Common questions answered
My vehicle is still under warranty so I have to go to the dealer for service
False. It is actually illegal for a dealership to void your manufacturer warranty because you had service performed elsewhere per the Magnuson-Moss Act ((1975) USC Title 15-Chapter 50 Section 2301-2312.) The only requirement that you are obligated to is that you 1. prove that you had the service done (keep your records) and 2. perform your services per the manufacturer service table. As a consumer you have the right to choose where you service your vehicle and it will not void your original warranty in any way. If you keep your records and stay on track, your warranty will remain in tact.
Recall vs. Warranty Extension
The manufacturer is obligated to inform the vehicle owner that there is an open recall on a vehicle. If a vehicle has a warranty extension, this is different than a recall and the manufacturer is NOT required to inform you of the warranty extension. It is just that – an extension. A recall is when the manufacturer has decided that something is unsafe and requires the dealership to replace, repair or update the component to make it safe again. A warranty extension is when the manufacturer recognises that they produced a component that is sub-par or has serious design flaws or defects. After the manufacturer determines that too many owners have had the same issue, they will extend the warranty on that component past the original warranty (typically 3 years, 36,000 miles in some cases more.) Most often warranty extensions are on major components with high failure rates like engine issues, head or head gasket issues, drive train issues and others. You will not find out about a warranty extension unless you call and ask the dealer specifically if there are any open extensions, go into the dealer for repair and they inform you that your issue is warranted or a service adviser calls and asks them for you.
The cost of labor
On average, a shop’s labor rate is anywhere from $120.00- $170.00. The labor rate is the hourly charge at which the facility charges for one hour of technician labor. That hour pays the technician to perform services within that time frame. Off of the top of that $120.00, the technician is paid $18.00-$40.00 depending on his certifications, ability and skill set. Some shops may charge a little more per hour for services that require more ability and training for example; European electrical diagnosis. After the technician’s wages are taken from that $120.00, the remainder is how the facility keeps the bills paid: utilities, insurance, front house payroll, etc. It is very expensive to even keep the doors open, leaving the remaining balance of that $120.00 at maybe $10.00 or $20.00. In a lot of cases, less.
The cost of parts
Part cost is pretty well determined by the manufacturer. Shops are given a little break when they purchase from the dealers on a wholesale account, anywhere from 10-20% depending on the volume that the shop does with that dealership. This leaves little room for mark-up. The 10-20% that the facility saved from purchasing from the dealer is all the mark-up the facility has, often only leaving a small margin for the shop to make profit on. When a part costs a lot, it’s because the manufacturer charges a lot for it. Just because the shop is charging you a lot for the part, doesn’t mean that they didn’t pay a lot for it to purchase it for your repair.
How technicians are paid
A highly experienced master technician makes anywhere from $30.00-$40.00 per hour. This does not mean that they are paid hourly though. Technicians are paid on “flat rate,” essentially commission. Let’s say that you have an axle fail and the book time (how long the manufacture says it should take to replace) calls for one hour of labor. This means that the technician is going to get paid his hourly rate to perform that service for you. If the technician can replace it in less than an hour, his skill set and experience helped him make a little bit more money that he would have if it took him the full hour BUT, if it takes him an hour and a half, he looses money on your repair. Now, let’s say that your vehicle was the only one that came in that day. The technician made $36.00 that entire day, he didn’t make $36.00 per hour for 8 hours. They only get paid for the work that they do.
Estimates vary from shop to shop
Price shopping (especially over the phone) for your vehicle needs is most often not the best way to go. Shop A will quote you one amount, shop B will quote you a different amount and shop C will quote you an entirely different amount! This happens because when you call a shop and ask, “how much is a brake replacement?,” shop A quoted you for new pads and machining the rotors, shop B quoted you for new pads and new rotors and shop C quoted you for new pads, new rotors, adjusting the rear brakes and the parking brake and servicing the fluid. To top it off, they were all guessing and can’t actually get you a real quote because they didn’t look at the vehicle and quote you for what you really needed. You literally just asked three shops to compare apples to oranges and grapes. Bottom line is, asking an open ended question like, “how much is it for brakes” is not a good question. The only way to get a truly accurate estimate for a service or repair is by taking your vehicle into the shop of your choosing, letting them analyze the service they need to provide for you and allowing them to put together an estimate they can stand behind. You wouldn’t ask a doctor to give you an estimate to fix your broken arm with out an x-ray first, would you? No vehicle can be treated the same as another – each needs their own assessment; each vehicle is just as unique as its driver. After all, you wouldn’t want the doctor to treat you the same as the last patient, because they aren’t you and you don’t need the same thing the last person did.
