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Should I have been charged $75 for getting my Check Engine Light turned off?

I took the car in today to inquire about the engine light–I knew it needed to be off in order to pass the IL emissions test. In the past, the mechanics would just turn it off free of charge if there weren’t any serious problems that needed to be addressed right away. From my usual mechanic, I knew the car didn’t seek an immediate mechanical attention: he had mentioned that the catalytic convertor would need to be re-welded at some point in order for the engine light to stay off but that I could in fact drive the car without worrying about any damage to the car. I just happened to see a new mechanic recommended by a friend, who offered the same advice and turned off the engine light, the whole of which couldn’t have taken more than 20 minutes (I wish I had stayed put at the shop, but I was initially given 2 hours to stick around the neighborhood, so I went away for about an hour) but I was charged his hourly rate of $75. As I was handing over the money, I simultaneously recalled the past three times when two other mechanics had done the same for me (granted, during oil changes and/or other services) where the engine light was turned off free of charge. I wish I would’ve said something, but I was so dumbfounded that I instead said, “Oh, that’s not so bad.” My friend seems to think what happened today was unjust, as she believes that he wouldn’t have charged her anything at all for the same “service.”

What’s the norm here? Is what the mechanic did worth the $75?

Turn a Check Engine light off for $75.00?

I’d be rich in a month!

You can turn a Check Engine light off, but it doesn’t fix what’s causing the Check Engine light to come on.


Hi Tester,

Was I duped? Can I rightfully dispute the charge?

You were duped.

But some shops charge what is called a diagnostic fee. And that’s what you paid for.


The shop told me diagnostic stuff was free when I called to asked about bringing in the car.

No, you were not duped. You paid a fair price for the mechanic’s expertise and time to make a determination if there actually was a serious problem and, determining there was not, clear the fault code. He paid a lot of money for his education, equipment, and facilities. That’s what you paid for. If it were me, I would have suggested that you make plans to get the problem corrected before getting the light cleared.

If you have a leak in the converter housing or its connections, you stand a real chance of getting exhaust fumes in the passenger cabin. If you pass out from the CO and hit a bridge abutment, I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I cleared the light and sent you on your way. And if your lawyer discovered I had, then I REALLY couldn’t sleep at night!! I don’t sleep well in cardboard boxes, which is probably all he’d leave me with.

So, let me ask you, how many freebees exactly do you think you’re entitled to from people who have invested heavily in their careers before someone charges you?

the same mountainbike,

I didn’t mean to offend you at all or imply that I expect everything to be done for free. Far from it. I understand it takes years to build knowledge and expertise especially in this field and I’m always very grateful and happy to come across knowledgeable folks and to pay them what is fair.

I’ve since asked people about their experiences with similar situations and have only gathered from their unanimous response that I may have been unjustly charged. My friend who recommended the mechanic to me has brought in numerous cars to him in the past 6 months and he’s put in hours of free diagnostics (diagnostics are supposed to be free at this place).

Please understand that although I might have sounded offended, I was not. I only meant to emphasize that you really need to get the cause fixed and to get you to recognize that free diagnosis isn’t free… only being absorbed by the mechanic through his/her generosity.

If your friend’s place provides free diagnostic services they’re highly unusual. Typical charge is a minimum 1hr shop time, typically $100 to $125. Nobody where I live will do diagnosis or clear lights for free. IMHO you were not duped at all.

I strongly urge you to get that converter repaired or replaced.

Thats a fair charge. You still may not pass the state inspection with out repairing the exhaust leak.

Posters on these forums do not tend to be offended unless personally attacked by someone ignorant of the subject. Your friend sounds like a long time customer of the recommended shop. They could probably receive a pass on a simple diagnosis. You are a new customer. They have no idea if you will be a repeat customer. Autozone and other auto parts stores will do this diagnosis for free on the off chance that you have the expertise to install the part that they may sell you. When I was the exhaust system mechanic at a GM dealership in the mid 1970s if I diagnosed an exhaust leak and the customer declined repair they had to sign a disclaimer.

