• Feb 15th 2011 at 2:00PM
  • 308
Getty Images
People ask me all the time how the price of an auto repair is determined, usually phrased something like, "Why does my car repair cost so much?" This is a question worth asking, especially if you've been given a repair quote that runs into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

There are three main criteria used in pricing any given auto repair. The first is the labor rate, or what the shop charges for the time and expertise that goes into repairing your vehicle. The second is for the parts themselves, and whatever other shop support materials are used in the process of the repair. The third area to consider are the fixed costs or overhead that the repair shop has to cover, but that doesn't get reflected on your bill.

Understanding Labor Charges

When you see a line item for "labor" on your repair estimate or bill, there are two factors that go into it. The first is the shop's own per-hour labor rate. The second is "book time."

A shop's labor rate is the hourly rate it charges for work. The term "book time" refers to the average amount of time it takes to perform a particular automotive repair or maintenance job. This is a number that's set based on how long it takes a factory mechanic (or "technician," as is the common industry parlance) to do the job, but with a modifier applied in order to establish a more realistic time that a less trained technician might take. It's the automotive tech's responsibility to complete the job within that "book time" window, though sometimes repairs take longer or can be performed quicker.
Repair Estimator

Shop labor rates vary with the geographic area of the country and are competitive within a particular area. Labor rates typically run $80-$150 per hour nationwide.

A shop that specializes in a particular area usually charges higher labor rates for their service than a general service shop. While a specialist may charge more, this type of shop can often wind up being cheaper in the long run. A specialist is more likely to diagnose and repair a problem in laser-like fashion, fixing the vehicle in less time and using fewer new parts. Shops unfamiliar with a type of problem can end up muddling around, wasting the customer's money on unnecessary parts and long hours of labor just trying to find a solution.

Parts And Supplies

Yes, auto repair shops mark up the price of parts. These guys have to make a profit to stay in business, so typically they will tack on about 30 percent. Keep in mind that this markup also means that reputable shops can provide a warranty for their repairs.

The type of parts used for auto repair directly affects the bottom-line price. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts tend to be the highest priced, followed by aftermarket parts. There are typically two to three tiers of aftermarket parts. Different tiers are defined by quality. I use the top of the line aftermarket parts to raise the chance of a longer lasting, effective auto repair.

Finally, used parts also vary in price depending on the mileage and/or demand of the part. A used part can render an effective repair, depending on its condition.

"Shop support" can be defined as any products or services used to complete the repair. During the course of any auto repair certain stuff gets used, supplies like brake cleaning solution, shop rags, and replacement fluids. There are other ancillary services that you might encounter, like recycling and disposal fees for oil and other fluids. Costs of this nature are often passed onto the consumer.

Keeping The Lights On

What's not often passed onto the consumer are the costs of running a shop, which in this modern age, can be pricy. Regardless of size, a shop has expenses that have to be paid by the work generated. There are the obvious ones, like the rent, electricity, heat and other utilites.

But there are also substantial costs for equipment and technology. In order to work on today's cars a shop must have state-of-the-art scanners, diagnostic software, and lab scopes to analyze vehicular datastreams in an effort to extract critical information for accurate vehicle repair. Without such info, techs cannot deliver accurate repairs. Other equipment such as vehicle lifts, floor jacks, lubrication equipment and the likes are necessary to operate a shop efficiently and effectively.

Good trained service personnel costs money, period. Usually techs are classified as "A", "B", or "C" techs, and the more high-grade techs in a shop, the more it costs to pay them. In order to attract a high-grade technician these days, shops have to pay a good hourly rate or weekly salary. In addition, health insurance and other benefits such as a company car often go into the package to attract the class "A" technician.

These technicians have to go to school on a regular basis to keep up with new automotive technology. Without this training, techs cannot repair vehicles in the "book time" allotted for a particular service operation. (Not to mention the occasional "headache" job that comes along that every tech in town has had his/her hands on without success.) A repair shop usually pays for this training.

Many shops carry their own parts inventory. Given the number of different years, makes, and models of vehicles on the road, this inventory must be broad. Sitting on this inventory is not cheap.

