Know How Much Car Repairs Should Cost

Know how much car repairs should costI 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 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.

Two of the best sites I’ve found for this in my travels so far are AutoMD and RepairPal. I do a little comparison of the two of them further down.

3) Use Your Connections

This has always been a good way of doing things, 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!

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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:

  1. Eentered 2010 > Hyundai > Sante Fe > SE > 6 Cyl 3.5L.
  2. 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”.
  3. Entered Zip Code 04619 for Calais, Maine but you can look up 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.

  1. Entered Hyundai > 2010 > Sante Fe.
  2. Entered 04619 into the “Enter Zip” field, again for Calais.
  3. Typed in “front brakes” and selected “Brake Pad and Rotor Replacement” as the repair.
  4. 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.

Related: The Best Price Comparison Sites In Canada

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?

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.

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Tyler7's picture
My car would keep pulling to the side whenever I used the at high speed. My mechanic straight away confirmed I needed new front brakes. After paying $190 for new brakes, the problem persisted. Then I went to the auto repair shop my friend goes to- Service Plus, in Etobicoke - and got it fixed. From what the mechanic there explained, the previous one made a hasty diagnosis .. or probably just cheated me and left me paying for it. Total rip-off!
January 20, 2014 @ 6:58 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Yes, finding a trusted mechanic is definitely key to not getting ripped. The ones you can trust also tend to be the ones that will let you bring your own parts and give you real advice to boot. Somehow they still manage to make a living at it as well!
January 20, 2014 @ 8:48 pm
Joan's picture

A canadian company similiar to repairpal is launching soon- Imoto

October 18, 2017 @ 11:01 am
Maria's picture
Hi Stephen, This article seems great and I went to AutoMD to see if my most recent car repair was a rip-off or not (i got a fuel pump replaced and a new fuel filter for my 1997 ford taurus) and it seems to give a fairly accurate amount as to what I paid (one you add the extra 20% for Canada) and the amount of labour was exactly the same as the shop here in Kelowna charged. Which is a relief. However the screen shown is much different than the one you have shown in this article, it looks like they have changed the interface. All it has is quotes from each nearby dealer (I used Spokane Washington), and there is no DIY or Dealer estimates anymore. Below the estimate from each shop is a line that says "parts must be purchased from shop". So perhaps they sold out or got bought out by the auto parts companies not to promote DIY anymore?! Anyways just a heads up that it's now different! It was still accurate and was great to know what the number of labour hours was, and I think I will try RepairPal next and see if they are the same as you have shown. I have to get the rear shocks done on my car soon but thankfully have some time to plan and get a good deal!
August 10, 2014 @ 9:38 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Thanks for the positive report Maria! It's too bad that AutoMD has changed so much (sounds like for the worse). I plan to update my articles on a semi-regular basis, so I will take a look into that when it comes time to update this article. I'm glad you got some peace of mind that you didn't overpay for your big repair and now you know how you can save some big money if you put a little extra time into planning your repairs in advance.
August 11, 2014 @ 1:35 pm
Paul's picture

Great write up! I am a licenced technician with close to 20 yrs. experience. All the points made in this article are right on! Having read the article and all the comments I will say they are all very appropriate.

Vehicles are very complex and sometimes it does take someone with a great deal of knowledge and experience to diagnose a problem and make proper repairs. Unfortunately, not all mechanics are alike.

If I can make any suggestions, the first would be regarding bringing your own parts. Unfortunately, not all parts are made equal and usually (and not always) cheaper parts are of lesser quality. I always give my customers the choice (and different prices) on parts, but always advise them that the cheaper parts will probably not perform as well or last as long as the better, more expensive ones. As an example, premium parts can add an average of $150 to a brake repair estimate, but will ensure as much as double the life of your brakes, not make any noise, perform better, etc.

Any good mechanic should have no problem in naming the brand names of parts s/he will be using in your repair. This will equip you with the information you need in your research as to the quality of the parts and repair as well as reasons behind the cost. The year and make of vehicle you own can also play an enormous role in repair cost. A perfect example of this: I recently repaired a front wheel bearing problem on a friend's truck. Because Ford had changed the design of the bearing from one year to the next, the cost of the part skyrocketed from $300 to over $700 just for the part.

If you are dealing with a shop you don't trust to provide you with quality parts or if you can source better quality parts than the shop is able to offer you, by all means bring your own. However as a word of caution, most shops will frown on this practice - most will equate it to bringing your own food to a restaurant and asking the chef to cook it (not sure if I personally agree with the analogy).

Best advice I can give to anyone is to find a good, knowledgeable mechanic that you trust fully and stick with them. A good mechanic should be able to fix any problem right the first time so that you don't have to come back. What's more important is if he has doubts, he should advise you (if the problem is in the realm of "extremely complex") right away, that it may take more than one repair to get to the 'bottom' of the issue.

I have a small shop in south Etobicoke where I work by appointment only, but if wish please feel free to contact me at 647-367-0439.

March 31, 2017 @ 1:33 am
jim's picture

Bringing your own parts IS EXACTLY LIKE taking your own food to a restaurant. Some people are just too damn clueless or ignorant to see anything beyond their own needs and/or self-gratification.

September 17, 2018 @ 2:04 pm
Noah Carter  's picture

It depends upon entirely on which car maintenance services you are hiring as most of the repair charges have fixed price and for betterment of the car, you should not go beyond the reach of your expanses . There are car repair services where you can easily get the services at affordable budget . The entire process cost of car repair hangs completely to the nature of damages like slightly manageable work can have low cost and on the other hand, if your car faces lot of issues then repair cost can go higher.

June 13, 2017 @ 10:27 am
Kent Hunter-Duvar
Kent Hunter-Duvar's picture

Keeping up on your maintenance and repairs can save you huge amounts. Dad always said "oil is cheaper than an engine". Regular inspection and replacing worn brake pads, before it's metal on metal, can save you buying rotors. And in classes where they've really been pushed, replacing calipers. The intense heat, of a couple of hard stops, or a period of stop and go traffic, will cook the seal in your calipers.

September 02, 2017 @ 6:49 pm

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