Ideas to reduce the price of car repairs?

“Several factors are pushing costs up: heavier, more complex vehicles, new materials and manufacturing methods, a worsening dearth of talented technicians and pandemic-induced supply shortages.”

There’s not much that can be done about the heavier, more complex vehicles, and material/manufacturing methods, but what about the dearth of technicians? It seems like something could be done about that. How about allowing folks needing a job & currently living outside the USA in on work visas? Could immigrants be the solution? Similar to how it is already done in the tech industry?

Meanwhile, talent to repair cars is scarce. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated a longstanding shortage.

In 2019, the average labor rate for repairs was under $50 an hour in the U.S., according to Mitchell. At the end of 2023, it was close to $60. Most of those increases came in 2022 and 2023.

As I have commented on several articles on this subject, both here and on other forums, the fact remains that there is no such thing as a job which cannot be filled. However, there are plenty of jobs which cannot be filled for the pittance which employers wish to pay.

And therein lies the problem. The article mentions seemingly-attractive wages of $60 per hour for professional mechanics, while neglecting to mention the fact that most automotive businesses do not pay clock time (i.e. how long it actually takes to complete a job). Instead, they pay “book time” which is a flat-rate amount of time, based upon some “industry standard” pricebook. Sometimes, the flat-rate time might be reasonable, but sometimes it is completely unrealistic, and guess who ends up losing money? The worker, as always.

And then on top of this blatant wage theft, a professional mechanic is expected to spend many thousands of dollars of his hard-earned money on tools and equipment, subscriptions and software updates for scan tools and similar equipment, etc.

And of course, COVID gave people an opportunity to re-evaluate what they want out of life, insofar as work-life balance, mental and physical health, etc. Is it any wonder that fewer men are getting into the industry, considering that the pay is really not reasonable for what the job entails?

Contractors are having difficulty to recruit and retain quality employees for much of the same reason: they simply don’t want to pay enough. I work in HVAC, and we definitely have a worker shortage. Of course, employers have resisted doing the one thing which is guaranteed to solve the problem: namely to offer higher wages and benefits. Instead, most contractors are trying to push their employees to commission-based pay schemes or piecework pay schemes, which are essentially wage theft.

Of course, new hires quickly discover that they aren’t making the money they were promised, and the time drain (the amount of time you spend at work or doing unpaid tasks for work) far exceeds the pittance you get paid. Then, these new employees quit showing up, because the job is more hassle than it’s worth.

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I understand your point, and it is a good one, but wouldn’t paying the repair-workers more increase the repair costs to the car owner? The topic of this post is how to decrease the owner’s repair costs.

Here’s an idea: What if OBD II diagnostic experts living outside the USA stayed living in their home countries, but were paid to consult w/the local USA mechanics on the diagnosis? They’d have all the manufacturer’s service data at their disposal of course. One advantage, due to their locations & timezones they might be working when the USA mechanics were sleeping, so this might speed up the repair.

Agree with @bcohen2010’s post. The solution will make car repairs cost more as the cost of labor goes up. No doubt. We might spend somewhat less because of better quality, however. The final cost of the repair may decrease since it is not so much hit and miss or throwing parts at the problem.

Outsourcing OBD2 diagnosis would not work in my opinion. No one can diagnose difficult problems with just the OBD codes, it requires testing with the results driving the next step. That must be real-time. Next, how do you teach complicated hardware systems to one who has never seen one in their life? Learning from the book only gets you so far.

I watched a South Main Auto Youtube video today. One code. A charging fault on a Ford F150. The owner threw a new battery and alternator at it and didn’t fix it. (Sound familar??) The tech checked the signal to and from the ecu to the alternator and found low voltage at the control signal. High resistance on the wire from the ecu to alternator. Where?? He knew of 2 Youtube videos of the same problem. His source was a damaged wire in the exact same place as the 2 videos. That is tribal knowledge. You can’t outsouce that to India or Mexico.


The best way to reduces costs is do it your self. How often do you actually have a trouble code versus repair?

In the last month I’ve done brakes. Only the cost of parts, no code. Flushed the brake fluid at a cost of $260, no code but $100 more than I expected. Rotated tires. No code and no charge. Lower control arm replacement, $80 on a lifetime part warranty. No codes. Replaced trans fluid at a cost of $240, no codes but $100 more than last time 30,000 miles ago.

It’s been years since I have had a trouble code pop up and that was covered by warranty. Sorry for not reading this all but why people obsess with trouble codes instead of maintenance is interesting.

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Vehicle manufactures provide live technical support to car dealers at no charge. Technical assistance is available for all vehicle systems.

Is anyone here familiar with a breakout box? They were very helpful for me diagnosing Ford’s pre OBD2 models. And could be a benefit for diagnosing all makes these days.

I agree with “bcohen” that Mechanic’s wages are NOT what’s driving up the cost of vehicle repairs.

Instead, what’s driving up the cost is the complexity of modern vehicles which requires a serious investment in specialized equipment and additional mechanic training while simultaneously reducing the ability the ability of owners and and “outsiders” to perform repairs. Additionally, there’s also the trend of manufactures to “drive repairs to more expensive dealers” by designing parts that require specialized tools for even common maintenance like oil changes.

OTOH, comparing 1982 mechanic’s wages of about $7 / hour, adjusted for inflation, would today be $23 / hour, showing that the wages have barely kept pace with inflation.

I guess my points are:

  1. If the price of repairs has increased we need to look beyond the cost of the mechanic’s labor. Where are the additional repair costs actually going?
  2. If mechanic’s wages in inflation adjusted “real terms” has barely increased in 40 years but the mechanic’s costs of post high school skills training and tools has significantly increased. why would any economically rational kid want to enter the field? To net less than your father was making 40 years ago?

