Has my trusted mechanic taken me for a ride?

Recently I picked up my 2001 Ford Explorer Sportrac 4x4 from my long time and trusted mechanic, and I was taken back by the total on the bill. I took my truck in for simple preventative maintenance, and expected the bill to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 - 450, but it was over $700!

It was almost all labor charges, here are some of the highlights:

-Replaced plugs and wires: $182.40

-Alignment: $205.20

He said it was all based on the book. My first question is where is a public copy of this “book” and my second is did my mechanic take me for a ride?

Thank you,


Explore your world


Not the same vehicle but a tune up on a chevy Astro including plugs/wires/rotor runs about $280. Might be harder to reach since the cover has to be pulled off the engine inside the Astro. A front end alignment without additional problems is $59.65 at a good shop locally. Had it done on a Silverado this week.

Plugs and wires cost sounds about right. I did them on my 97 Crown Vic, cost about $100 for the wires, and another $30 or so for the plugs. Figure the cost of labour and I’d say you might have even gotten a deal for $182, assuming, of course, that your Explorer has a V8. If it has the V6, then it would still be a reasonable cost. The alignment seems a bit much, though.

If they priced everything based on book rate, they seem a little bit high but not too far out of line. The thing is you can get some kinds of work done for a flat rate rather than the book rate if you take your car somewhere other than a dealer. For example, you can usually get a four-wheel alignment for around $50 - $80 flat rate.

“Book rate” is what dealers use. This means they charge labor based on the book published by the manufacturer containing average labor times to complete a given job. There are experienced mechanics who can do the work faster than the book rate, but you still get charged book rate. Conversely, it is possible for you to benefit from book rates if the mechanic is unable to complete the job faster than book rate says due to rusted/stuck bolts or other unexpected problems. So if a given job has a book rate of 2.25 hours, you’ll pay for 2.25 hours of labor whether it takes the mechanic 1 hour or 4.


I see based on re-reading your comments that you didn’t bring it to a dealer. Many independent mechanics use book rate as well. Again, this could work to your advantage under some circumstances, but it’s more likely to work in the mechanic’s favor most of the time.


He said it was all based on the book. My first question is where is a public copy of this “book” and my second is did my mechanic take me for a ride?

Well what he likely means is he charged for X number of hours for each item. Those times are estimates used by dealers and most mechanics. It is a way of being able to tell you how much a job is going to cost before the work is done. I might replace the plugs on two identical cars, but it may take me a lot longer on one car than my friend another because I may work slower or maybe I had a problem with getting a plug out etc. The owner of the car would be changed the same either way.

With out this use of book rates you would never know how much replacing the plugs might cost until after they were replaced.

Now all the book does is to estimate time.  The shop then multiplies the time times their standard rate maybe $40.00 per hour maybe $150.00 per hour.  That is usually published where you can see it.  Last week when I was having some warranty work done, I noticed that the rates for my dealer were $84.00 per hour.  

 There may be additional standard charges for shop supplies (things like paper towels etc.) and of course the charge for any parts used, including the mark-up.  

  I don't know if you got taken for a ride, but frankly there is noting in your message to suggest it.

It depends on which book he’s using. Most use Chiltons and it’s hard to find a public copy. You can purchase one, but they are expensive.
Some public libraries may have one in their reference section.
You could call the local Ford dealer and see what their flat rate time is for comparison purposes.

The plugs/wires sound fair enough but I’m a bit puzzled about the alignment charge.
That sounds high to me.
If you live in a high labor rate area (CA or the eastern seaboard) and a complete 4 wheel alignment was done then I suppose it could be that high.

An independent shop doing an alignment would probably follow a labor guide book whereas many dealers or chain stores/tire shops may have a flat fee for this job; e.g. 50-75 for a 2-wheel, 100 for a 4-wheel alignment, etc.

Sorry I can’t be more exact on this.

Those highlights are impressive but the lowlights are important if you want an accurate or realistic opinion.

Sure. Here’s the full bill:

Tranny Service 98.80
Replace plugs and wires 182.40
Alignment 205.20
Remove tires from rims 38.00
OFL 15.20

Wire set 54.19
Plugs 11.64
Trans Filter kit 29.42
Oil filter 4.34
Oil 11.65
Trans Fluid 15.60

Thank you,

Explore your world


I sincerely appreciate everyone’s input. It looks like I was overcharged on the alignment, but it seems pretty universal that the plugs and wire labor is reasonable.

However, I still have a question: where can I look at this “book” that my mechanic is getting his book rate?

Thank you,

Explore your world

Were you given a estimate on the work that needed to be done? If not… why?

Did you just assume what the cost would be?

I have many customers that have been coming to my shop for a long time, I would never let them leave their vehicle without giving them a estimate on the repairs they wanted done. I give them a estimate and make sure they authorize the work before they leave the shop.

Always get a estimate on work before it is performed, plus specify that any additional repairs must be approved before proceeding.

I will add that the alignment charge could be justified. There is no break down as to what was down. Alignment bushings can be installed to change camber and caster which would explain why the alignment was so expensive. You should ask if this is what was done.

Subscribe to AllData.com for your vehicle. I think you will find that the factory manual has times for all the procedures you had done.

P.S. Your library might have a subscription.

Nobody quite hit on it so I will give you the key words. Google Flat Rate Book. It’s a standard that vehicle mechanics use to price their work. Sometimes it takes longer and sometimes less time. The jobs with unanticipated complications can not be priced high enough to cover costs to cause the customer to scream ripoff and the easy jobs are charged more then they cost. You are caught somewhere within this mess so do what you can at home.

We still do not know your location or what the shop flat rate labor charge is. East and west coasts are higher than the central section.

If the shop has an 80 dollar flat rate hourly charge and if the book allows 1.2 hrs. for each end of the vehicle then that is pretty close to the sum you give.

Also, do not assume that because a book gives a suggested time that a shop must abide by that listed time.

Many people overlook the opening pages in a flat rate book and it will state those times are for:
An average mechanic performing a job in average conditions. It can vary.
It will also state that extra time should be allowed for unforseen circumstances, and anyone who mechanics for a living knows that 9 times out of 10 there is always something else.

The book also says to figure extra time for those rusted or frozen bolts, etc. and this may include repairing things butchered up previously by someone else.

Consider how “easy” an alignment is going to be if the car is a northern rust bucket and every nut and bolt on it is rusted to oblivion.

The book will state that those times listed are to be used as a GUIDE only.
Everything listed there seems to be very fair, so why would they gouge on an alignment?

Thanks, It looks reasonable except for the alignment. I noticed that they didn’t have to replace any steering or suspension parts so I think you got overcharged for the alignment by about $120.00. Seriously, that was high. Usually, you don’t sdd labor just for adjusting the alignment.

Yes, the BOOK. I forgot about that. It is a flat rate manual which tells the average time it should take to perform the repair. The mechanic just multiplies the hours by his hourly labor charge and then bills accordingly. The first time a customer pays his huge bill and asks the mech. where he gets the labor charge from is when he starts to hate that book. It’s not the book that is at fault.

Remove tires from rims 38.00

What kind of preventative maintenance is this?
Even more curious, I don’t see where they were remounted…

as others have said, these charges seem reasonable to me.

the alignment is high, but you don’t know exactly what the mech DID do.

i suspect he shipped it out to a shop that has an alignment machine, and just marked up the cost to you. (unless he actually has an alignment machine.)