As you can see, there's a lot more that goes into auto repair pricing than parts and labor.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      The markup on parts prices dosn't help, I had a coil pack replaced on my truck they charged me $80.00, I found out his cost $40.00. They tell you you can't do it yourself , well the one I had replaced by a Mechanic cost me $250.00, and he didn't change the Spark Plug, I just changed 2 myself plugs included cost me $110.00 Total savings $390.00 and it only took 30 minutes to do.
      • 4 Years Ago
      tommy the retard, it is that simple.
      • 4 Years Ago
      @TheMotorjunkie If you cannot beat the book, which is outrageously loose, you are either just a crook or just plain incompetent . I, as a novice, have routinely beat the book by 50%. ANY mechanic worth half his weight in salt, with professional tools, should be able to beat the "book" by 70 percent...and that is on a bad day! 90 percent of shops are crooks!!! (I have two brother-in-laws in the business and they see the result of the crooks! Don't even get me started on the chains like Minekie...whatever.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Oh, you've overlooked another key element. The service writer at most dealerships (and many repair shops) work on a commission basis. They are incented to maximize repairs on vehicle. I once sat in a waiting area close to the service writers booth (BMW dealer) and overheard one service writer commenting to another. The first said; "Are brakes all your doing on this vehicle?" The second guy replied; "I got him for $1,200.00 last time so this time I'll just get him for brakes."
      • 4 Years Ago
      WOW... Most of you people leaving comments really have no idea... really.... I can tell the majority of you ARENT mechanics, but rather the "Backyard mechanic" which gives EVERY REAL MECHANIC a BAD REP.... To be a mechanic, you ave ALOT of schooling to go thru, about engines, transmissions, and electrical. Then, you have to understand how an engine works, which Obviously Most of you dont..... with comments like "fix it your self" and "buy the tools and fix it your self" and bitching about "labor costs, and Flat Rate"..... What the majority of you dont seem to understand, is The REAL MECHANICS spend ALOT of money on tools, education, and the understanding of the never ending new technology commimng out on our cars. Which is why now days, shops charge ********* because theres a TON of computerized **** in the cars that need programming... anymore you almost need to be a computer programmer to work on these damn cars.... so QUIT BITCHING ABOUT PAYING SO MUCH TO YOUR MECHANIC... HE/SHE KEEPS YOUR SCREW UPS AND MISHAPS IN CHECK... MAKES IT SO YOU CAN DRIVE YOUR CAR.
      • 4 Years Ago
      You forgot to add GREED into the equation! Parts are marked up several hundred percent and labor rates are a scam.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Please convince me why a registered nurse gets $30 per hour and a mechanic(for even a pool guy) can charge $75 or more.
        • 4 Years Ago
        whoa...... are you comparing a W2 job to a 1099/business??? How much is the HOSPITAL charging? that is what you should be comparing it to, we are in the IT (computer/Electronics) field, and charge $75 - $125/hr for onsite and $50 - $70/hr bench. Now my techs and engineers get paid based on experience etc... ranging from $10.50 - 34.00/hr... BUT the rest goes to things like: 20% = Taxes 5% to payroll taxes 20% to Lease payments 15% to Fuel 8% to Maint. 4% to Credit Card Fees 20% to salary (employee) 8% profit. (above numbers are approximate and very by the week) You CANNOT compare a business to a personal, that $30/hr is with the majority of taxes being paid and is STRAIGHT profit, unlike where $100/hr totals $8 in profit. NOT to mention things like benefits etc.... I am SHOCKED by the public's mis-conception of business!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      I am a master ase certified technician, spend countless hours educating my self on the newest relased vehicle, have to supply my own tools that monthly bill is more than my house payment . I make less than 20.00 an hr and have to listen to people cxomplain everyday that it costs to much to fix there car but when they go to a doctor they don't complain to them that it cost to much or that the surgery they have cost to much they just pay it. people just are not happy unless they have something to bitch about and thanks to a few 20 20 shows about crokked mechanics we are all deemed croocked...what a bunch of BS..
      • 4 Years Ago
      some like the stealership are total liar and rip offs
      • 4 Years Ago
      Sure wish we could go back to when a fellow could take an afternoon and fix his own car, and used cars lasted for years, those were the really good old days!!!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I never, ever buy a new car. I do have my mechanic check out any used vehicle that I am interested in. He has a vested interest in it as well as his is the only garage that I use for all of my auto repairs. He isn't the cheapest in town but I have always felt that you get what you pay for. The last time in I was informed that certain repairs had been made without checking with me because the repair was under warranty from about 11 months previous. They had made the repairs initially. When the mechanic noticed the problem he went back into the records and found where they had made the repairs and rather than bother me with the details they went back in and repaired it again. There was, of course, no charge. I am in the hospitality business and when someone from out of town has car problems, I always recommend my mechanic to them.
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X