The two major costs involved in repairing your car are parts and labor. The price of parts are more or less fixed. You may find the price they quote you is higher than somewhere else. There’s a good reason for this. Many auto parts stores currently offer a discount. To get your business, the auto part stores are selling at less than list price. You can buy the part yourself and ask your mechanic to install it which saves you some money. The disadvantage is, if the new part fails, which they sometimes do, the mechanic is under no obligation to replace it for free. If you supply the part, you own it; if the mechanic supplies the part, he owns it. That’s why the mechanic increases the part prices. I almost always supply the part needed for two reasons. Here in Mexico it takes time to get parts. I like to have all the parts needed before the repair is started. Also I get my parts online which reduces the cost even more.
Labor costs are entirely different. Labor costs are based on what is known as ‘flat rate’ pricing. All common repairs have an associated time factor. This is the time in which the job should be completed. This is helpful for giving the customer an estimate. It’s also helpful so the customer isn’t paying for the mechanic to smoke, call his girlfriend, eat lunch or simply screw off. If the repair job standard, for example replacing a starter motor, is 1.2 hours flat rate, then that’s what the customer pays. If the mechanic takes three hours, the customer still pays 1.2 hours. If the mechanic does the job in half an hour, the customer still pays for 1.2 hours and the mechanic eats steak. Some repairs have no flat rate: water leaks, wind noise, electrical malfunctions, custom work and fabrications. These are what is known as straight time. My time working at a dealership, doing warrantee repairs, I liked electrical and wind noise repairs because I was paid straight time.
On another matter, let’s look at oil changes. With the advances of oil technology, and cleaner running engines, many new car makers are extending the mileage recommendations for oil changes. It’s not uncommon to see 10 thousand or 7500 miles recommended between oil changes. What I have seen is in some places, including new car dealerships, they are telling customers to change their oil at the old standard of 3 thousand miles between changes. This isn’t right. Many cars are now using synthetic oils which don’t need changes so often. Be sure to read your owner’s manual and go by the maker’s recommendations. It’s hard to justify out thinking the engineers with their million dollar budgets for designing these cars. Just take their word for it. New jeeps are the most sophisticated. They use their onboard computers to tell the driver when to change the oil based on what kind of driving is done.
David Tavares, automotive consultant. To reach him please write [email protected]