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How to know what a car repair should cost

A new tool can give you an idea of what a given repair should cost in your area, along with what should be included in the fix.

By Nov 13, 2013 1:18PM

This post comes from Bob Sullivan at partner site on MSN MoneyHow much do people hate going to auto repair shops? A new survey says 41 percent of Americans would rather do their taxes -- by hand! -- than head to a garage for car repairs.  And why not? About 60 percent say they think they've been ripped off by an auto repair shop.

Car wrecked on road guardrail © NULL, OJO Images, Getty ImagesThe survey also found that three-quarters of Americans think repair shops are condescending to women, and are more likely to overcharge them.

A website named RepairPal is hoping to tip the scales back toward consumers with a simple online tool and app called RepairPrice Estimator. Drivers enter their ZIP code and service required, and it returns a price range and additional notes about potential repair costs.

For example: A driver in suburban Seattle who needs a new water pump for a six-year-old Jeep

Liberty will find the price should range from $263 to $368, and should include coolant, a gasket, and hose clamps. The estimate also includes a warning that drive belts may require replacement as part of this procedure, particularly if a leaky water pump has spilled coolant on a belt.

RepairPal said the estimator is fueled by technicians and analysts, who spent 75,000 hours analyzing the cost of labor and parts for various repairs alongside ZIP codes across the country.

I love tools that give you price ranges, such as FlightAware's new airline route comparison tool. It tells you the median cost paid by consumers flying between two cities, by airline, giving fliers a chance to see if they overpaid.

There are other estimators online also. Napa and AOL Autos license RepairPal’s data, so those tools produce exactly the same results. AutoMD’s tool offered additional results, comparing dealer prices with independent repair shop prices and do-it-yourself costs. Consumer Reports asked for relevant information about a car, but after filling out the Web forms, wouldn’t show estimates until users paid for a subscription.

RepairPal announced this week it has a partnership with AARP, which grants discounts to that association's 37 million members at repair shops around the country.

"RepairPal and AARP share the same core principles of building value through trust, quality, transparency, and savings,” said Art Shaw, CEO of RepairPal. "Finding a quality repair shop is a difficult and often uncomfortable task."

The survey, conducted earlier this year by Harris Interactive, shows seniors are no strangers to that ripped-off feeling. It found 56 percent of Americans older than 55 felt they'd been ripped off at a repair shop.

But the survey also found the younger the driver, the more likely he or she would feel ripped off. Among those 18-34, 73 percent said they thought they'd been overcharged or paid for unnecessary repairs.  That’s not a surprise -- younger consumers generally are less familiar with hands-on auto repairs than their parents or grandparents.

What consumers can do

A cost estimator can't help stop unnecessary repairs -- it simply lets you know if the cost of such repairs are consistent with what other shops nearby are charging. As with most consumer purchases, the only real way to make sure you aren't paying too much is to shop around and get multiple estimates. With auto repairs, it's common to receive estimates that vary by $500 or more, as mechanics often disagree about "necessary repairs," and are often compensated by nudging consumers to replace parts prematurely.

In truth, many drivers are in a poor position to shop around. When your car breaks down and won't run, it's hard to do comparison shopping. That's why it's important to find a trustworthy shop while conducting regular maintenance, before a real crisis hits. It also helps to be a member of a discount program, such as AAA, so you can have a car towed from one shop to another for a second opinion if major repairs are recommended.

