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.