My car needed a tune-up so I called the dealership and a couple of local mechanics for prices. The dealer told me it would be four hours of labor plus parts, which could end up being pretty expensive unless they do a better job(?) One of the mechanics at another shop quoted a flat rate, but the other charged two hours of labor and parts. What is the best option and how do I know what I am getting for my money?
Thanks, Tom P.
Thanks for writing Tom!
Tom’s scenario is a great example of the price differences we can encounter with different car repair options. The dealer and most large repair shops use a shop hourly manual that gives them standard time estimates for most repairs on the different models of cars.
So more than likely, the shop manual listed four hours as the required time to perform basic tune-up services on your model of car. Any deviance in quotes from other businesses could mean that they are quoting your job from experience, our of their heads, or they may be using another brand of manual.
Or they may be using the same time estimate but have a drastically different hourly rate ($80/hr vs. $60/hr). So when comparing apples to apples for a tune-up, your first question will be how the labor is calculated.
Now you need to determine exactly what services and parts you are being quoted for. In addition to labor charges, the mechanic should replace spark plugs, distributor ignition rotor, and filters (air filter, fuel filter, PCV filter).
But some mechanics may only put in new spark plugs and call it a tune-up. So if you don’t know to ask exactly what is being done, obviously the price of the spark-plugs-only guys is going to be tempting. The GM shop manual may list different services and parts than another manual for a car tune up, so get specifics.
It is a common practice among some repair shops to give really low estimates over the phone on purpose to get you in the door. For example, if your radiator needs to be replaced, this mechanic may not include the price of the radiator cap, the antifreeze that will have to be replaced, and estimated taxes when he gives you a quote over the phone.
Then surprise, surprise when your final bill may even be hundreds more than you expected depending on the repairs being done. In my opinion, this is a sneaky tactic that doesn’t build good, long term relationships with customers. And it is a hassle to have to go back and sell parts later on that the mechanic already knows you are going to need upfront. So sometimes a higher quote than a competitor may mean that your final bill ends up being lower.
Sometimes mechanics will charge actual labor time spent on your car rather than a flat rate. Sounds like a better option, but you could be setting yourself up for a slower mechanic to just take his time to rack up more hours on the clock or to run out for parts on your time instead of theirs.
Okay, now with all of that explained, I also need to ask you why you are taking your car in for a tune up. And I hope the shops you called asked you too. Our modern cars are loaded with sophisticated sensors and computers, and if any of them are not working properly, the performance of your car can be off.
If a driver “gets the feeling” their car needs a tune up, and there is a problem that needs proper diagnosis and attention, you will be disappointed when you have paid for a tune up and performance isn’t improved. So if your car is running differently than normal, make sure to let the mechanic know your concerns instead of just asking for a tune up.
I made this short video talking about when is the best time to replace your spark plugs…take a watch.