Like going to the dentist, auto repair is an experience most motorists want to avoid. It’s inconvenient, it’s expensive, and for some people it’s downright scary because they fear being taken advantage of or ripped off. Motorists who have little mechanical knowledge feel especially vulnerable because they often don’t know what’s wrong with their car, what it really takes to fix their problem, and how much it should really cost.
Unfortunately, auto repairs and maintenance are unavoidable aspects of vehicle ownership. Much as we’d like to neglect our vehicles and drive them forever without ever having to spend a dollar on maintenance or repairs, all vehicles require a certain amount of preventive maintenance. And sometimes, in spite of our best efforts to maintain our vehicles, things wear out, break or fail.
Your car won’t start, or it suddenly dies in the middle of nowhere. A warning light comes on. Something is leaking out of your car. It’s making a funny smell or unusual noises. Maybe the engine overheated. The battery died. The transmission won’t do anything when you put it in Drive or Reverse. The air conditioner isn’t blowing cold air. The heater isn’t blowing any heat. The engine feels rough, lacks power, surges or is getting horrible fuel mileage. Your vehicle failed an emissions test. Lots of different things can go wrong with engines, transmissions, brakes, cooling systems, electrical systems, air conditioners, tires, chassis parts and all the power accessories on today’s vehicles, and lots of things can prevent your vehicle from starting, running properly or passing an emissions test. So when bad things happen, you need good repair advice. That’s probably why you’re visiting this website. You need repair help.
For those who have some mechanical ability, a little automotive know-how and some basic hand tools, doing your own auto repairs and maintenance can usually save you 50 percent or more over what it usually costs to take your vehicle to a repair facility and pay someone else to do the work. The trouble is many people who would like to save money by doing their own repairs and maintenance lack the know-how, the tools, the automotive expertise, the time or the physical ability to do it.
Today’s vehicles are far more complex than the cars and trucks your fathers or grandfathers worked on. They are also much harder to repair on because of cramped engine compartments and limited accessibility. The parts are much more expensive, too, because of their complexity — and in some cases limited availability (parts that can only be purchased from a new car dealer, for example). So even though basic maintenance jobs such as changing oil, filters, spark plugs and brake pads are still within the abilities of many do-it-yourselfers, driveability problems, emissions diagnosis and major repairs are often beyond the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers. And if you are NOT a do-it-yourselfer, you have no choice but to take your vehicle to a service facility when maintenance or repairs are needed.
Professional auto repair is essentially a “do-it-for-me” service business. You pay someone else to diagnose and repair your vehicle. Hopefully, the repair facility you choose has competent technicians and honest management. Hopefully, they will accurately diagnose the problem, explain the repairs that are needed and give you a written estimate of the cost for parts and labor. Hopefully, the repairs will fix your problem, the repair bill will be no more than the estimate and their work will be backed by a written guarantee.
The labor your are charged on your repair bill is usually based on a standard “flat rate” estimate. Repair jobs are classified by year, make and model, and the times can vary a great deal from one vehicle to another. The labor time required to perform a certain task will vary depending on how much other stuff has to be removed to get at the part, the average degree of difficulty of the job, whether any special tools are procedures are required, the age of the vehicle and so on. Changing a starter on one car might be a relatively simple task if the starter is easily accessible, but on another vehicle you might have to remove part of the exhaust system or loosen a motor mount and raise the engine to replace the starter. All of these estimated labor times are calculated, tabulated and published by the vehicle manufacturers as well as various aftermarket sources. Shops then refer to these numbers when writing a repair estimate.
If the actual time it takes to repair your vehicle is LESS than the estimated flat rate time, you still pay the flat rate. Why? Because life isn’t fair. The shop makes additional profit on the job, and the technician who does the work often receives a bonus for beating the flat rate (which most good technicians can do consistently). What’s worse, if the actual time it takes to fix your car is MORE than the flat rate, you get billed for the extra time!
Ideally, you should only pay for the ACTUAL time it takes to fix your car and not one minute more. But that’s not the system most dealerships or repair shops use for obvious reasons.
What it all boils down to is trust. You have to trust a repair facility to charge you fairly for the work they do, to actually do the work for which you are being charged, to accurately diagnose and repair your vehicle, and to complete the repairs in a reasonable amount of time. To avoid being scammed, overcharged or ripped-off, you need to find a repair facility you can trust.
Don’t wait until your car is broken to start looking for a reputable repair facility. Do your looking ahead of time and establish a working relationship with one or more repair facilities by having them do your basic maintenance. Then when major problems arise and repairs are needed, you’ll know where to go.