software package. Years ago a shop would buy their manuals and look up the repair estimates. Now it’s software.

Mitchell is a fairly large corporation. They had to BUY the data from all the different dealers. Also buy access to a companies parts inventory. Probably more then one. The data isn’t going to be free. It’ll cost you…and I don’t mean a couple hundred bucks…probably more like several thousand to each data vendor.

Companies may now have this on the web as a Web Service or (WCF) for you to access. This would be the ideal situation. Then you just access their database via the software you write. This could be a monthly service fee or a one time fee…but either case it’s NOT going to be cheap.

I’m also assuming this is going to be a Web Based application (Java or .net). C# .NET would be the preferred choice for this type of application.

Getting access to a parts database may be doable. But the labor estimating could be tricky. You have a lot more research to do. Not sure where you’d start.

By manufacturer I assume you mean the entity that actually builds the car for the labor operation in question.
Manufacturer labor times are for warranty purposes only and to be blunt, those times are horribly misguided and dreamed up by people with no clue.

Warranty times will not, nor should they be, used in the day to day estimates for customer pay repair work.

The manufactuers all have their own people (misguided though they be) to set up warranty operations.

I’m NOT sure where the labor estimations actually comes from. Is it the manufacture…I know All Data and Mitchell have labor numbers…Where do they get theirs from?? Do they actually figure it out themselves…Contract it out to independent garages?? If it’s their own data…then they are NOT going to share it. They’d be shooting themselves in the foot if they did.

I understand that, thats why I’m asking if anyone knows where it comes from. I guess I should say where it can be purchased from…

I don’t know…

My gut feeling is that it’s their own propitiatory data. And they’re NOT going to sell it a potential competitor.

I can’t say for sure but my gut feeling (as far as non-factory labor guides are concerned) is that the publishers probably use random surveys in conjunction with established warranty times to figure out the customer pay time. A general rule of thumb is 1.5 - 2 X the factory warranty rates, although there is a lot of variance in there. It’s a murky area.

The car makers figure warranty times by their personal experience and with tests but this method is flawed. They’re dealing with parts and units that have never been subjected to fluids, rust, heat, and so on and they also have a vested interest in paring those times down to a “can’t be done” range.

I agree; it’s proprietary info. The publishers charge a lot of money for books and software and the high price is to cover the cost of getting to that publishing point.