Reasonable Car Repair?
July 6, 2009 4:48 PM   Subscribe

What are reasonable expectations between car repair shops / mechanics and their customers? Specific scenario inside..

Having moved relatively recently, I'm in the process of finding a good car repair shop / mechanic. I've got an older car that needs some HVAC work, so I took it into a shop that an acquaintance recommended to me. They diagnosed it and gave me a quote: 3-4 hours labor, parts costs in the $500-1000 range (depending on whether I'd like everything under discussion replaced).

1) based on various internet parts sites, they have a 100% markup on the parts in question (I'm looking up OEM/OES parts from companies like Bosch and Bohr).
2) the shop claims that they can only get the parts from the manufacturer (which no doubt charges maximum prices).
3) they want me to pre-pay for the parts.

How reasonable is this?

I've put down a small deposit @ other shops in the past for major repairs.. but no more than a few hundred $.

I don't grudge the shop some markup on parts since they deal with the overhead of orders/returns, but charging 2x the internet retail cost?

Is it crazy to think that if I could find several reputable-looking sites that sold these parts (new, OEM brands) in about 5 minutes, that they should be able to source in a similar way?

Is it reasonable to say "I'll order the parts myself and you guys do the replacement"? Should I expect the labor charge to suddenly go up in that situation?

Since parts need to be ordered anyway, I will have to get the car back first. I expect to be charged labor for the diagnosis, is there any reason I should feel bad for taking it somewhere else to get the work done? Are these all red flags that I actually should just take the car somewhere else?
posted by kanuck to Shopping (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am the administrative goddess (office chick) for a mechanic workshop.

100% markup is extortionate. Here in Oz, some suppliers will offer the mechanic a substantial (think anywhere up to 45%) discount for continued business. So, if they have an account with the manufacturer and get a discount off the retail price, they'd be making a killing charging their customers so much.

I'd print off the net prices and show him, and then offer to supply the parts yourself if he can't do it with a reasonable (10-20%?) markup. If he's insistent about getting them himself and possibly overcharging, I'd be insistent that he shouldn't. If he argues, go elsewhere.

Actually, I'll say that again and elaborate: if he argues about anything, if the situation makes you uncomfortable in any way, go elsewhere.

That said, paying up front for parts isn't uncommon, especially for new customers. We can't tell who will pay upon receipt of the invoice, and who won't, and being owed $50g when you can't pay $10g worth of bills is frustrating.

I think it's fair to ask for some upfront payment - but definitely NOT for the labour, and the labour price should NOT change if the spare parts supply arrangement is changed. Then again... I have heard of parts being paid for, ordered, received at the workshop, but never fitted to vehicles due to the business closing down or selling or whatnot. I guess that's another vote for 'get the parts yourself'.

(It also saves a bit of hassle if the customer supplies the parts - we don't have to source them, make phone calls, arrange freight, pay by credit card over the phone, etc, etc, so our workshop happily fits parts supplied by the customer.)

I'm thinking it's a pale red flag - so far, I'd give them the benefit of the doubt and give them a chance to reduce their markup, but if there is any minor hassle, I'd say "I'll have to think about it/get the money together/insert excuse here", and take my car elsewhere.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:08 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it reasonable to say "I'll order the parts myself and you guys do the replacement"? Should I expect the labor charge to suddenly go up in that situation?

Yes, it is reasonable as a cost-saving strategy, but it's kind of shitty on your part and I wouldn't expect them to go along with it. It's like trying to avoid high prices of beer at a strip club by bringing your own beer --- a brand of beer they sell at the strip club.

Making money on parts is part of their business model, and if you buy parts on the internet so that you don't have to pay their inflated prices, it's kind of like you are simultaneously giving them the middle finger while asking them to install the parts for you.

In cases like this, I think your best bet is to shop around, and see who can do the whole job (parts + labor) for the lowest price. I wouldn't buy my parts on the internet, that seems pretty offensive.
posted by jayder at 5:14 PM on July 6, 2009

(It also saves a bit of hassle if the customer supplies the parts - we don't have to source them, make phone calls, arrange freight, pay by credit card over the phone, etc, etc, so our workshop happily fits parts supplied by the customer.)

Having read malibustacey's answer, I take back what I said about supplying your own parts. I need to stop answering questions about topics I know nothing about.
posted by jayder at 5:17 PM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: Bear in mind that your internet price doesn't cover all the costs of shipping it, and some of these companies make up the loss of advertising super low prices through the shipping/packing costs. You aren't necessarily comparing like for like. Price on the internet is not the same as 'price in the mechanics hands' even from the same internet place.

Not to say that they aren't charging too much, just that you aren't necessarily comparing fairly.

In addition, they may be hedging their labour cost (3-4 hours may be 'attractively low' to try and get the business) and covering themselves in the 'claimed' parts costs.

They could also be trying to screw you.

