A new study of auto maintenance shops by Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook reveals that while auto repair prices may vary widely for a variety of reasons, price doesn’t correlate to quality in any measurable way.
“Checkbook found no relationship between the prices shops charge and the quality of their work. There are many top-quality, low-price shops,” reads the Oct. 31 report published on SFGate (part of The San Francisco Chronicle).
The organization used secret shoppers to obtain more than 2,000 quotes for specific repairs from auto shops in the San Francisco area.
Quotes varied quite widely from shop to shop. Replacing a water pump on a 2007 Camry XLE was priced between $410 and $1,809; replacing an alternator on a 2007 Dodge Caliber SXT ranged between $500 and $900. Non-dealer shops were more affordable than dealerships, on average.
General labor costs also covered the spectrum, from $79 per hour on the low end to $206 on the high end.
In addition to comparing quotes, Checkbook cross-referenced them with more than 15,000 customer surveys and investigated customer complaints.
Recommendations for Better Service
Using the complete data, the study’s organizers also issued some recommendations for getting better service.
Communication, according to Checkbook, is the most important factor: “If possible, talk directly to the repair technician who will be working on the car.” The study also recommends actually writing out a report of a car’s symptoms before taking it into the shop, giving one copy to the technicians and keeping the other.
It’s also important to get a written estimate that guarantees no work will exceed that estimate without prior customer approval, and to get duplicate copies of a signed and dated invoice.
Customers can protect themselves against shoddy repairs by paying with a credit card, since this provides extra leverage should something in the work process go wrong.
“A written note about the specific symptoms is a good first step,” says Rick Genin of Genins Auto Care. “Specific to your concerns you should note how often it occurs, type sound, noise, vibration, etc. The more details you can provide your mechanic with, the better.”