It's true. We don't like to give quotes over the phone. It's really risky because there are so many variables to consider that we really do need the car. We need to know if parts are damaged, if parts are rusted or corroded together. Sometimes there are 3 or 4 variations of a part that we need to see so we can quote the right part. Writing an estimate is not a simple task. It takes years of experience and we still need to see the car to do it correctly. Plus, we want to stick to our estimate so you don't have surprises. We can't do that if we can't write it correctly. So if you need an estimate please stop by and we'll get you an accurate estimate that we can both live with. Then you'll leave a happy customer and we'll be a happy shop. Everyone wins!
What are shop supplies anyway?
Well, there are a few things we need to fix a car. The obvious two are parts and labor. But what about all the other things that make up a professional repair?
For instance, on an oil change I use:
a special cleaner to clean up oil drips on the frame and engine,
I use 2-3 rags to clean my hands and check the oil,
I top off the windshield washer fluid,
I use floor dry to clean up oil drips on the floor,
I use coolant strips to check the coolant, I
go through 2 vacuum cleaner filters per year vacuuming footwells,
I use paper and ink to get oil reset procedures,
I put a sticker on your windshield,
and I use rubber gloves to protect my hands.
That's just an oil change. Most of that is also used on a normal repair plus other things like brake cleaner, additional rags, multiple sets of gloves, lots of floor dry, multiple pages of repair instructions etc...
So, how do I pay for all of that?
Well, I lump it together in shop supplies because it is a cost to fix your car. Then I measure the total that I spend on these things and make sure I'm recovering it. We do cap shop supplies because you only need floor dry once, at the end and you only need cleaners once, at the end of a repair, and you only need to print instructions once, whether it's a $4000 repair or a $40 repair.
Some shops actually try to profit from shop supplies. I don't. In fact, I actually don't charge enough to cover all the supplies. So I'm sharing the cost with you. I just want you to know it isn't bogus. Shop supplies are needed to perform a professional repair.
So the next time you see this on your invoice, know that 5-7% of the repair is fair and that a cap somewhere between $30-50 is about right. It keeps your favorite shop in business and helps them provide an exceptional repair without cutting corners.
Apparently, it is fantastic click bait to write articles and blog posts about how auto repair shops rip people off. I see these articles everywhere and it drives me crazy! I'm here to 1) fix your car when it breaks; and 2) to help you prevent it from breaking. Yes, it is going to cost money to do both of those, but it doesn't mean it's a rip off.
First, let's define ripoff: When you don't get what you paid for. You can't be ripped off if you got more than you paid for.
Next, let's define repairs and maintenance:
- Repairs - When I fix something that is broken
- Maintenance - When I fix something that isn't broken so it doesn't break something else in the future
Good, now we can chat.
The first myth is the fluid myth. Fluids need to be changed. They wear out and stop doing what they were designed to do. Sometimes they still look new which is very deceiving. However, they can cause expensive repairs if they are not changed. Below are some of the trouble they cause:
Coolant - loses it's rust inhibitors and begins rusting out your engine from the inside
Brake Fluid - loses it's corrosion inhibitors and eats your brake lines from the inside out
Transmission Fluid - picks up metallic dust from the gears in your transmission and turns the fluid into liquid sandpaper which grinds down your gears and bearings
Differential & Transfer Case Fluid - picks up metallic dust from the gears in your diff and turns the fluid into liquid sandpaper which grinds down your gears and bearings
Oil - picks up dirt and soot from combustion and gums up screens, filters and oil passages. I have see bad oil crack pistons and engine blocks because the grime causes it to lose it's lubricating property
Now do you see why fluids need to be replaced every so often? It is much cheaper to do that than to replace an engine or transmission. Even brake lines are much more expensive than an infrequent brake flush. This is maintenance. You take care of the fluids before they break something.
Second myth, extra parts being added to pad the bill.
I understand where this myth comes from but you have to understand, cars work in systems. One broken part can fail because a part earlier in the system is failing. If you don't fix the root of the problem then the new part will break too. We take a system approach here, to make sure your repair lasts. That's also why we can warranty our work for 3 years and 36,000 miles. Nobody does that!
Third, we recommend fixing parts that don't "need" to be fixed.
