Was I taken for a ride?
September 4, 2008 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Did I get ripped off by my mechanic?

I have a 1988 BMW 535i sedan, 6 cylinder. Today he replaced the power steering hoses and the antenna. He charged me $344 for parts and $570 in labor. Service includes a hand car wash. Was I ripped off?
posted by Brocktoon to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
How many hours of labor did they perform?
posted by tristeza at 6:18 PM on September 4, 2008

Changing power steering hoses can be tricky, and I wouldn't doubt 3-4 hours of labor.
posted by sanka at 6:33 PM on September 4, 2008

Auto mechanics in the US usually have a standard labor rate for a given repair - you could easily call another shop and ask what the labor cost is on those jobs on that car, and they should be able to give you a quote out of the book. I'm not precisely sure which accreditation requires that they use the standard rate, but as long it wasn't some dude in his carport, they probably had it.

(It's by make and model, too - for example, some cars the timing belt is a one-hour job, but on my old truck it was a four-hour job, because they would have to remove the entire radiator to get at it. )
posted by restless_nomad at 6:39 PM on September 4, 2008

If you could have done it you would have wouldn't you?

Plus was it a car wash or a detailing? Around here detailing can go upwards of 500.
posted by Max Power at 6:40 PM on September 4, 2008

There's not enough information here for anyone to assess this. Best thing to do is call around to other BMW mechanics and ask them to give an estimate for the same work. But at minimum we're going to need hour many hours he charged you and what his per-hour rate is. Then it's a judgement call on whether this is fair or not.

You can use Real OEM or Tischer to get a handle on the cost of parts.

Then you can search around for a BMW Technical Service Bulletin (TBS) which are produced by BMW NA and used by BMW mechanics to repair things. These Bulletins are not for public eyes, however. They will give you a rundown of exactly what work is performed, and how long it should take.

You could also ask your question at Bimmerforums.
posted by luckypozzo at 6:45 PM on September 4, 2008

you got ripped off.
posted by patnok at 7:36 PM on September 4, 2008

Shops usually use a program called AllData to pull their labor estimates. I needed to find the cost of some work on an old Toyota and the work was universally 500+ (clutch on an AWD Tercel). I had a friend pull up the worksheet on that procedure and the estimate was exactly what everyone else had quoted me.
posted by tmt at 9:21 PM on September 4, 2008

Thanks, but the question is "did I get ripped off", not "how do I find out if I was ripped off".
posted by Brocktoon at 11:11 PM on September 4, 2008

Do what restless_nomad and luckypozzo say, unless you have more faith in the wonderweb than in your mechanic. If this is the case, you need a new mechanic and the answer is irrelevant.
posted by onedarkride at 3:19 AM on September 5, 2008

That actually sounds about right for that repair. It's expensive, but it doesn't sound out of sorts.
posted by Citrus at 7:37 AM on September 5, 2008

I think you got overcharged. RepairPal says the power steering hose replacement should be ~$403, at most, for parts and labor. They didn't have an estimate for the antenna, but I did find the OEM antenna & motor for $156.89 at Bimmer Specialist.

So that gives you with roughly $560 in repairs and you paid $914. I doubt the labor on the antenna install was $364, but you never know.

And it's entirely possible that RepairPal is wrong about the power steering pump estimate, but it looked pretty realistic for my car (99 Subaru). But if it's right you probably overpaid.
posted by PFL at 7:42 AM on September 5, 2008

Oh and here's the links for Repairpal and Bimmer Specialist.
posted by PFL at 7:43 AM on September 5, 2008

Thanks, but the question is "did I get ripped off", not "how do I find out if I was ripped off".

Thje only way to know if you got ripped off is to find out....if you got ripped off. Simple calculus. If you don't know how many hours of work they did, and what they charge per hour (which you, uh, have to "find out"), you can't answer this question.
posted by tristeza at 9:48 AM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tristeza: so I should have stood there with my stopwatch and timed him? If he's ripping me off, how much faith can I put into how long he says it took to fix the car?

For what it's worth, I don't think the total hours in labor and the hourly rate are listed on the invoice.

Here's your "simple calculus": The mechanic did X work and charged Y dollars. Did the mechanic charge too many Y dollars for X work, based on general community experience or knowledge?
posted by Brocktoon at 10:30 AM on September 5, 2008

I see where you're coming from. But, you really do need some basic info from them - call and just ask "what's your hourly labor charge"? Anonymously.

If they say "$65/hour" then you likely got fucked. You need at least this basic info to get to the bottom of this.
posted by tristeza at 11:04 AM on September 5, 2008

I'm not sure I fully explained what I meant. Some mechanics (most that I've encountered, other than the dude who had a toolkit in the back of his pickup truck and the roadie who would work for pot) use a fixed list of labor rates for specific repairs.

For example, if I go in to get my fuel pump replaced, they pull out the book, look up the make and model, and it says "Fuel pump: 3 hours labor." They then charge me 3 hours x their hourly rate - no matter what time it actually takes them to do it.

This is designed to prevent mechanics from dawdling on jobs so they can jack up the price - it's in their financial interest to work faster than the book so they can finish more jobs, and it works in my favor too by giving me a predictable cost and one I can compare to other shops.

Assuming your mechanic follows these rules - and you would have to actually ask them - then you need to know: what they billed you for (a. replace power steering hoses, b. replace antenna,) and what their hourly rate is. With those two pieces of information, you can then figure out if they billed you correctly or if they tacked on charges or whatever. (Look for things like disposal fees, labor for the diagnosis - many places charge a flat 1 hour to diagnose the issue, even if it actually takes five minutes - and that sort of thing.

Did they give you an itemized bill? They should have - that will help. Your question doesn't have enough info for anyone to provide an answer, but hopefully you can figure it out with what we've been able to tell you.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:18 PM on September 5, 2008

If you treat your mechanic the way you are treating people who are trying to help here, I'll guarantee you he didn't cut any slack on the bill.

The price sounds fair to me.
posted by hwyengr at 9:22 PM on September 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

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