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Nov 13, 2013 2:36PM
I'm a mechanic, and I have ever ripped anyone off. Most of the time the people who complain are those that drive their vehicles until they drop.. never keeping regular maintenance up.. and only changing the oil when the oil light comes on to make them think of it. Then they want to whine that the water pump they need replaced  (which is driven by the timing belt).. which is 30k miles overdue to be replaced and costs $50-$75.. and if your changing the timing belt.. often its best to replace the timing idlers and tensioner pullies while your have it apart to save future failures. That's another $60-$100+.. And of course to get to the timing belt, you have to pull the serpentine belt, which is also worn slap out (another $30). which might revel that the serpentine belt tensioner pulley or the idler pulley are needing replaced (easily another $50-$75).  So they act shocked and bewildered that the $25 water pump they got is now going to cost them $400-$450 by the time the jobs done. Then they want to yell as loud as they can tat I screwed them over. Well, buy a tool set and a repair manual and start fixing the dam thing yourself. Otherwise, start bringing your car in on a regular basis to keep the thing in good shape.
Nov 13, 2013 2:09PM
An honest mechanic is a valuable asset.  We need more of them.
Nov 13, 2013 3:26PM
Best thing my Father ever taught me was how to turn a wrench, that along with some basic high school engine shop classes have saved me thousands over the years, parts are relatively cheap, Its the labor at 60 to 100 $/hr that gets you. Car manufactures do there best these days to make engines look unrecognizable, but once you take all the plastic covers out of the engine bay, it's a basic motor underneath, you may have to buy "Special" tool in some cases that you may only use that one time, but its still vastly cheaper, Buy a Chilton or Haynes manual for your car make/model, If you can read and turn a wrench you might be surprised what you can achieve at a fraction of the price.
Nov 13, 2013 4:05PM
Finding a reliable auto repair shop is as difficult as finding a good plumber electrician etc etc. I have been fixing cars professionally for over 40 years,and have seen it all. Diagnosing a problem correctly can be time consuming. That coolant leak could be a bad water pump,or a leaking head gasket: a huge difference in repair costs!  So,it is not as easy as just asking how much to change a water pump.  The most difficult part of being a mechanic is diagnosing problems,and this is where extra time on repairs is often overlooked. It may take 15 seconds to change a fuse,but finding out WHY that fuse blew is the real problem. A shops reputation locally will tell you all you need to know.
Nov 13, 2013 5:13PM
Maybe I'm old school or maybe just old but I have always fixed anything I own myself. Cars, house repairs, add ons, washers in such.  Not really difficult once you start. Kind of weird to think of letting another person mess with my things.
Nov 13, 2013 3:16PM
if it's Not Broken, don't fix-it. however preventative maintenance is a good thing, periodical oil changes, belts & hoses recommendations etc. these things are very important to learn & save big bucks for ones self. all businesses are out to make money/ profit, that goes  without saying......
Nov 13, 2013 3:09PM
zip code plus repair. ok. what if they aren't truthful about what needs repair or in their own ignorance they don't know. we had a shop plug in their high dollar code reader and tell us the fuel venting system needed repair. took it somewhere else. they looked at the gas cap and showed us the seal all twisted and broken. bought a new $10 gas cap and problem solved for what the other shop quoted as a minimum $100 repair.
Nov 13, 2013 3:10PM

Well I have been an auto tech for 40 years. If you think we rip everyone off, all I can tell you is that

this is America, so just do it yourself. Go buy all the tools you need which will set you back 50 grand, then just try to keep up with changing technology. Then put up with people who all complain you are ripping them off and you are just a grease monkey anyway.

Nov 17, 2013 10:56AM
This is why I drive an OLD car, I mean anything that was built before 1973,  They are easier and less expensive to maintain than an ornery spouse.  Parts are still available, inexpensive, and simple.  I just can't see why you need all the crap that's in a new car these days.  Plus my cars are just plain cool and have character.
Nov 13, 2013 6:41PM
in a world where the average car has over 20 modules(mini computors) you are paying more for the knowledge than the repair...the public does not have acess to factory assistence and knowledge so back do not go to fast food and look at a picture of food then go to your mex food guy to make it do you???grow up most technicians have close to 50000 dollars invested in tools and trining as a doctor...but our patients change each year...sure their are crooks as in every job...look at government and yet you trust them???they are part of the reason that cars are so complicated...the tire monitor on your new car is federally mandated...they are telling you that you are to stupid to drive and know you have a flat!!!!!!that is not a repair most neighborhood mechs can diag or repair...that is just 1 example...
Nov 13, 2013 3:55PM
This country is finished because of greed and corruption !!!!!!!
Nov 13, 2013 6:22PM

yes, i would say that its the time manuals that are the bad guys in alot of cases

i own a semi truck, and it needed a new clutch. so i took it to a dealer

they charged me 8 hours labor at 110.00 an hour

i watched them do the work in 3.5 hours

still charged me for the full 8 hrs labor

495.00 over charge

Nov 17, 2013 6:36AM
Here are the facts, and if anyone would like I will send copies of the repair bills./// 7 years ago this coming march (2014) my air conditioner went kaput on my vehicle. I live in Arizona, therefore vehicle a/c is a must in the summer months. The first shop charged me for a estimate of $55.00 to tell me that my a/c wasn't working. The compressor was leaking, and had to be replaced. By the time they finished with me the repair bill was...are you sitting down...get ready...$978.00, oh but wait, that included the $55.00 also. Now, are you really ready? It didn't last two (2) weeks before it went out again. I couldn't afford another repair bill at the time therefore having to forego the repair. They would not warranty it, saying that the previous a/c guy, the one who worked on my car to begin with had over charged the compressor with R-134 gas and blew the seals, They claimed they fired him. I don't know. Did they?