This is tough because sometimes we see symptoms of a part beginning to fail. However, nobody knows when that part will fail. In reality, you can only repair a part before it breaks or after it breaks. But there are 2 important things to consider if you are thinking of delaying a repair for a part that is showing wear:
1) It is always cheaper or the same to fix it before it breaks. It is never more expensive to fix it early. Sometimes broken parts require expensive tow trucks or they break other things along the way if you wait too long.
2) A part that is showing wear is only going to get worse and not even Nostradamus can predict the day it will actually break.
This is also maintenance and it is typically much cheaper than a repair.
Here at Integrity you don't need to worry about unneeded repairs. We'll show you what is happening and help you make a great decision about the repair.
Fourth...okay...I'm getting tired.
To be continued...
I agree. Everybody hates them. Most of all they hate paying for them because it doesn't feel like you get anything and it looks way to easy to cost that much. However, part of the problem is the terminology used in this industry.
So, before we go down this road of pain, I want to clarify a few terms that I will be using to make sure there is no confusion.
CODE CHECK - When I plug my scanner in and acquire the codes stored in your car's computer module(s). This is what some parts stores will do for free.
DIAGNOSTIC - When I start taking things apart, digging into computer modules, testing different parts, checking fuses, testing fluid pressures, etc... (sometimes this requires the use of a scan tool but at a much deeper level than a code check)
Okay, now we're on the same page with the lingo.
So, often when a car comes in with a check engine light the customer wants us to scan it to see what is wrong with it.
Simple enough right? Yes and no.
When this happens I grab my scan tool, head outside, plug it in and run a CODE CHECK.
After we have the codes pulled out the real fun begins. Codes can be understood in 3 distinct categories: 1) part specific codes 2) system specific codes 3) generic codes
This is where it gets confusing. See, depending on the code, I might be able to order a part and install it without further DIAGNOSTICS (remember that term from above?). Or...I might have to spend 3 hours figuring out what went wrong to set the code.
For example, I can usually get by with a simple code check if the code is a PART SPECIFIC CODE. The p0440 gas cap code is an example of this. I see p0440 and I check the gas cap. No DIAGNOSTICS needed.
However, if I get a SYSTEM SPECIFIC CODE such as a p0301 then I know it's a misfire, and I know to look at the ignition system but I don't know which part is causing the code to set. It could be a bad injector, coil pack, spark plug, coil pack connector, injector connector, or coil boot. So, when I see a p0301 I know it's going to take me 30-60 minutes to figure out which part is causing the car to set that code. I have to take things apart and inspect them and test them so that I don't fix the wrong thing. Sometimes I might have to spend 2+ hours working on something just so I can access the parts to test. Typically, we have enough experience with SYSTEM SPECIFIC CODES to correctly estimate the DIAGNOSTIC time and we will stick to that estimate like glue.
It gets worse. If I get a GENERIC CODE like a U1000 or a p0300 then it is going to take significant time to track down the culprit because at this point I don't even know what system is causing it to set the code. Is it your fuel pump? Is it 1 of over 100 connectors that is melted? Is it a hairline crack in your air boot? These codes really stink. These codes are uncommon and DIAGNOSTICS are not estimable. I can spend up to 2 hours just reading about these codes, possible causes, fixes that have worked in the past etc... When this happens we ask customers to give us a dollar amount they are willing to spend. Then we work right up to that amount and call them to ask for more if we haven't figured it out. Usually, we spend way more time than we bill for when this happens.
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse...it does. Sometimes cars will have numerous codes. I had one the other day that had over 30 codes in it. Think about it, if I only charged him $20 per code to diagnose it would cost him $600. It's actually quite common to find 3-5 codes on a code check. When this happens it can really become confusing because often you have to fix something to test something else. For example, it's hard to diagnose a bad coil pack if the car also has really bad spark plugs. The plugs themselves can set off the same codes as the coil pack and we have to fix those before we can track down the broken coil pack (cars have between 4 and 8 coil packs depending on the engine).
Okay, so while it seems like DIAGNOSTICS are a rip off, they aren't. It takes years of experience and expensive training to perform DIAGNOSTICS at a high level. Codes help us find a direction to look in but most of the time there are multiple parts that could set the code and it takes time to disassemble, inspect, test and research the parts so that we can identify the root of the problem.
I hope this helps you understand why DIAGNOSTICS are so expensive and why some auto parts stores can perform free CODE CHECKS. You see, they really aren't remotely the same, even if the names and tools are confusingly similar. And a CODE CHECK can be very misleading without the proper DIAGNOSTICS to go along with it.