With a handle of beancounter, I’d expect a more thorough review of the costs of employees beyond an hourly rate or salary. :wink: A total compensation statement- something HR loves to trot out, would reveal the true cost to the business for these employees…

While salaries and hourly rates have not blown up, almost everything else has. The employers’ cost for benefits has increased significantly- especially things like health care. The OH costs associated with running a business have gone through the roof as well. The cost of real estate, taxes, interest rates etc. Material costs are up and that includes increases in freight expense. Then there’s the increased cost of electricity, which for the business I am in, has almost doubled.

From the vehicle standpoint, there is the increased cost of technology. Just look at the recent discussion on the cost of a tail lamp with the safety sensors embedded in it.

There is no single smoking gun to attack that will reduce repair costs. Frankly, I don’t see a big incentive for car manufacturers to address this topic. It’s a touchy subject to begin with because consumers do not want to be reminded that their new purchase will break down at some point and need service. Advertising ease of service or low service costs is on the slippery slope of- why, do you expect your product to fail often?


A flat-rate technician where @George_San_Jose1 lives will make at least $35/hour, by law. And in his neighborhood over $50 isn’t unusual.

Specific repair events may be more expensive, but is overall car ownership any more costly now than it was 40-50 years ago? Back when you were lucky to get 30K on a set of tires, coolant needed to be changed every 2 years, you had to do plugs, points/condenser, and cap/rotor every 24K and a valve job at 100K was routine maintenance?

Have you had a bad experience with production-based pay? You don’t mention any of the positives of the flat-rate system, which I believe outweigh the negatives.

I still have my EEC-IV and EEC-V breakout boxes. But now with PCMs having 200 pin connectors and cars having a dozen CAN networks with a bob is getting to be unwieldy and isn’t as helpful anymore.

Oculus, Hololens, Apple Vision, any combined virtual reality and remote viewing technology already exists and is being used. A tech can put on a headset and allow a remote viewer to see what he is seeing and direct the local user to “remove those 3 bolts and probe the red wire” etc. Do you think this additional hardware and manpower will lower the cost of the repair?

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When I was a kid–back in the so-called Good Old Days–if your car didn’t need to be junked by 100k miles because of severe rust damage, you were definitely in store for a ring and valve job.


@VDCdriver You beat me to it… A 100K mile Ohio car was about to be junked for rust so a valve job just wasn’t needed. I remember dad replacing tires at 20K, a timing chain at 35K and maybe a water pump, points and plugs at 20K. The first muffler at 2 years and every 12 to 18 months after. Oh, and batteries every 3 years.

Given the data below, the average yearly pay of an auto mechanic is $49,578, or $953.42 per week or $23.80 per hour which is exactly keeping up with inflation. Keep in mind it is an average. Lube and tire techs would still be classified as auto mechanics making less and senior techs would be making more.

And as @TwinTurbo pointed out, everything ELSE has gone up as much or more than inflation. Health benefits, especially, FAR outpace any other benefit. Environmental costs for proper disposal of waste fluids, rags and the like has also jumped far in excess of inflation.

But on the flip side, those expensive to repair, far more complicated cars are far more reliable in the basic transportation tasks. Plus more rust resistant, so we see Ohio, New York or Michigan based cars reaching 150K to 200K miles for the prices we pay. My $11.5K GM discount V6 Firebird bought new in 1983 would cost $35,000 in today’s money and would be a far better car.

While my comment wasn’t intended to be an academic thesis, with respect to your comments I’d mention that the “Inflation Rate” I used for the Wage comparison was basically the Consumer Price Index / Producers Price Index which generally includes all the cost increases you mentioned with the exception of Income Taxes and Social Security Taxes.
With regard to these taxes, Social Security has basically remained the same while Federal Income Tax percentage has actually declined. For 1982 50% of the tax returns hit a Marginal Tax Rate of 22% or lower but by 2013, 78% of the tax returns were at or below the 15% Marginal Tax Rate. Put another way, in the 30 years after 1982, a HIGHER percentage of taxpayers were in a LOWER Marginal Tax Bracket.

But more important, my original point was that when mechanics’ wages have been barely tracking inflation it’s hard to make a case for them as a cause of escalating repair costs.

I forgot about mufflers!
The only car on which I ever had to replace a muffler was that '74 Volvo, and during the 7 years that I owned it, I had to replace the muffler 3 times.

I didn’t mean to insult you- that’s why the winky face.
As I pointed out, they aren’t the sole cause because there isn’t only one factor but employee costs are certainly part of the reason. And as I thought I made it clear, wages is only one aspect of the cost of employees. Put up an example of total compensation and then we can talk about their contribution to the rising costs. And as I pointed out, there are larger drivers involved.

If, for example, we use George’s suggestion that the labor either be farmed out to LCC or by employing resources that are not bound by the employment laws of the US, the cost would most certainly go down. Not that the company would pass those on to consumers :grinning: but the reality is, there would likely be significant savings just in health care costs…

So true!
now with ten characters…


My 86 park ave ate mufflers about every two years. It was way in the back shirt trips, and steel so rusted out. My 86 riviera though with the muffler in the same location, never needed to be replaced. I suspect because it was stainless. Maybe the usage did it I don’t know but after the 90s never seemed to have a muffler problem.

Actually, after the early '80s I no longer had any muffler problems.
And, regarding that Volvo, I’m wondering if the fact that I used leaded gas (as permitted by the mfr) had anything to do with its very short muffler life.