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This is why you should learn to do your own car work:

My 93 MR2 needs a new brake master cylinder. In a fit of pure laziness I took it to the local shop. Otherwise I’d have to trailer the thing out to my friend’s garage, and get hot and sweaty and dirty. They quoted me $600 for the job. $280 for the part, $20 for brake fluid, and the rest for labor.

It’s amazing how fast you can stop being lazy when the price is that high. I sourced the part for $40. That plus some brake fluid, and maybe an hour wrenching on the car, and I’ll be done for less than $100.

There are real, tangible savings to be had if you do your own car work. This is just one example.

You can make the same statement about many different types of repair or construction work, not just auto repair. Do the weed and bug spraying yourself, run that cable or pipe yourself, do that plumbing or electrical work yourself, but it is always auto repair that takes the hit when someone says “I could do that cheaper if I did it myself” well what a startling concept.

I kind of draw the line with home surgery or other medical treatments.

True, but my electrician doesn’t charge a 700% markup on a light switch.

Well, if students could teach themselves, I would be out of a job.
I was replacing a water pump once on my car and was turning the air blue. A friend of mine who lived around the corner came padding over and looked at the job. “Why are you doing that?” he asked. “There are mechanics who can do that job at least twice as fast, probably do a better job, and don’t pollute the air while they are doing it. Use my rule: if it looks like it is going to take more than an hour to do a job, hire someone to do it”. I rather liked his rule–I call it Wes’s rule. I use Wes’s rule to get out of all kinds of work that I don’t want to do.

I grew up in a house where we didn’t have much, so we learned to do a lot for ourselves. When I was starting out, I had to do as much of my automotive maintenace and repair myself as possible. I can now afford to have a great independent shop do my work. This shop no doubt does the work better than I would do the job and it frees up my time.

If I enjoyed doing my own automotive work, that would be one thing. Since I would rather do something else, I’m glad to give someone else the job. On the other hand, I enjoy gardening. I could buy my produce at the grocery, but I like to grow my own corn and beans.

I couldn’t agree more. I was taught to be self sufficient at a very young age. Been doing almost everything for myself since I could hold a wrench or hammer. One of the biggest reasons I am where I am today is because I bought used cars and fixed them myself. Never had an auto loan and buy cars with cash.

One time, and one time only, I decided to let a local dealership work on one of my trucks that cr@pped out. Too many things going on, had enough money to afford it, yada yada.

I had an idea by the failure mode it was the fuel pump. I get a call from them that afternoon- $860 and they still don’t know what is wrong!?! Whole new ignition system; distributor module, plugs, wires, etc. I asked them, did you check the fuel pressure? Nope, they want to replace all this stuff first because it needs it. WTH! Button it back up, I’ll be down to pick it up in 15 minutes. Took it home, checked fuel pressure, bad pump. Fixed for price of pump (~$100) and 2 hours of my time. Never once been lazy about auto repairs again. I dread the day I am too old to do it myself…

How do you know? Do you really know your electrician’s cost for parts, or are you comparing them to retail prices?

Did you get quotes from more than one shop? Someone who doesn’t have the skills to change a master cylinder might have found a better price for the job.

There’s one glaring difference between your system and the shop’s system. Overhead.

You can buy a 1/2 pound steak at the supermarket for 4 bucks. At a restaurant you will pay far more than 4 bucks for that steak.
You can also shingle your own house for much less than a roofing company will charge and in the right situation you could even do your own appendectomy at home.

There’s nothing wrong with doing your own work if you’re capable of it. The flip side is that shops, both independents and dealers, routinely see vehicles in which the owners have managed to mangle something simple. The car owners then become irate when told that it can’t be straightened out quickly and cheaply.

There’s one glaring difference between your system and the shop’s system. Overhead.
You have a good point. Service technicians need to make a living and there is overhead. I don’t work for nothing and I don’t expect anyone else to do that.

If a job is done right, even though the price may be high, I soon forget about the price. On the other hand, if the job is botched, I never forget about it, even if the price was low.

You’re right, of course. And I have no problem with a shop making a profit if I pay them to do work. That’s the point of opening up a shop - to make money.

However, a 700% markup on parts, and charging $300 for a job that takes one person less than an hour to do, is flat out robbery. I was ready to pay them $250 or so to put in a $40 part, but I’d have to be insane to pay them $600. That’s the price I got charged to replace the car’s clutch a few years back, and that’s a MUCH harder job than replacing the MC.


I should point out that the 700% markup on the part is figured based on the $40 retail that I just paid for the part. There is of course markup on the part that I bought, so actually the shop was marking it up more than 700%

It would take me two days to do what my mechanic can do in two hours. My hourly rate is higher than his, so I gladly pay him for his time.


My mechanic’s hourly rates:

Base shop rate – $90/hour
If you watch – $125/hour
If you help – $150/hour
If you tried to fix it first – $175/hour

The 700% markup I mentioned is actually the markup over standard retail price. If I knew the wholesale price of the part, I could tell you the actual markup, which would be more than 700%.

