I don’t know about you, but whenever I head to the service center to get my car inspected I’m always very apprehensive about what kind of problems they might find and how much it will end up costing me to get it fixed. Worse, I have this innate distrust of car service centers and think that they are going to either try to sell me on a repair or service I don’t need or overcharge me for low quality parts with a high markup. Or both!
Unless you’re a mechanic yourself or spend a decent amount of time researching car related stuff, you never really know exactly what is being done to your car, how often parts typically need to be replaced, and how much is a fair amount to pay for any given repair. Fortunately, getting past all that and ensuring you never get ripped off again isn’t all that hard. Here’s how:
Learn To Estimate Repair Costs
Any half-decent car repair shop should at least be willing to tell you what kind of repair they are going to do on your vehicle before they do it, and if they don’t you should run out the door as fast as you can and never go back there again!
This is when you tune your ears in really closely to the Japanese the repair shop is about to speak to you when telling you what is wrong with your car. With pen in hand, you should furiously write down everything they are saying including every part, technical term, and detail they happen to mention. If the details seem lacking, feel free to ask for a more in depth description or to get them to explain it to you in layman’s terms.
Related: Bring Your Own Oil For An Oil Change
Armed with that information you now have several options:
1) Hit Up Google
This is most people’s first resort when researching anything, but it can often lead to a frustrating experience that results in hours reading long forum threads with confusing, contradicting, or completely lacking information. Worse, you could end up on one of the many sites out there whose sole purpose it is to make money from you at all costs complete with wrong or misleading information.
There’s a better way!
2) Use A Trusted Site Specializing In Car Repairs
The Internet has almost everything, and in the past few years there have been several sites crop up that do a decent job of estimating the actual fair cost of any of dozens of possible repairs your specific vehicle might need. Unfortunately, most of these sites are American, but you can just add a healthy markup to it, say 20% because everything costs more in Canada, and you will still get a decent estimate.
3) Use Your Connections
This has always been a good way of doing thing, and still is. The process can be slower and the results a little harder to interpret, but you can still end up with firsthand experience of how much similar repairs should cost. Make sure to take full advantage of email and social media to blast some quick responses from your friends so you can get more than one opinion without spending too much time on it.
This works best when you know somebody who works in the business so if you can get in a good with a mechanic, then you will have the inside scoop on how everything works so if you get that opportunity, go for it!
Related: Use Synthetic Oil In Your Car
Let’s Do An Example Shall We?
To make this all concrete, I think we should go over a quick example of doing a complete front brake job on a 2010 Hyundai Sante Fe. When I say “complete front brake job”, that means replacing both the brake pads and the brake rotors, instead of just the pads which is often the only thing needed because quality rotors don’t wear out very quickly.
If we load up the AutoMD and RepairPal estimators and compare the same exact repair side by side, I wonder how close their estimates will be to each other? Let’s find out!
AutoMD Repair Estimate
After heading over to the AutoMD Repair Estimator, I went through the 3 easy steps to get my estimate:
- Eentered 2010 > Hyundai > Sante Fe > SE > 6 Cyl 3.5L.
- Typed in “front brakes” > selected “Brake Pads Replacement” > checked “Front” > clicked Next > selected optional job “Brake Rotor Replacement – Front” > clicked “Yes, Add Selected Jobs > selected quantity “Not sure”.
- Entered Zip Code 04619 for Calais, Maine but you can lookup and use whatever one you want. Keep in mind that the Zip Code may affect the price so try to pick a similar USA town or city to your own.
Here is a screenshot of what we ended up with:
RepairPal Repair Estimate
Then I headed over to the RepairPal Repair Estimator and did a very similar thing using the following steps.
- Entered Hyundai > 2010 > Sante Fe.
- Entered 04619 into the “Enter Zip” field, again for Calais.
- Typed in “front brakes” and selected “Brake Pad and Rotor Replacement” as the repair.
- Selected “Front” on the popup dialog asking for a little more information.
After clicking “Get Estimate”, this is what I ended up with:
Do The Estimates Match?
Not exactly, but they’re close enough together that it provides a very good baseline for an uneducated consumer to know if they are being ripped off or being charged a fair price for parts and labour. Knowing if those parts and labour were actually needed is a different story altogether, that’s why you need to find a mechanic you can trust.
AutoMD came up with a result of $319.61 if you take your car to a shop that isn’t the dealer whereas RepairPal just gave a range of $343 to $534. These numbers are typically before taxes and disposal fees. If you take the average of the two numbers given by AutoMD ($391.31) and the middle of the range given by RepairPal ($438.50) you can see they are less than $50 apart, which isn’t a bad margin of error really.
AutoMD vs RepairPal – Which Is Better?
They both have pros and cons, but I think as a whole I like AutoMD better because it provides a lot more detail for you in a nicely laid out summary page. You get up to 3 categories of results including Dealer Cost, Local Shop Cost, and Do It Yourself Cost if available. In addition they break down the labour charges and the amount of time the job should take to complete so you know if your mechanic is billing way too many hours to do the work.
However, I did find the RepairPal estimator slightly easier to use because it requires less inputs and has a few less confusing options to go through before you end up with your final estimate. That’s probably why they only give you a loose range to expect to pay as opposed to the more finely tuned estimate of AutoMD.
That said, I would definitely use both whenever you have an expensive car repair on your hands as a sanity check to make sure you are filling in the information correctly and they you are getting relatively consistent results.
We’ve Set The Bar, Now Let’s Demolish It
Ok, so now you know what a fair price to pay is and you shouldn’t be ashamed if this is the price you are paying because you are getting a fair deal and everyone is making some money out of the equation. However, you can still do much better by doing a very small amount of the work yourself like buying and bringing your own parts and choosing the right mechanic.
Are You Apprehensive Too?
I’m curious if taking your car to the shop makes you as apprehensive as it once did me? Do you still feel that way or have you taken some steps to get over those feelings be it via research, finding a trustworthy mechanic, or just learning to let the feeling go?