No. You were not duped. The mechanic works on flat rate and it would be extremely easy for a mechanic to do nothing all day long but turn off CELs and provide codes for free.
The mechanic’s better half would probably object to the working for free policy and the kids would whine because they had walk to school in the snow with no shoes…

Walk into a doctor’s office, the doc looks in your ears, listens to your heartbeat, and the patient gets hit for a 100 dollar bill after being told to take some Tylenol and get some rest.
One of the docs I’ve seen hits me for 300 for doing essentially the same thing.

You weren’t duped but it sounds like you didn’t get your monies worth either. For your diagnostic fee, they should have diagnosed the exact cause of the check engine light and that involves more then just reading the code and resetting it.

But some of that depends on exactly what you requested when you went into the shop. You should have asked up front if there would be a fee. This is a business transaction and should be treated as such.

Lets back up for a minute. Check engine lights don’t get “turned off.” The car is scanned for fault codes, which is just the beginning step in diagnostics. Once the mechanic determines which system is malfunctioning he will (should) search for any applicable service bulletins, use appropriate equipment to test and evaluate the system in question and arrive at a diagnosis as to which if any part is at fault. Then the customer is presented with the findings and an estimated cost for the repair.

Simply turning off the check engine light is akin to an office manager just turning off a fire alarm without checking to see if there is a fire in the building.

Free diagnostics are never free. From the moment the mechanic or shop starts working on the car he is not only looking for a repair to sell, he is also looking for a way to recover the lost pay from doing the free diagnostic. Those who are most capable and experienced in fixing cars never do free diagnostics, they are well aware that their talents are worth something.

Would you trust a dentist that offered free dental exams?

Thank you, everyone. This has been super helpful for sure.

Just to be clear, I talked to the mechanic over the phone before I went in and was told by him (and confirmed by my friend) that the diagnostics were free. I just felt that if turning off the engine light was going to be considered a service, a $75 one at that, that he should have asked or told me before going ahead to do it. That’s all.

I need to be more clear and ask the right questions in the future.

Again, thank you all for taking the time to respond. A public forum at its best!

Your friend that suggested that you take your car to this shop, may have well NOT been charged for the mechanic clearing the code, Because she was a regular customer.
But you come in…never been therebefore, and he has no idea weather you will ever return for him to make a cent from you.
I would do this, but charge you for the service. If you were a regular customer, I wouldn’t…knowing that next month you’ll be back for a brake job, suspension work, or to repair that exhaust…and I’d break even at that time.

If you had gone to your regular mechanic and he not charge you for clearing the code…he may do it because he’ll get the repeat business.


No!but it happens,next time find someone else or ask in advance if they are going to charge you.My daughter almost had this pulled on her,by a tire shop-Kevin

Mechanics don’t work for free…Anyone can turn off a check engine light, (disconnect the negative battery cable for a few seconds) but at some point you will have to address the reason the light is coming on…

I think you were overcharged considering they said diagnostics was free you basically paid $75 to have them disconnect the battery cable ,wait 5 minutes,reconnect the battery cable.You werent paying for their expertise on knowing how to reset the light, a quick google search will tell you how to do it. I wouldnt go back to that shop again.

Why would the mechanic take the time to remove a battery cable, when plugging in the scanner is faster. When he did he probably went thru the codes to be sure that it was not a safety issue and that once erased the light was not going to come right back on when the engine was started again.

I don’t blame the guy for charging. 20 minutes…or whatever it took is worth something.
He invested a lot of time and money in a scanner, training and upkeep of a shop and business and must make a profit for his work. Unless the sign says “Joes Free Tax Exempt Repair Services.”

What if four people came in that day and wanted this done. He’d have over an hours time unpaid for and not know if any of these people will ever come back and let him at least recoup his time and money.


scanning for codes would be considered diagnostics and he said diagnostics was free.he said the $75 fee was for resetting the light,whether he used a scanner to reset it or just disconnected the battery,$75 is a rip off to reset the light.

I think what the guy is doing is advertising free diagnostics and then collecting the $75 diagnostic fee by calling it something else like resetting the light.
free diagnostics but $75 to reset the light? a rose by any other name…
The guy is being shady at best and fraudulent at worst, I wouldn`t trust him or go back to his shop.