You leave your mechanic shop with your car running well again, but there’s a bit of anxiety embedded in the invoice you’ve thrown onto the passenger seat. You head home to look up your bank account balance and calculate how many days until your next paycheck.
“Do I need to hold off on grocery shopping this week?” you wonder, “Maybe I should have found a cheaper shop after I received the estimate…”
I understand that anxiety far too well. In my earlier days, before having the skill set to carry out my car repairs myself, I too suffered from this anxiety. Now that I am twelve years deep in the automotive industry, some of that anxiety has been replaced by knowing that a job well done is worth the cost, and you often get what you pay for.
I will help you understand your bill from your mechanic in terms of diagnostics and labor rates, mechanic’s pay, and parts mark-up.
Time is Money
Diagnostics, or the process of finding a fault in your vehicle, is just that – a process. Many people have fallen under the false assumption that they can have a free code scan done on their vehicle to figure out which part is causing their problem, and then simply have that part replaced. Magic! The vehicle is fixed. Maybe. Unfortunately it is not this simple. Automotive fault diagnostics is not a class offered at Hogwarts as far as I’m aware. If it was, its some sort of secret class and I’m yet to receive my Hogwarts letter.
Maybe replacing that part will fix the problem. On the other hand, if you replaced multiple parts but really only needed one, which one actually fixed the issue? Or possibly, the part you did replace seemed to have fixed the issue at first, but the problem returns a few months later.
Not all code scans are bad. Scanning the vehicle for trouble codes is an important,first step of the diagnostic process. Which costs a few bob. The basic of basic scan tools cost an automotive workshop anywhere from $3k-$10K, from there the scan tools become more complex and more expensive. Thus scan tools are required to do code scans and other functions on your car and naturally there is a cost related to doing this. Arriving at your mechanic, expecting a code scan for free is just insulting.
This initial step, of code scanning often helps a technician determine where to start in diagnosing the vehicle. Occasionally the process to confirm a problem is quick. However, depending on the cause of the problem, it may take a lot of time, research, analysis, and troubleshooting to get down to the actual root of the issue.
During this time, the technician must use a variety of tools and resources to diagnose the problem. These tools are not free, the equipment is not free for the shop, and time is not free. Charging for diagnostics is what allows the business to cover the price of tools, resources, time and other costs that keep the shop running. Cheap labor often means cheap and average work
If you are relying on cheap or free diagnostics, you are likely setting yourself up for a plethora of problems. The mechanic is probably not getting paid fairly for the time he is spending on your vehicle, causing him to rush. So, the diagnosis is not properly confirmed, meaning the recommended fix may or may not be the right repair. You risk having to bring your car back to shell out more for repairs. Competent diagnostics take time, and paying fairly for them will yield better results for you in the long run.
The same applies for any labour charge for your vehicle. The tools, equipment, knowledge, and resources used to properly repair your vehicle cost both the shop and the technician (thats right mechanics pay for their own tools out of their salary). These costs, along with the technicians pay and the shops profit, affect the labour cost you find on your bill. A technician not being paid fairly is more likely to cut corners and take less care to do the job right. A shop owner who feels he may be losing money on a job is more likely to rush the technician, causing him to skip steps or miss something inadvertently. Like in diagnostics, fair labour rates will increase the likelihood that your vehicle’s repair will be accurate, preventing you from returning with the same problem too soon down the road.