Understanding Car Repair Estimates
We’ve previously addressed auto repair scams and how to avoid being ripped off. But, perhaps we need to take one more step back to make sure that you actually understand the estimate or repair bill that you are presented with. Car repair estimates can be confusing and learning to read and speak the language will give you a competitive edge. If you really want to know whether or not you are being overcharged, then you need to understand the specific charges.
Checklist - 6 Tips on Car Repair Bills
Let’s start with the six basic parts that make up a typical car repair estimate or invoice.
1. Customer/Vehicle Information
Usually found at the top of the form, this section simply contains your personal information and your vehicle’s specifics: year, make, model, mileage…etc, as well as your request or reason for concern.
Parts are usually listed with a brief description, as well as the quantity, and the price. There are three types of parts: There are different types of parts; (like OEM, Premium Aftermarket and Used – but we’ll deal with the differences in a future article).
Labor is billed in tenths of hours. So 1.0 equals 1 hour. 1.5 equals an hour and a half. Labor rates can vary wildly from to $75 per hour at local repair shops to $185 per hour at dealerships located in high-ticket locations like California or New York City. Labor times are supposedly based on established industry guidelines, but are all too frequently abused. If you don’t see the shop’s labor rate posted on a wall or on your invoice, ask for the rate. To ensure that you’re being charged properly, you’ll want to multiply the number of hours billed (which is also often not listed) by the shop’s labor rate. Most labor descriptions are poorly written and difficult to understand. So ask questions.
4. Miscellaneous Charges
Parts and labor charges generally make up most of the invoice, but we can’t forget about miscellaneous charges. These charges can include, but are not limited to, shop supplies – rags, chemicals, waste oil …etc. Most often, few of these “extras” are actually used during regular repairs. Instead, they are determined by the number of labor hours billed, not the actual amount of miscellaneous items used.
5. Flat Fees
Flat fees can be another very slippery area. Flat fees are services, such as an alignment, which don’t get broken down into parts, tax and labor. This makes it difficult to verify the real and fair price. The good news is that this is not one of the most frequent sins shops commit. However, another term for Flat Fee is called Menu Selling. Spare yourself this aggravation by following your manufacturer’s recommendations only, not a dealer’s or repair shop’s menu.
6. Summary of Charges
The summary of charges is usually found at the bottom of the invoice. Check it against the charges above to ensure that it all adds up mathematically, as well as logically.
Lastly, you may occasionally see additional charges like “Sublet” or “HazMat.” (These may or may not be listed under miscellaneous charges.) A sublet charge is added when your auto repair shop uses another merchant to fix or repair your car, such as a glass company that might replace your windshield. A common HazMat charge might be listed to dispose of oil, for example. Just make sure that the charges are warranted, as again, they too are often calculated off the labor time rather than actual need. Again, ask questions.
To summarize, simply understanding the “actual” charges, asking the right questions, and breaking down auto repair costs is the best way to avoid paying unwarranted car repair prices.
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