under the hood of classic car
Image via Flickr by Ed Bierman

Many people feel blindsided when they receive their car repair bills. Parts and labor are expensive because you’re paying for quality equipment and experts in the field, instead of trying to do it yourself in the driveway.

Parts Mark Ups

When many people look at their repair bills, they notice that the parts listed are very expensive. Sometimes googling those parts turns up results that are much cheaper. Mechanics mark prices up usually about 30 percent more than what they paid, but sometimes as little as 20 or as much as 50 percent. Yes, the parts that your mechanic orders for you are more expensive, but mechanics have good reason for marking the parts up.

First, parts come on a quality scale, and the mechanic is probably buying top-notch aftermarket parts, or even Original Equipment Manufacturer parts. What you see online may be of lower quality, which explains some of the price difference. Second, mechanics offer parts warranties that are longer than the warranties on parts you’ll find online (if those parts have warranties at all.) Finally, many mechanics aren’t willing to install parts the customer purchased, so if you want to buy something online, be prepared to be fixing your own car.

Labor Charges

After you pay for parts, you have to pay the mechanics and technicians who work on your car. Most shops have an hourly rate, which varies by location, technician experience, and whether the shop performs specialty car services. Specialty shops, for example, often have a higher hourly rate. If you use a specialty shop you may end up saving money despite the higher labor costs, because the mechanics who work there have more experience with your type of vehicle and can diagnose problems quickly.

Book Rate

On your bill, along with the labor charges, you’ll see something that says “book rate” or “book time.” That’s how long a specific repair job is supposed to take; it starts with how long a factory technician would take with that type of repair, but has extra time allotted for newer technicians or those less experienced with a particular type of vehicle. Mechanics are supposed to get the repairs done inside the “book rate,” though sometimes unexpected issues make the repair take longer.

Many shops use book rates as flat rates; it’s the amount of money you’ll spend on a repair based on how long it should take, and not how long it actually takes. That means you pay a little extra if the repair takes less time, but it means you actually pay less if the repair takes longer. Not all shops have book rates, so if you’re uncomfortable with the idea, find a shop that doesn’t use them.

Remember that repair shops are a business, and they’re offering you expertise and skill that most people don’t have. They have to pay their employees, insurance costs, rent, utilities, and other overhead expenses just to stay in business. You can always talk to the front desk to find out how much a repair will cost, then seek other options if you don’t like the price.

Why Visits to the Shop Cost So Much

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