Ok, so I need a fuel pump replaced on a 2001 Plymouth Neon. I’ve been getting estimates around $600, but a mechanic two hours away from where I live just quoted me $380. So what price would seem right?
This is a job that has a high low-ball factor. That is to say, this is a job where the book rate (i.e. how long it’s supposed to take) is pretty high since you have to remove the fuel tank, but it’s one of the most common repairs on a modern car and a mechanic who has done it a million times can do it much faster. Hence it is a job that an experienced mechanic that doesn’t do strict flat-rate can low-ball the price on.
The catch is that if there’s a rusted bolt or something and the job takes 3 times longer, the by-the-book shop is going to charge you $600 whereas the low-ball guy might charge you by actual time. So I’ll bet the $600 is an actual quote for how much it absolutely will cost, whereas the $380 is just someone’s estimate of how much it’ll probably cost (often this figure is just what he charged the last person who he did a similar job for).
Of course, there also might be part quality and overhead issues, especially if the $600 shop is in town and the $380 one is way out in the sticks, but generally the by-the-book versus actual time explains most of the difference when you call around for a price.