Can you? Here at Integrity sometimes we get grilled about our estimates. Sometimes customers know of a "guy" who can do it for much less. Well, here's how we look at it.
I know which parts come back for warranties frequently because I track everything. So, I avoid selling those brands, or those parts. For example, we only use original equipment seals. If you have a leaky seal on your Ford we will only install a Ford seal. Why? Because in our experience aftermarket seals leak and Ford seals don't. Sometimes this means it will cost more for a repair here at Integrity. However, I know other part brands that are less expensive that are also better quality. We only install those parts as well. So sometimes we are less expensive. Over time, we are in the middle.
The overall theme is that we install the most reliable parts regardless of cost. Isn't that the right thing to do? To fix it right the first time? I think it's rather shady to put a bad part in a customer's car if you know it's a bad part. It causes my customers headaches because they have to come back for warranty work and it causes me headaches because now I have to fix it again for free. Bad parts are bad for everyone.
So how can you avoid bad parts?
1) Find a shop with a great warranty. Our warranty is 3 years 36,000 miles because we know which parts will last and we will only use those parts. Why will some shops only offer a 24 month 24,000 warranty? Well, it probably has to do with the quality of their work.
2) Be wary of inexpensive estimates at shops. Are they using bad parts (usually very cheap)? Will they be able to afford to warranty the part if it fails (they might just blame it on normal wear and tear if they can't afford the warranty) Will they even be in business when you need the warranty (if they don't charge enough they might be gone soon)?
3) Ask the service writer why or how they pick their parts. The answer should be something along the lines of "we've never had trouble with that brand" or "we've had trouble with other brands."
4) Avoid shops who compete on price only. In the auto repair industry, this is a death sentence for the business. It means the business is not attracting customers because of quality so they have to lower their prices to try to snag customers. Why do they do have to do this? Because their quality is bad. Be it cheap parts, poor repairs, grumpy service or short warranties, something is bad. You just won't find out until later.
So yes, the truth is that sometimes auto parts are expensive. And, that's good for me but it's only good for me because it's even better for you. That's why we use good parts. Because it's best for you.
The auto repair industry has a sketchy reputation. Part of it is the players and part of it is the nature of the industry. While it is 100% on shop owners to make the changes, part of the changes rest on educating customers and debunking common myths. I want to take a minute to share some of the structural components of this business that contribute to the mistrust surrounding this industry.
The Players - A large percentage of shop owners are former technicians. While technicians are fantastic at working on vehicles, they are not always so talented at communicating with customers. The problem with this is that when customers don't understand why they need a repair, or how a system works, they can easily think that a shop is just adding parts or fluids to pad their profit. Shops need to do a better job explaining repairs to customers, especially the 'why'.
The Industry - This industry is challenging. Cars can be rusty, poorly maintained, inherently complex or expensive to fix and often the owners of these vehicles can't afford to perform maintenance or repairs. When techs attempt to fix vehicles parts often fail during a repair. Bolt heads snap off, fluid lines crack, and sensors break, to name a few of the many things that can go wrong when working on a vehicle. This is the nature of maintaining old machines. It doesn't mean a shop is unethical, it just means that the vehicle was not in a serviceable condition and required unforeseeable work outside of the estimate to complete the repair. The customer doesn't always see it that way which is understandable. Shops need to do a better job of defining an estimate and explaining upfront that an estimate is subject to change for unestimable items.
The Distribution System - Parts prices are always a source of frustration with customers. Often they are comparing the prices that shops charge with the prices that auto parts stores charge. These are not comparable because the prices are at different points in the distribution system. To understand this we need to look at the distribution system. There is a manufacturer(usually a factory in China), a distributor (Moog, AC Delco, etc...), a retailer (NAPA, O'Reilly's, etc...) and finally the shop. Each part of that distribution system needs to make a profit on the part. Look at a steakhouse for example. You can buy a steak for $6 at the supermarket but it's $30 at a restaurant. The same is true for auto repair shops. We sell parts at a price that is higher than we buy them for just like every other point in the distribution system. That isn't unethical but some customers have a hard time understanding why shops set their parts prices higher than auto parts stores. The price at each point in the distribution system should be set to allow the business to stay in business and expand their business without borrowing.
What I've found is that most unhappy customers are unhappy with one of the three situations mentioned above, all of which are inherent to this business. They require proactive communication to help customers understand 'why' repairing vehicles is costly and unpredictable.