Tell me about shop prices

Many consumers feel vaguely ? sometimes not so vaguely ? ripped off when we pick up our cars from a shop. We might feel less so if we understood how the shop does things. Some pricing questions: Most shops assess labor costs by multiplying their own hourly rate by the work time indicated in a flat rate manual. Does everyone use the same flat rate manual? Is there an industry standard? If so, is it accessible to the general public on the internet? I understand that a good mechanic usually works faster than the flat rate, but if I want to confirm the shop’s numbers for myself (especially if the work was done while I waited and I know exactly how long it actually took) where can I go? Next, how much are parts marked up? An independent shop (part of a chain) recently charged me more for some parts than a dealer would have charged me at their retail counter. When I asked why their prices were higher than a dealer’s the shop said that it pays full retail for parts and then marks them up by a percentage. Can this be right? Independent shops don’t get professional discounts from dealers and suppliers? Next, the ?shop materials? fee. I understand that there are certain costs associated with the work that can’t be counted as parts or labor, although in most businesses it would just be part of the overhead (a dentist doesn’t charge you separately for his gloves and masks). But when the fee is calculated as a flat percentage of the total bill, it can get pretty substantial, especially if the bill is mostly for expensive parts rather than shop labor. What is a fair way to charge for shop materials, what is a reasonable maximum and what should ring the rip-off alert?

This could go on quite awhile so I will only comment briefly,cooperative and not adversairial (everyone knows I cant spell)will go a long way. Apply this concept when negotiating a price, espically when using the “how much more time are you going to charge me than it actualy took” aproach.

Keep in mind the shop MUST make a profit on EVERYTHING (sorry for shouting) it sells or does.

Be willing to pay top dollar when you get top dollar service.

I am sure others can add,or perhaps challenge my basic way to work the deal. You have to accept what is being done is a skill and don’t degrade what is being done.

Shop supplies is the least of your worries,you want the job done right. As a customer don’t accept someone learning on your car. How else are they to learn? not your problem your paying the bill, be tough in this area, you deserve the best man doing his best work everytime.

When I say “done right” I just don’t mean something like always doing the pump when you do a timing belt, what I mean is everything assembled correctly,torqued correctly,no hack jobs,clean orderly work. Just like or better than when it was new,everytime.

Every shop uses some variation on flat rate, hour rate, expendibles, mark up, disposal fees, etc. to arrive at what they charge you. I think it’s not particularly useful to fret about what any one of these individual charges is, but just to look at the bottom line of what a repair is going to cost. IMHO, so long as a shop is not using these fees to artificially lower an estimate, there’s no problem.

To answer some of your specific questions, shops usually get a moderate (like maybe 20-30%) discount from parts stores like NAPA or Carquest and practically nothing from the dealers. This might depend on the local area as well.

Shops have a variety of overhead costs to pay for, including “shop materials” but also things like the building and the guy who sits up front. Again, some shops try to roll all these costs into the labor charge whereas some do the separate fee. Assuming a the shops have the same overhead (no fair comparing a big multi-line dealer to a little hole-in-the-wall garage), I suspect the overall cost to you the customer is going to be pretty similar regardless of how they arrive at it.

As for being able to actually look at “the book”, the EBSCO Auto Repair Reference Center service my library subscribes to (and allows its patrons online access to) includes flat rates for various repairs on later model vehicles (as well as service manuals). I don’t know if these are exactly the same as the ones most mechanics use, but it should give you a general idea.

Flat Rates Can Vary A Bit From One Shop Or One Source Of Rates To Another. Hourly Labor Rates Can Vary Greatly.

Not every type of repair is done by flat rate. Some are charged as time and materials. Electrical wiring faults, body water leaks, and wind noises are just a few examples. These problems can take a half hour to trouble-shoot and repair or half a day.

Many service departments / shops just barely turn a profit. Some dealers actually operate service departments at a loss to provide service, especially in our battered economy. Charging for shop supplies helps them stay in business and / or be profitable.

