Yesterday, I was asked to call one of our long-time clients who was a bit upset that we could not estimate a certain job over the phone. It is very rare that I need to personally call a client, but of course, it’s always my pleasure to do so. This is a long-time supporter of Reggie’s Motorworks and someone I would call a friend. He also drives a good distance for us to work on his car.
So with this kind of relationship, why don’t we offer an estimate for a seemingly simple repair?
This is a great question, and in my opinion, one worth exploring in this blog forum. This is a HUGE topic within the automotive repair industry. In fact, it is discussed ad nauseam. I have so much information in my head on the subject that I could probably write a book on it. While I want to be objective, I have taken the stance that we indeed, should not quote prices for most things over the phone.
First, I want to tell you why I think we should, or at least why I wish it was realistic to estimate auto repair without seeing the car. Price matters for a number of reasons. It is hard to go blindly into any project without having some idea of what it is going to cost.
Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The word “estimate” gets fuzzy when you can’t actually see the “thing” you are estimating. I can figure out what it will cost to replace a clutch in your 2004 Mini Cooper S based on book time and the price of a new clutch. But how does this play out in the real world? The truth is that this job could cost anywhere from say $1,800-$3,500 depending on what all components are worn out. Beyond this, how do we know you truly need a clutch and not something else? How do I estimate it? Do I give you the best-case scenario to “get you in the door” or do I give you the worst case scenario so there are no surprises? (BTW, there are ALWAYS surprises.)
Let’s stick with this Mini clutch replacement for just a minute. Say you call 4 places and get these four results:
I can’t tell you without seeing the car
Which do you choose?
What if you don’t actually need a clutch? What if you need a clutch slave cylinder that costs $285 in parts and labor at shop #3? What if shop #1 blindly replaces the clutch for $1,200 and the car still doesn’t shift?
This leads me to a fairly bold statement. A good mechanic should never quote prices over the phone. I think the exceptions are for things like oil changes and manufacturer specific maintenance items like a Mercedes-Benz Service A or Service B, or a BMW Vehicle check. Even these can lead to unknown expenses once we inspect the car.
Also, a consumer should never choose a mechanic based on price. I will break this down two ways.
1. If you don’t have a regular mechanic, you need one. In many ways, a car is patterned after the human body. It is complex, and it will pay dividends to take it to someone who knows you and your car. You need both a mechanic and a service advisor who knows you, your priorities, and this history of your vehicle.
2. If you have a regular mechanic, TRUST them. If you don’t trust your regular mechanic, then find one that you do. I’ll get into how we estimate later, but know that a good shop prices things based on their operating costs, which includes expenses like the facility, the quality of the staff, and their investments in amenities, training, and tooling. If you don’t think your shop is ethical, then definitely find another one. If your shop charges $200 more for a certain job than another facility, respect that they have a reason. They might charge $200 less than the other shop on the next repair. Please don’t bounce around for the best price on a per-job basis. This is insulting to the staff of each shop, and in the long run, it does you a disservice by having your records in multiple locations.
So why can’t you give me a ballpark? Why can’t we estimate a repair based on assuming it will be XXXX? We can, and we have in the past, but here’s why we have decided to stop this practice:
Estimating a job takes time. To come up with an accurate number, the technician needs to look at the car, make an assessment, consult repair instructions and a labor guide. He then creates a needed parts list that goes to a service advisor. The Service advisor cross-references his labor estimate and determines the price of the parts. In many cases, tracking down all of the gaskets, screws, etc., requires looking at parts diagrams and checking multiple vendors.
If we are doing this over the phone, we cut the technician out of the equation...the guy (or gal) that actually does the work. A service advisor can look up labor time, but can’t cross-reference it with hands-on experience or repair instructions. He also may miss a detail like a needed gasket or snap-ring...or in the case of a job like a water pump, he may not know that it needs a timing belt at the same time. The inaccuracy of this quote can lead to frustration for the consumer and for the technician.
Even if we skip the technician’s step, a “simple” job can take 10-15 minutes to estimate. If ten people call per day needing these simple estimates, then a service advisor is spending 100-150 minutes estimating jobs that we may never get the opportunity to complete. This is two plus hours that we could be spending with clients that are already here and need their cars fixed. Not to mention, that these jobs will have to be re-estimated once we actually see the car, so these two hours are truly wasted. No one gets paid for them, and we’ve provided vague numbers that we can’t stand behind.
At this point, we are taking time away from the clients that are here spending their money and supporting us while we hope to earn other business. If your car is sitting here waiting to be repaired, you need to have it back and we respect that. There is only so much time in the day, and a service advisor needs that time to manage all of his work-in-progress, source parts, plus accurately estimate work from cars that are here in the shop.
If after reading this, you still choose to price-shop for auto-repair, remember you are not buying a commodity. You can call ten shops asking for a price on brakes, and you’ll get ten different answers. There are so many variables that no two shops will quote the job the same way, especially quickly. I think you’ll also find that the shops that quote the lowest prices will show you why the price triples once they look at your car. At Reggie’s Motorworks, we do want to “get you in the door”, but not by playing the bait and switch game. We want you to read our reviews, and come by to tour the shop and meet the staff. We don’t want to tell you something is going to be $199 to “beat our competitors’” phone price, then have to explain why it's really $785.65 once the job is completed.
At the end of the day, there is a shop that is best suited for every car owner. We are not a fit for everyone, but we hope that this information will help you make an informed decision as to who you trust with your car repairs. There are definitely shops out there with much lower operating expenses than we have, and they are able to pass those savings on to their clients. They just may not have the same warranty coverage as we do, or maybe they don’t have loaner cars. Maybe they only do “basic stuff” so they don’t need to invest in training or factory diagnostic computers.
If you drive a Porsche, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, MINI, or Mercedes-Benz, and want top-notch service for everything your car might need, then we are worth exploring. We back all of our work with a 3-year 36K nationwide warranty, and have a fleet of courtesy cars to keep you moving while we have your car. If you just want to stop by and see what we are all about, we are always glad to give you a tour of our facility.
If you want to know how much it will cost to replace the air ride suspension in your Mercedes, bring it on by! One of our technicians can determine whether it needs airbags or a compressor, or both. Then we can determine how much it will cost and present you with an accurate estimate. While we have the car, we’ll check it out from front to back and make sure there are no other expensive issues looming.