The following spring April of 2006, I went back again. They had quit doing a/c work, but guided me to a reputable shop that repaired the a/c...this time installing a new compressor, in-line filter, a new hose, and a new dryer. Are you sitting down?.....good, as this repair lasted less than a week, then their a/c man they said. Did he? This charge wasn't as bad as the was only $935. and some change. I was overwhelmed to say the least! Another summer without air conditioning, miserable!!

Well, once again I had to wait until I scraped enough together to have it repaired once again. However, this time there was a twist in the plans. I took the vehicle to Mexico...yes that's right Mexico. I live approx. 2 hours from the border, but I did better than the border. There's rip off's there just as well as in the "One Nation Under God"...this time I went 200 miles farher south of the border. I found a shop in a rugged little town in Sonora called Santa Anna. The guys were dirty and had antiquated equipment, the shop was all but falling down,

They looked my car over and told me they would have to call Hermosillo for parts, and that it would be the next afternoon before parts arrived. But, they didn't pull a rip job either. They presented receipts, did the work while I watched. The grabber,...I was charged a grand total of $336. for everything, they even fed me as I waited, and kept me supplied with soft drinks, Now the a/c is working still yet without a clitch...that's right Mexican mechanics explained that the reason for the original problem was that the fan was too small to keep the compressor cool in my area. Hey, it works, that's what I wanted. They installed a 6 bladed radiator fan instead of the original 4 blade fan. A little noisey until you get used to it, but it avoided another great amerikan rip-off by the true crooks and swindlers.

Incidently...the area is the Tonopah, Az. locale. Stay away from these jerks at all costs.

Nov 13, 2013 4:36PM
New roof can run $7000 to over $30,000. Remodeled kitchen with new cabinets, granite counters and high quality stainless steel appliances from $25,000 to over a $100,000. Remodeled bathroom from $7000 to $35,000. Just think about your home having no moving parts when you spend $300-1000 for repairs on your vehicle. Every mechanic will tell you maintenance is the key. Pay me now a couple dollars or a lot later with poor maintenance. Generally we pay 4-5-6 years for the vehicle and after those years we pay for the parts that wear out. Today's vehicles with proper care will easily make 125,000 to 175,000 miles and more.
Nov 13, 2013 6:47PM
hey aomz123 have you ever complained about doctor charges????maybe the guy that did your clutch had done 100s before...he is good ...that is how he feeds your family...if you think you can do it better than go for it scooter...
Nov 17, 2013 11:05AM
As an older woman and a widow, after posting on here I recently paid over $100.00 for an oil change, many of you gave me good advice. I now will do my homework before I go to another mechanic. I realize now it was my own stupidity in trusting the local mechanic because he was always nice to me.
Nov 13, 2013 7:31PM
Mechanic,  Auto body, and Painter, I have never ripped anyone off, There are lot of things I've done for free down thru the years an simply never charged for because it always meant good business, Now days I do my own home repairs, costs me a little time, and the price of the parts...
Nov 17, 2013 9:42AM
Nov 14, 2013 5:02AM
Seems some folks are confused to what ripped off means. When I go to a mechanic and the problem I have is the one he fixed and gave me a price on, That doesn't mean he necessarily ripped you off. Being ripped off usually means a person either fixed something that wasn't broken and or misled you on potential costs, after the fact. All this, well go get a book and fix it yourself doesn't  address the issue. Nor do we really want a bunch of cars on the Road fixed by most folks who aren't qualified to fix a darn thing.

Most folks are willing to pay the going rate, most folks however don't know what that is. If you are willing to rip someone off, then don't ever talk down about other folks. Quality mechanics at a quality prices are hard to fine. Our best solution then is regular maintenance so that we can avoid seeing them as many times as possible.

Nov 17, 2013 2:42PM
dealerships replace a lot of brakes, air filters, and a host of other services that don't need replacing! We all know that!
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