6 Tips for Understanding Common Charges on an Auto Repair Order

An auto repair order can be difficult to understand, even for people who know what parts are being discussed. Some states legally required for a customer to have a written estimate drawn up before the work has been completed. This also includes an invoice of labor and parts used, although this applies only to licensed repair shops rather than moonlighting mechanics. The price of labor can often overshadow the price of the part being installed, which is a way for some repair shops to cover taxes and overhead. It can also be a way of gouging the customer, which makes it even more necessary to know what the invoice actually means. Knowing whether or not a charge is common makes it easier for customers to decide on whether or not the shop will operate in an honest manner.

Know the Labor Cost Up Front

Repair shops often charge two different ways on labor: flat fee or real time. If the shop routinely charges an hour or two for installation, the flat fee system is probably being used. This means that the shop charges time based on estimates taken from the manufacturer on an average of installation time for that particular part. Transmissions and air conditioning units often take hours of labor. The real time system means that the shop charges based on how much time was actually taken to install the part, or do the repair. In that case, the customer’s trust level may depend on the shop’s reputation for honesty, because it may be quite easy for mechanics to overstate labor charges, which often range between $60 to $90.

Know the Wait Time Involved

Although not expressly written down on an auto repair order, when a car is being repaired, many people forget to ask how long the process is expected to take. It’s no good assuming that an “easy” part can be replaced quickly, or an oil change “shouldn’t take much time,” because auto mechanics have lunch breaks and work flows the same as in any other shop. Make sure that you know when then work is done so that you can pick up your car, especially on the weekends.

Don’t Fight Fluid Disposal

It’s no use fighting the fluid disposal charge, which should certainly be under $5 or $10, because most states require that fluids be disposed in a certain way. This takes time, and time is money. Any oil change or transmission fluid change should be included in this charge.

Ask about the Diagnostic Fee

Many shops require a minimum fee for running a diagnostic test because the equipment costs thousands of dollars. If you ask up front at a new shop whether or not they can waive the diagnostic fee, this may be a great indication of whether or not the repair shop is interested in long-term or short-term customers. If the shop waives the fee, they almost certainly want you back for more repairs later on. If they absolutely refuse, they may just be after getting the price of that one repair. If that’s so, you can count on them being salesmen of repairs rather than good mechanics.

Get Details on the Tire Removal Fee

Tires, like fluids, must be disposed of in certain ways. However, some shops like to re-sell used tires, which might not be mentioned on the auto repair order. Make sure that the shop is not charging you for tire removal if the intention is to re-sell to a shadier shop down the road.

Look for Customer Approval

Asking for upfront customer approval on an auto repair order by the repair shop is a good sign of honesty. If the invoice has a small-print written guarantee that the customer will be contacted before repairs are made, that’s reassuring. If the invoice also has a guarantee that estimates will be given before work is completed, and approval must be given for work done beyond the quoted price or labor charge, this is also a good sign. Of course, this is required in some state law. However, a sure sign of a sneaky auto repair shop is a statement that customers must pay for whatever work has been completed, with or without approval.

An auto repair order should be easy, but there’s always the people element. Essentially, it’s not the order that’s often the problem; it’s that you’re looking at the auto order to see whether or not the shop is honest. Every customer wants a shop that communicates well, telling them fees and repairs up front, and letting them know how long the repairs will take. Every customer should also be on the lookout for dishonesty when it comes to paying for unnecessary repairs or extra fees, but some are just part of the overhead of doing business, like tire removal and fluid disposal. Do your research, and trust your instincts.