(a dentist doesn’t charge you separately for his gloves and masks).” However, have you ever looked at a detailed hospital bill?

It’s the consumer’s job to shop for service on anything. You can call and compare charges at different facilities. All will tell you their labor rate (it is usually posted) and most will tell you the book flat rate times for specific repairs, if you ask.

I have found situations like the one described where not only does the independent have to mark up parts prices above dealer prices (sometimes they get very little discount), but I’ve found dealer OEM factory parts that were less expensive than generic aftermarket parts from an auto parts store.

The bottom line is to find a shop that you can trust that gets things right the first time, treats you right, and is timely in repairs and appointments. Even if they charge a bit more, sometimes going first class doesn’t cost, it pays. How much does it cost in time and repair expenses when a place can’t be trusted or you have to get work done twice, or have your car scratched or find grease on the seats?

You have the right to do some or all of the repairs or maintenance yourself. That’s what many of us do.


You’d have to ask these questions at each shop. I’ll be the answers will vary quite a bit. They each have their own way of doing business.

I prefer a different approach. I patronize independent shops (NOT part of any national chain) with good reputations and lots of repeat business. As long as they do good work in a timely fashion I don’t question their prices.

They are in business to make money, and I don’t mind paying a fair price for high quality work.

If a time should come when I feel I’ve been overcharged I will take my business elsewhere, but I’ve been dealing with the same shops for many years and so far this has not happened.

All shops get some sort of discount from their supplier. It does not matter if it’s a parts store or a dealer, if there is some sort of account or agreement they get discounts. If they don’t then they either have not paid their bills or totally ticked off the supplier.

Shops can legally and rightfully charge for shop materials and this is different than operating expenses such as turning on the lights etc.

Be careful about the rip off alarm. Sometimes the rip off alarm is tripped by the cheap skate sensor.

Most shops post their hourly labor rate and tell you how long the job will take. Multiply the rate by the time and you will never be surprised again. Most people are poor organizers and fail themselves when dealing with repair shops. You could be angry at the wrong person.

There is no maximum or minimum, it’s what the smart customer agrees to.

I want to address the “shop materials or hazard waste disposal charges”.

When I first started in this business everything was just dumped in the garbage cans. Oil filters were just thrown out in the garbage, now we have to monitor everything we throw out. We have to drain oil filters as much as we can, then crush them, and then have them hauled away. Our waste oil is monitored for chemicals and if something is in the oil that is not supposed to be they won’t take it.

Antifreeze used to be dumped down the drain, now if we do that we would get in big trouble if we were caught.

The rules and regulations for disposing of waste materials has gotten very strict and it has added to the expenses of a business. But I understand and agree with the need to regulate the disposal of hazardous waste.

Of course everything has a fee attached to it so if I am disposing of your oil or antifreeze you should pay for it.

Be willing to pay top dollar when you get top dollar service.

The old saying…“You get what you pay for.”

It also doesn’t mean that because the shop has high prices the quality is good.

The best way to get the best price and not feel ripped off is to shop around beforehand. Call around to different shops for quotes on service. Include some dealerships, some national chains, and some independent mechanics. Don’t necessarily go with the cheapest. Go with the one that treats you with respect and whose prices are reasonable. You will only know what is reasonable if you comparison shop.

As to the pricing formula, I don’t think this is going to help you. Do you feel ripped off when you go out to eat because you don’t know how much of the price of your steak goes to labor and how much is food cost? I don’t think so. You compare the prices of one restaurant to another restaurant, and you go to the one you like that has reasonable prices, but not necessarily the cheapest.

Regarding the shop that claims it pays full retail and marks them up from there, if that is really so, they are either too lazy to go through a bidding process or they don’t have a decent part supplier in their area. In any case, it pays to shop around.

I can say with confidence that the labor rate they are charging you isn’t what they pay the mechanic who works on your car. That labor rate is an estimate of the salary, benefits, and other overhead expenses, and includes profit for the business owner.