How do I find an objective price for auto repairs?
February 14, 2009 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I normally take my 1999 Accord to the Honda dealership for oil changes. During my last visit, the mechanic suggested a couple of fairly expensive maintenance procedures. Is there a good resource out there to help me decide whether the prices they quoted me were reasonable?

I was told that (1) my left inner CV boot was starting to leak and that (2) my front and side motor mounts were cracked. The mechanic quoted me $220 and $540 for the repairs, respectively.

It seems to me the former is probably worth doing, while the latter isn't. Since that the CV boot itself isn't worth that much, most of the cost is going to go toward labor.

So: Is there an efficient way for me to find a reasonable price for labor, other than simply calling up a bunch of dealers and garages for a quote?
posted by SpringAquifer to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
http://repairpal.com/
posted by JayRwv at 3:50 PM on February 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


You can't typically buy a "CV Boot" as most people dont replace them until its too late, and need a new CV joint anyways -- though you can buy "repair kits" if the leak is pretty minor. On most front wheel drive cars it is simply more economical to buy an entirely new "half shaft" for ~$50. This is the entire system that mounts to the transmission, and to the wheel mount itself.

I replaced mine on my 1995 Camry with NO previous knowledge in 2 hours, and did the second side in 90 minutes.

If you figure mechanic time is $80/hrish, then that should cost you $130-$210/side (I assume a mechanic can do it much faster than I can -- its a pretty basic/simple procedure to replace the half-shaft).

I wouldnt recommend this to anyone; but if it was my OWN car; I would wait until the CV joint started grinding around corners, and replace both sides together AT THAT time. Like brakes, tires, etc -- CV joints tend to go in pairs.

The motor mounts are fairly trivial to replace -- but the mounts themselves tend to be very expensive for OEM parts. I *think* my front motor mount was like $300 for my Maxima, but a 3rd party one was $75.

Both of these repairs are extremely trivial, and any mechanic should be able to quote you a price on the phone. Neither is an art -- just torque things up appropriately. I would ask your friends who they use for mechanics, and bite the bullet and have the work done somewhere. To save yourself the headache of scheduling another appointment in 6 months have both half-shafts replaced now.
posted by SirStan at 3:59 PM on February 14, 2009


With regards to "while the latter isn't.", I hope someone can address that -- the motor mount (incase you dont know is almost like a eye-loop bolt. The bolt mounts to the body, and inside the eye-loop is a hard rubber material that surrounds the engine's attachment bolt. When the mounts go; everything tends to move around more; which seems like it stresses everything more.

What is the risk of not replacing obviously damaged (torn) motor mounts?
posted by SirStan at 4:03 PM on February 14, 2009


I'm not a car guy, so I can't address the specific problems mentioned. But I would say your best resource the find whether to prices quoted are fair, and indeed whether the work is necessary at all, would be a trustworthy mechanic.

While I'm aware they are proverbially difficult to find, you can ask your friends or look online for one in your area. Because I have never in my life heard of a dealership NOT overcharging for repairs.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:32 PM on February 14, 2009


The motor mounts age and need to be replaced by removing the engine from the bay. That's not a bad figure for a dealership service. The car's ten years old, dude. When the motor mounts crack (and it depends on where they're cracked -- if the part on the motor itself is cracked, they need to remove the engine from the engine bay and THEN weld a new mount on!)

The risk of not replacing/repairing the cracked motor mounts is that several Very Bad Things (tm) can happen. The first and sometimes funniest is that the engine can drop out the bottom of the car. It's funny until you realize that the only thing currently holding your car's engine in the vehicle may be the transmission shaft, which can bend. That means you'd need a new engine and transmission if you let it go too long. Another one is that the engine casing could crack under the strain of being held in by the remaining mount or three (depending on which model of Accord and which engine you have.) The last thing that's kinda fun is that you could bend the frame members that the remaining engine mounts that are working are connected to.

I would actually reverse the order that you pointed out -- depending on which part of the engine mounts are cracked, that may be *more* critical, not less.

You can try finding an indie shop to do it, but when we're talking engine mounts, it might not be a bad idea. While they're in there, if you're close to due for one, have them replace the water pump and timing belt. The full service for all that should run around $1200, and even if you're under 110k miles (which is the usual place you'd do it on that generation of Accord, at least with the V6 I have) it's not a bad idea to do it because either one of those things going out would cause major damage... so they may as well do it while they're in there.

Most of the labor cost is to pull the engine from the bay. The CV boot is about 2-3 hours labor and then some parts. Pulling an engine from an Accord is at leaset a four hour job, which is why the cost is much higher.

