Insist on written estimate b4 towing car to shop?

A few days ago, I stopped by a repair shop and talked to the owner about fixing my car. He gave me a verbal repair estimate, but was reluctant to provide a written estimate.

I didn’t push the issue, but it made me think:

Since I’ll need to tow the car to shop, I’d be at a disadvantage without a written estimate in advance–after the car is there, he could give me a written estimate I don’t like, requiring me to tow the car again to different shop.

Would you avoid this situation by insisting on a written estimate in advance?

Depends… If this was a garage I dealt with before and trusted…then yes. If it’s a new shop I never dealt with before…then no.

    <blockquote>Would you avoid this situation by insisting on a written estimate in advance?</blockquote>

You are joking right? No shop I know of would ever give a written estimate, with out even seeing the vehicle. That’s just nuts as depending on where you are, some states laws require that the total can not exceed the estimate by more than 10%. Actually I think that’s nuts no matter where you are.

How can the shop provide an accurate written estimate without actually seeing and evaluating your car? He would be taking your word for what is wrong and then making a financial commitment based on that. I assume you aren’t a mechanic or you’d fix this yourself, so why should he risk his livelihood and reputation by giving you a written estimate before even seeing the car? Do you understand this? Put yourself in his shoes.

Your risk in this is the cost of the tow to his shop. He knows you can spend $50 or a $100 to tow it somewhere else if you don’t like his estimate. The NEXT shop you tow to, knows you just spent another $100 to take your car to his shop and may spend another $100 to take it to the next shop. Not a good position for you but you should be researching shops online and with friends before you tow the car there.

THIS is why you establish a relationship of trust with a shop when you can drive the car in for normal service.

The OP can count this as one more person who does not believe that a mechanic could (or should) provide a written estimate without first seeing and examining the vehicle.

Just as an M.D. is not going to provide a diagnosis without being able to perform some tests and to examine a patient, a mechanic couldn’t possibly provide an accurate estimate for repairs based on a verbal description provided by a customer.

I’m going to amend my statement…If the mechanic hasn’t seen the vehicle…then he can’t give a written estimate. He’s taking your word what needs to be repaired.

Here is a scenario, albeit an extreme one.
Customer walks into a shop, wants an estimate on a water pump for a 2003 Camry V6. Shop informs him that the timing belt will also need to be replaced and well be lets just say the estimate is about $600. Customer asks for that in writing, shop supplies it in writing. Shop get car finds out the water pump went while at 70mph on the road and overheated first. Now the car also has bent valves and a cracked cylinder head. Calls the customer, only now the job is over $2000. What do you think will happen. The customer will expect the shop to stick with the original estimate. Arguments will ensue, legal action will be threatened. Shop will refuse the job after wasting their time and the customers. And in the end everyone loses.

I’ll gladly provide a written (printed) estimate for work to be done on a car that needs to be towed in, provided that there aren’t 5 other customers standing at the counter and the phone isn’t ringing off the hook while you’re waiting. Otherwise I’ll do it later and e-mail it to you. It is reasonable for you to have an idea of what you’ll be paying to fix your car. On the other hand, it is also reasonable for me to know what the car needs before preparing an estimate.

Because of that, the bottom line of the estimate would say in boldface and be highlighted “Estimate subject to revision upon inspection of vehicle.”

So yeah, the written estimate wouldn’t really mean much.

@tomjay - what’s wrong with your car? ‘needs to be towed’ would make me very cautious about giving a written estimate.

Any shop that will give you a written estimate for diagnosis and repairs without seeing the car first is not one you should be bringing your car to. Nobody in the world is smart enough to know for certain what’s actually wrong without seeing the vehicle. Anybody who thinks they are is a fool. Do you want a fool working on your car?

Only if the written estimate includes wording like ;
’‘This is only an ‘‘estimate’’ not a quote s the vehicle has not been evaluated at this shop.’’

The others are right. You’re not going to get a firm estimate until the guy knows what he’s dealing with. Any mechanic who could provide an accurate estimate under such circumstances could be making more money as a psychic medium. :wink:

I don’t know if this is unique to California, but a written estimate is only valid for the service they plan to perform. If they find something else needing fixing and the price will increase, the shop is required to get your approval for the added service and cost. That requirement protects you and the shop. For you, it gives you an idea of what the charges will be and for the shop it doesn’t hold them to a maximum price based on a general estimate.

For that reason, unless you know exactly what service will be performed, a written estimate is not any better than a verbal estimate.

I would think that any shop that is going to take in a car to diagnose would only give a written estimate on the diagnosis. Otherwise, they’re playing psychic.

Define the word…’‘estimate’’.
Being only a mere estimate…the very word states that its just a guess…or ‘‘estimate’’…aka '‘guesstimate’'
remember that when shopping for work, any work , home repairs, dental work, etc.
I get so tired of customers debating and disputing the meaning of the word.
If you want a QUOTE ? now that’s another piece of paper.

You may not like this, but it sounds to me like you’re trying to lock the shop into a repair price on a car they haven’t seen, have no idea really what’s wrong with it, and based entirely on word of mouth symptoms from you which may be divorced from reality.

They tell you X dollars and (as often happens…) this can easily turn into XXX dollars. This is then followed up with “But, you said X…” and bad feelings on both sides.

Any mechanic that would commit to something like this is either very foolish or borderline insane.

What’s the point? A written estimate would be worthless until the car is seen and inspected. Sure he can give you one but it would soon be modified, unless it is something simple like new tires or shocks or something.

Kind of a gray area to me, I had an estimate for work, paid $65 for analysis, passed on the repair, still living with no speedometer, and in winter months oil pressure guage that is not acually a sensor, but an estimator, Car does have an idiot light for oil pressure, and a tach that may or may not work in cold weather.

I care not about the tach or the oil pressure estimator, I have a gps for speedometer and it even gives the speed limits on roads. Now their verbal estimate for replacing and doing whatever of $550 would have been fine if I wanted it done, and I am sure they would have done it for the price quoted.

Now I seem to recall somewhere you need to sign a repair order and get replaced parts back, I trust the shop and do not need a hub assembly and verbal quote for repairs once analized has allways been the final price.

Can you trust everybody out there? No, can I trust the shop I deal with, YES, is there an answer that works in all situations, no. Sorry there is not a clear answer to your question, but request a verbal or written authorization for repairs if you wish, but many times thing a is diagnosed as a problem, and occasionally thing b and c are found to be needing repairs also. Gotta be flexible, it is not brain surgery, but my fathers brain surgery was estimated at 3 hours, and took 17, tumor was wrapped around optical nerve. End of the day there are no positive answers.

I cannot see how any shop could be comfortable giving a written estimate without seeing the car first.

This may explain why it is best to have a trusted shop to take your car to.

Too many variables could come into play and make the job even bigger than what the owner of the vehicle stated. Plus the fact that most car owners don’t know the alternator from the water pump.

Then there is the fact that not all repairs are equal between different manufactures.
Changing of the spark plugs, could be a simple job…unless you are doing as Nissan, where the intake needs to be removed to get to the rear 3 plugs.


A verbal estimate is about the best you can expect in this situation. If you have found this shop to be a good one in the past, I expect the written estimate will be close to the verbal one. Provided there isn’t anything unexpected that needs to be done before the quoted repair can be effected, like if the shop gives you a verbal for replacing the rear struts say, then discovers once the car arrives the rear wheels are all skeewampus b/c the suspension mounts are bent.