Anyone that only gets one quote and wonders if they are getting a bad deal, yet doesn't get a second and third quote immediately deserves to slap their forehead and go 'of course!', mind you. Get more quotes and ask them to match it if they want the business. If they do (or even agree easily), don't go there again as they clearly over-quote.
posted by Brockles at 5:19 PM on July 6, 2009

Get a second opinion from another mechanic, see if you can get another recommendation. That is pretty much the only way to tell. And if your current location is in Hawaii, be sure to get used to higher markups covering transportation costs - everything costs more to send there.
posted by cftarnas at 5:49 PM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: Labor costs are by-the-book. You look up in a book (or, nowadays, on a computer) for that year, make, model, trim level, upholstery color, etc and it spits out a standard labor time to do *that* repair. A timing belt, say, on my 1990 CRX Si takes 1.2 hours, 1.3 if you do the water pump, but it's 4.0 hours on the 1989, and on the 1990 HF model. So unless the shop has an exorbitant labor *rate*, i.e. to cover the owner's gambling habit or whatever, you're gonna get the same quote about anywhere. One thing to note though: dealers tend to have 30% - or more- higher labor rates than independent shops.
posted by notsnot at 5:59 PM on July 6, 2009

My family owns a mechanic shop. 100% markup on parts is indeed some serious highway robbery. Anyway, malibustacey's answer agrees with what I know as well.
posted by CwgrlUp at 5:59 PM on July 6, 2009

I'm a bit surprised that they'd ask you to put money up front for the parts. Hawaii has mechanic's lien law. At least where I am, this means that if you agreed to parts and labor beforehand (they call you to confirm your agreement, or you sign a paper saying you agree), then if you don't pay they put a lien on your car. This is designed to reduce their risk, so why would they ask for money up front?

Having said that, perhaps this is a smaller mechanic shop, and they don't have the money to float for the order?
posted by Houstonian at 6:15 PM on July 6, 2009

Expect a markup on parts, no matter where you go. A hundred percent is quite a bit, however.
As far as ordering your own parts, I'd ask you this: Would you go to a restaurant and ask the chef to cook the steak you brought in? No. Because not only is part of his business making money off of supplies, but the chef (or the mechanic) is comfortable and knowledgeable about the brands of supplies that he sources. He's familiar with their warranties and qualities.
When I worked at an indy shop, if a part that I had selected and installed wound up failing, I'd put a new one in for free. If the customer brought their own one in and it failed, I'd charge them to replace it.
In that contex, customer supplied parts DID NOT save us any hassle. We knew our suppliers well, we knew their prices, their quality, and their warranty policies. Also, the customers who bought their own parts almost never bought everything they needed. There was always a gasket, hose, fastener, or part they overlooked. In our experience, we knew to order certain things that tended to be fragile or worn out while the customer didn't. Also, customers might not always be familiar the variances between between extremely similar makes and models resulting in purchasing a part that looks remarkably similar to the one they need, but in no way functions correctly. This would generally result in additional expenses and delays.
Pre paying for parts isn't unheard of. Many electronics CANNOT BE RETURNED. So, if part of your repair is an HVAC control unit or a sensor, expect to pay up front for it.
Feel free to take your car to a different shop if you don't like their prices or policies. But be prepared to pay for diagnosis again. Shop B should not be expected to blindly trust Shop A's diagnosis.
I hear everything is expensive in Hawaii, though. Considering the shipping and stuff, you might be stuck with a high markup. Even more so if the dealership is the only location stocking your parts on the islands.
posted by Jon-o at 6:26 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Paying for the parts up front is a red flag IMO. Any reputable shop has enough volume with their suppliers that returning parts if you don't show for the service appointment is no big deal. I've never, ever pre-paid for parts and I think I would run screaming from any shop that asked me to do so.
posted by COD at 6:37 PM on July 6, 2009

About the markup/discount. malibustacey refers to a 45% discount from retail. This is equivalent to an 82% markup on the wholesale price so maybe 100% isn't that far off. ($100 - 45% = $55. $55 * 182% = ~$100). Of course, this is dealing with a wholesale price. I'm not sure how the internet price factors into that ... if they're charging twice the regular retail, that's a whole 'nother thing.
posted by nelvana at 6:45 PM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: You can get a good "what should this cost" number at

One thing about comparing parts prices online is that you may not be comparing the same brands.

I'm about to replace the timing belt and water pump on my 1998 TDI. The parts cost me, from a TDI-specialist online parts dealer, a little less than $200 shipped [this included a high-quality water pump]. [I'm doing the work myself in this case]

When I called around for estimates, a couple of the shops read off the parts prices as they assembled the estimate over the phone. Some parts were less than I paid [idler pulleys], some about the same [timing belt itself], some were double [water pump for $80]. All together the parts were about the same.

Looking at just the water pump, has compatible parts ranging from $23 to $63. The one I ended up with looks to be the Geba 3000 [the $63 one]. NAPA has compatible water pumps ranging from $25 to $115.

Now, if that local shop is giving me the Geba 3000, then their price is not far from internet retail. If they're giving me the one of the $25 models, they're marking it up a whole lot.

The pre-pay part might be because they don't have a regular business relationship with the parts source in this case. Maybe they won't be able to return them. Maybe they have to pay more because they don't buy very much from this source.

I'd look around for another shop, though. If they don't have a regular source for parts like these, that probably means they don't do work like this very often.
posted by chazlarson at 8:16 PM on July 6, 2009

Response by poster: Great info everyone, thanks.

I had a chat with the shop, they were very accommodating about installing customer supplied parts in this instance, although they gave me the reasonable caveat that they couldn't warranty the actual parts I supplied, or be responsible for exchange costs if I gave them the wrong parts. In this case, I'm willing to take that chance as the parts savings is pretty dramatic, and this is a 19 year old vehicle. They were generous enough to waive their diagnostic fee, which I felt was a reassuring "good faith" gesture on their part. Parts should arrive tomorrow, we'll see how it goes!
posted by kanuck at 9:57 PM on July 8, 2009

« Older How to make my thermos flask not ruin my coffee?   |   Twitter Filter: Making the business case Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.