I am not a mechanic, but I'm a Honda owner that does all his maintenance ('cept for things that involve pulling the engine like this) and my father works for Honda of America so I usually get the straight dope from the service people with a minimum of bullshit and smoke-blowing.
posted by SpecialK at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2009


Correct that: when we're talking engine mounts, it might be a bad idea to go to an independent shop that doesn't work on Hondas regularly. The benefit of going to a dealership to have major work done is that if the major work implodes, you can beat them up about it later by calling Honda of America. When you take it to an indie shop, if the work implodes, there's no higher power than the owner, and he'll just laugh at you.
posted by SpecialK at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2009


Personally, I'd go to HAAS. I found them by looking around on the car talk mechanic files, where they had stellar ratings. They had good ratings everywhere else I looked, including Chicago Reader's survey of consumers. Finding honest mechanics isn't impossible.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:03 PM on February 14, 2009


Seconding RepairPal. I've found it very useful for my 2001 Camry.
posted by anthropoid at 5:05 PM on February 14, 2009


Oh my -- this is all VERY easy work -- no engine pulling involved! (Stealerships charge $125/hr+ .. theres no way they are pulling the motor for $500!).

Also -- the transmission shafts do not support the motor; nor would they ever "Bend" -- the CV joint would rip apart.
posted by SirStan at 5:39 PM on February 14, 2009


I normally take my 1999 Accord to the Honda dealership for oil changes.

Stop doing this. One of the dirty little not-so-secrets out there is that dealerships make most of their money from the service departments. They are always overpriced. Whether you need the repairs is beside the point -- don't get these repairs done at a dealership, and for your own wallet's sake, stop taking your car to a dealership for routine maintenance.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:18 PM on February 14, 2009


but if it was my OWN car; I would wait until the CV joint started grinding around corners, and replace both sides together AT THAT time.

This is horrible, horrible advice. Please purge it from your mind. Leaving a CV joint that is indicating signs of failure (a split boot means the lubrication of the joint is compromised) while you wait for the second one to also fail is asking for trouble. Driving with a damaged CV joint is pretty dangerous, as the failure mode can be the locking of the wheel. This is, to state the obvious, bad.

Like brakes, tires, etc -- CV joints tend to go in pairs.

This is not true.

You can't typically buy a "CV Boot"

This is also not at all true.

You can perfectly easily buy CV boot kits, and they will be a fraction of the cost of the joint itself and certainly a tiny fraction of the cost of a half shaft. Early replacement of a CV boot will save you money - no question. If, during the replacement of the boot, the joint itself looks in any way questionable, change the joint itself at the same time, as (as noted) labour is the largest proportion.

There is absolutely no reason at all, however, to get any of this work done at a dealer. This is basic, basic work and can be done by pretty much anyone. If you really want to insist on OEM parts, buy them yourself but either attempt the work yourself, or take these parts to any garage to get the work completed. At that point, judging the costs of labour is performed at a different magnitude of cost.

Incidentally, there is also no value at all in having a dealer perform your oil changes - as long as the grade and quality of oil is maintained (ie fully synthetic in most cases) an oil change is the most basic maintenance possible. Save your money in future.
posted by Brockles at 6:31 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, as for the engine mounts, 'cracked' is no big deal, really. Usually it doesn't matter too much. However, if the engine mounts are split (the rubber bit in the middle has separated from one side or the other and no longer supporting the engine or isolating it effectively) then you have a different conundrum.

If the engine moves a lot in the engine bay (watch it while someone puts it in and out of gear with the brakes FIRMLY on! If it bounces around a lot and 'kicks', then the engine mounts are no longer effective and you risk more expensive damage such as cracking exhaust manifolds or pipes. I'd leave it if money is tight, but preventative maintenance may not be a bad idea. if the movement is bad. The improvements in passenger comfort from the lack of vibration may be worth the money on its own.
posted by Brockles at 6:37 PM on February 14, 2009


Regarding Criticality:
Also -- the transmission shafts do not support the motor; nor would they ever "Bend" -- the CV joint would rip apart.
I was speaking in general terms; don't nitpick. Transmission in an Accord is mated to the crank, which then drives the CV joint and the front axles.
Also, as for the engine mounts, 'cracked' is no big deal, really. Usually it doesn't matter too much. However, if the engine mounts are split (the rubber bit in the middle has separated from one side or the other and no longer supporting the engine or isolating it effectively) then you have a different conundrum.

Brockles is correct. By "cracked" I was thinking about what happened to my 2000 V6 Accord; the mount on the block side had cracked and required welding some additional metal onto the block to repair.

Having a loose engine (lots of movement, as described above) can also cause other components to wear prematurely, like the A/C tensioner.