My electrician generally charges me less than retail for supplies, because he gets them at a discount over the average retail customer, and passes that along to me.

I do agree that another shop might have done it cheaper, but not in my area, as there isn’t another shop anywhere close by.

$40 for a bandaid in the emergency room?

Ignorance has ALWAYS been very expensive. Our children may be college educated but they have NO practical skills. Repair shops are going to take advantage of this. If I owned a shop and discovered people would pay $700 for a new master cylinder, then that is what I would charge.

These are profit based businesses, not charities for the ignorant or lazy or both…

If I owned a shop and discovered people would pay $700 for a new master cylinder, then that is what I would charge.

I’ll then open up a shop down the street and charge only $600 to replace the master cylinder. You will then reduce your price to $500 to undercut me and ultimately the prices we charge will drop where we can make a profit, but aren’t gouging.

Have you guys ever seen those Dept. of Labor stats. about the median salary for mechanics? it is pretty sad (under 40k)Now I did OK (never broke 50k no matter how hard I worked) So I ask, what do you think a mechanic should make? (I can count the 90K guys on one finger) and it is never 40hrs per week.

The guys that made the big bucks, the smart guys, they all specialized in certain makes or repairs. NO mechanic can fix everything on any car, but many claim they can…I knew two guys who opened an independent Volvo shop in Denver. They both drove Benz Roadsters. They were honest and good. When they said it was fixed, it was fixed. The word got out. Volvo’s came from all over…

Tester and Transman do pretty much the same thing today. They are good at what they do and they do it right. I suspect they both make a good living. Dash Monkeys, those guys that could work behind the dashboard, all day long, heater cores, heater and A/c controls, instrument clusters, sound systems, alarms, they all did okay…

Some expert mechanics are not good businessmen from the standpoint that they don’t charge enough for their work. I have had mechanics not charge for something by saying “Oh, I really didn’t do much”. I think these mechanics love their work so much that they ignore the business side.

One good example is the independent shop that does most of my work. Fifteen years ago I had to have the starter replaced and had taken the car to the Western Auto franchise. The new starter would barely crank the engine when the engine was hot–turned it over fine when the engine was cold. The service manager at Western Auto said that they couldn’t duplicate the condition. I took the car to the independent shop–never been there before. The car was hot and the engine would barely crank. He measured the current draw, wrote it down then disconnected the ignition to be certain that the problem wasn’t timing. He put is facts on his letterhead and sent me back to Western Auto. He wouldn’t accept any money. When Western Auto saw who had done the test, they replaced the starter with no questions asked. This independent shop has done my work since that time.

It’s great that so many can learn to do their own work, but it’s important to also respect the fact that many people cannot and should not try to repair their own cars. Mechanical aptitude is as much a gift as financial acumen and “soft skills” that good social workers possess.

Does working on my own car save me money? Absolutely. But those that cannot often possess the skills to do things that I’d get all messed up trying to do. I doubt seriously if I could learn to be a dentist, or an accountant, and I’d make an absolutely terrible therapist. It isn’t lazyness that prevents most people from fixing their own cars, it’s lack of mechanical aptitude or interest. I also don’t think that for most peoepl it’s a financial issue either. Many people living paycheck-to-paycheck don’t do their own work and yet many people with plenty of money do all their own work, and some even do restorations or build hot rods for themselves. Jay Leno is probably the best known example.

IMHO people who are interested should learn to do their own work. People who aren’t would be better to leave their brake jobs to someone who is.

As to the alleged 700% markup let me add this. Whose to say the shop is buying the same part from the same provider? There can be a huge price swing on identical parts even from the same parts house.

Example. Several years back the fuel pump died in my old Lincoln Mark. At the time I checked pump prices from AutoZone, Advance Auto, and O’Reillys. AutoZone had several versions that were within a 100 dollars or so of each other.

The other 2 parts houses had a much wider swing. In a nutshell, both had a number of pumps listed from somewhat over a 100 dollars to well over 700 dollars. There’s a 700% difference right there, and that’s from the same store.

I’ve always been impressed by the professional mechanics that take their time to post on this board and help out posters with automotive questions. If I so much as even look at a bolt on my vehicle, the head automatically gets rounded. If I open the hood and as much as sniff, the radiator will start to leak–I have to hold my breath while checking the oil. I can change a lightbulb and the fuse will blow.

There is also experience that professional mechanics gain that is hard for someone who doesn’t do this work all the time to have. For example, I put a new set of distributor points in the 1952 Dodge my parents owned when I was in high school. The car ran one block and then quit. What I found out was that on Chrysler products of that period, one needed to ream the points where they fit on the post or they would bind up. Professional mechanics who worked with these cars knew that. As I high school kid who thought he knew everything, I got taken down a notch.