“I had the part store scan my check engine light, they told me I need…”
Let’s say for example, your check engine light came on and just to make sure it wasn’t anything serious before you took it to the shop, you ran by the part store and had the person at the counter pull the codes for you. They proceeded to tell you that you need an O2 sensor based off of the fault code they found. What they didn’t tell you is that your vehicle doesn’t just have one sensor, but can have anywhere from two to four. Were they able to tell you which one? The other really important piece of information they didn’t tell you is that there are many things that can make your OBDII (on board diagnostic) system trip a fault for an oxygen sensor. An oxygen sensor’s job is to monitor the ratio of air and fuel coming out of the exhaust, pre and post catalytic converter. If the mixture of air and fuel is not within the designated parameters, your check engine light will come on with an oxygen sensor fault. This fault does NOT always mean that you have a bad sensor, it means that the sensor does not like the information it is or is not receiving. You could have a rich or lean condition (too much or not enough fuel or air,) there could be something else entirely going on, or you might actually need a sensor. Bottom line, just because you have a specific fault code, doesn’t mean that the fault it is presenting you with is the route source of the problem. This is why diagnosing the problem and getting to its route cause is important. Finding the exact source of the issue will save you time, money and will eliminate the need for the guessing game.
Do recalls have to be done at the dealer?
Only if you don’t want to pay for them because you refuse to go to the dealer; but let’s face it, who’s going to pay for something that the dealer has to take care of? Recalls are created when the manufacturer and/ or the government deem a component unsafe and then require the dealerships to replace the faulty components. Most often recalls are ignition, air bag or software related. There are many other recalls but these are most common. If you have a recall, the dealership is responsible for the cost which they then pass on to the manufacturer. A recall should never cost you a dime.
How labor time is determined
“Book time” is the amount of time the manufacturer has determined that it should take a technician to perform a repair. The amount of labor a repair requires varies depending upon the location of the components that are being replaced. Some components are easy to get to, some are not at all. Your labor charge will depend solely on where the component being replaced is located in or on your vehicle. Your labor cost = hourly rate * labor time.
A common misunderstanding
“I called the dealer and I can get the part for less than you can.” Believe it or not, that is like comparing apples to oranges. The dealership literally has two part mark-up systems. When you walk up to a parts counter at a dealership and purchase a part directly from the counter, the price is typically a little less. However, if your vehicle were in for service, and you purchased a part from the dealership in conjunction with your service, the mark-up skyrockets. When comparing part prices from your independent shop to the dealership you are not comparing apples to apples unless you get your prices from the service department, not the part department.
What it costs the technician
Most consumers don’t realize that the technicians have to purchase all of their own tools which they use on a daily basis to service and repair your vehicle. On average, most technicians have anywhere from $15,000.00 to $50,000.00 in tool debt; purely acquired so they can perform their duties. A good technician may make up to $40.00 per hour, but that technician is also the one that has $50,000.00 in tool debt. He may make $1,000.00 a week, but his tool bills are $350.00 a week; literally leaving him with a $1,400.00 paycheck every two weeks. Being a technician can make him a lot of money but it will cost him a lot of money to make that money.
How diagnosis works
Diagnosis is for situations where the answer to the problem isn’t always black and white. When you have a noise or leak, most often the technician can determine what the cause is easily by simply taking a look. However, when you have a sporadic electrical issue or a Check Engine Light, the issue has to be pinpointed. Without pinpointing the exact source of the problem, the consumer often spends more time and money “throwing parts” at a problem that rarely address the route cause. When you diagnose a problem you are allowing the technician to test the necessary systems and components for him to get you an exact, fact and finding based answer. Once the issue is diagnosed the technician can confidentially tell you what the problem is and will allow the adviser to accurately estimate the repair cost and time.
The cost of diagnosis
The cost of diagnosis will vary almost every time due to factors like the type of vehicle, the type and/or amount of fault code(s) in the OBDII system, and weather or not there are multiple issues. Advanced vehicles like Audi, Mercedes, BMW, etc. can sometimes be very time consuming to diagnose due to the immense amount of electronics that they are equipped with and in turn, my have a greater cost. When you are paying for diagnosis, you are paying the technician for his time to determine the problem. You are not paying him to fix the problem. In some cases, the diagnosis is the repair. For example, there was a pinched wire in the door jam causing other electrical issues. During the process of diagnosis the technician had to repair the broken wire to continue troubleshooting therefore the issue was resolved within the diagnosis. Most often after the technician determines the problem, the repair is an additional cost. Remember, the cost of diagnosis is paying the technician to determine the problem, not to fix it.
“I can’t bring my own or used parts?”
I’m sorry, but no. There are a lot more shops out there now days that aren’t allowing customer parts or used parts to be brought in or used. Similar to how a warranty works with an appliance, manufacturers will not allow the part to be warranted unless it is done so by the original purchaser. Not only does that warranted part protect the customer from having to buy it again, it also protects the installer. Now that the installer has to replace under warranty, the warranty will also pay the shop for their labor to do so. Do you really want to be the one that has to pay twice? No one does, so let the pro’s do it and work with the manufacturer on the second round. Another reason customer provided parts aren’t used is because of the liability. If a shop replaces a component and it fails and causes a customer to be forced into an unsafe position, the shop can be responsible for the liability. As far as used parts go, it’s about safety, reliability, longevity and quality. There are acceptable parts to get from a junk yard; things like undamaged sub-frames, steering knuckles/ knees, door mirrors, sun visors, etc. But not the components that your vehicle relies on to be reliable. There is no way to know what happened to that control arm or what went through that radiator if you buy it used, how do you know if the vehicle it came off of was in an accident or not? You can’t. Junk yards don’t provide warranties, so you will end up paying for it again down the road. It’s not about the money that the shop makes on the part they provide for you, it’s about the benefits to the customer AND the shop.