Regarding cost:
Oh my -- this is all VERY easy work -- no engine pulling involved! (Stealerships charge $125/hr+ .. theres no way they are pulling the motor for $500!).

Depends on where you are. My "stealership" charges $75/hr for labor, and about 5 hours is right to pull an engine from an Accord (or at least disconnect the hard bits, hook it up, and lift/drop it enough to replace the mounts) with a generous allowance for parts.
Incidentally, there is also no value at all in having a dealer perform your oil changes - as long as the grade and quality of oil is maintained (ie fully synthetic in most cases) an oil change is the most basic maintenance possible. Save your money in future.
Incidentally, there is also no value at all in having a dealer perform your oil changes - as long as the grade and quality of oil is maintained (ie fully synthetic in most cases) an oil change is the most basic maintenance possible. Save your money in future.
My "stealership" charges the same -- $19.99 -- as my local Jiffy Lube for an oil and filter change, and they use OEM filters. I've never had a problem with dealer service; I have had endless problems with cheaper services (including a cracked airbox when they did a "50 point inspection" and told me I needed to replace the air filter I'd just replaced two weeks prior) and will almost always take my car to the dealership these days because I know there's recourse if something goes wrong.
posted by SpecialK at 7:31 PM on February 14, 2009


Brockles pretty much has it; I would only add that engine mount changes don't necessarily involve pulling the engine out of the car. On Hondas, maybe; on Subarus, Alfa Romeos, Lancias and Plymouths, they don't.
posted by jet_silver at 7:33 PM on February 14, 2009


Oops. Sorry about the double quote. I seem to have a bit of brain damage tonight.
posted by SpecialK at 7:33 PM on February 14, 2009


Thanks for the tip about RepairPal -- something like that was exactly what I was looking for.

As far as the repairs at hand go, I came in with the impression that 'cracked' engine mounts weren't a huge deal at the moment, like Brockles said. But I understand where everyone else is coming from, and I know I ought to get them replaced in the near future, though not necessarily immediately. I'm driving a '99 V6 Accord that only recently broke 90k, so the car still has quite a bit of life left in it.

Oil changes at the dealers I go to aren't that big a deal for me. My Dodge dealer does my Caravan for $9.99, and my Honda dealer does it for about $20. I know I might be able to save a few bucks by going to an independent shop, but, like SpecialK, I've had absolutely nightmarish scenarios with your typical oil change shops. Not to mention, they're not always going to point out things like, hey, your CV boot is messed up. And, hm, the free car wash, I suppose? Well, I couldn't care less about that, but the point is that I'm pretty happy about where I am now, given that it's a relatively small expense. And I'm sure I could save a few more bucks doing it myself, but, eh, it's been a few years since I've done that, too, and I'm pretty complacent about not having to do all the work.

Thanks for all the answers so far!
posted by SpringAquifer at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2009


i was told to replace cv boots and cracked honda mounts 90,000 miles ago
needless to say i didnt. lucky i guess
posted by dougiedd at 7:52 PM on February 14, 2009


A half axle replacement is a 30 minute job for an experienced Honda tech. My guy can do it in 15-20 minutes on my '91 Accord. All they have to do is take the wheel off, put it on the lift, remove the cotter pin that holds the ball joint together and whack on it a few times in the right place with a 5lb sledge hammer to get the ball joint apart, then pull out the old one, put the new one on, put the cotter pin back in drop the car and remount the wheel.

If I had a lift I could do one in under an hour...it's so easy my guy at the dealership will do it for $20.

You can get a remanufactured half-axle for under $50 at Autozone. I think they charge $70 or 80, of which $30 or 40 is a core charge that you get back when you give them the old half axle. I used to have the number of a guy who would rebuild a half axle (both joints) for $20, but I lost his number and they wear out so infrequently it's just been easier to go to AutoZone.

Whether the motor mounts are a big deal depends on what is cracked. If it's the metal, it's gotta be replaced soon. If it's the rubber, it can wait until you feel significant vibration.
posted by wierdo at 10:05 PM on February 14, 2009


Like brakes, tires, etc -- CV joints tend to go in pairs.

This is not true.


Really? I was only going by my personal experience -- but it seems as though mine always go within 15k miles of eachother. I drive 35k/mi yr, so my 6 months might be 3 years for someone else.
posted by SirStan at 9:07 AM on February 15, 2009


Personal experience alone is not a good enough reason to make blanket statements, though. Any one single person can be an edge case, particularly as their driving styles and habits can have an enormous influence on failure of components.
posted by Brockles at 2:38 PM on February 15, 2009


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