I was talking with a friend the other day about her latest car repair experience. Her vehicle had broken down and was towed to the shop AAA recommended. After testing and evaluation, some inexpensive parts, and labor to fix the car, they received a bill for about $1,000. She was shocked that after only a couple new bolts it cost that much. She was under the impression the invoice said two mechanics made $50 an hour each for the job. There were only a few inexpensive parts, so why did it cost so much!?

The more I talked with my friend, the more it became clear that she didn’t understand the invoice. She didn’t understand it because they didn’t explain it well. Even the most experienced auto repair technician would not make $50 an hour, so why did she think that? Well, the invoice probably noted that the labor rate (which covers the mechanics wages, business overhead, and the shop’s profit) was $50 an hour, but the shop obviously didn’t explain that well, thus the misunderstanding. Plus, she didn’t understand that she was also paying for the testing and evaluation needed to pin-point the problem in addition to the labor to fix it. I explained to her that some jobs have few parts but require more testing and evaluation and labor to fix the problem. 

I don’t know if the shop overcharged her, but they certainly didn’t do a good job explaining what was wrong, how they came to that conclusion, what it took to fix the problem, and how the labor rate plays into that. I told her that I was sorry she had that experience, she should have been treated better.

By the end of the conversation she felt a lot better about her repair bill. She should have felt that way prior to paying the bill.

Honest communication is an important value for us, so we aim to do better with our clients.

Communication About Repairs

The first thing we do when a vehicle comes to our shop is to make sure the client understands how our labor rate plays into the testing and evaluation of the vehicle.

Once we know what’s wrong, we explain the solution in a way that the client can understand. We give them a firm budget — an amount that we will not exceed, even if it means applying a discount if we go over budget. They can be at ease knowing that they won’t pay a penny more than that amount. We only begin the repair once they understand the budget and the repair procedure. We update them throughout the process if the vehicle is in the shop for more than a day.

Once the vehicle is repaired, we again talk through the costs for testing and evaluation, parts and repair labor. We tell them how the job went and how we navigated complications if there were any. 

Communication About Cost of Ownership

If you own an older or high mileage vehicle, you will eventually wonder if it’s worth the cost of repairs to keep. This is a conversation we have a lot with clients. 

We recently had a 60,000 mile, 2012 Volkswagen in the shop. Another mechanic told him that the engine needed to be replaced but the client was uncomfortable with that answer, so he brought it to us for a second opinion. The engine did indeed have significant damage, but after testing and evaluation Andrew concluded that it was fixable at about $8,000. This cost is less than replacing the engine. That repair job would be a great profit for us!

However, Andrew didn’t want to take advantage of the client. He communicated that, while he was willing to fix the vehicle, it wouldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be future engine repairs needed. This repair plus future repairs would likely have been higher than the cost to replace it with a quality used vehicle. Despite the low mileage the client chose to forgo the repair and replace the vehicle.

We don’t want clients to invest more money into a car than it’s worth. While it’s good for us to have lots of repair jobs, it’s dishonest to take a clients money when they would be better off with a different vehicle.

We do something similar when talking to clients about purchasing a used vehicle. If they were to tell us about a vehicle that fits their budget perfectly, we advise them about the cost of ownership in addition to the sale price. We advise adjusting their budget with cost of ownership in mind.

I Recently had a client reach out to me about a vehicle purchase decision. He was looking at two vehicles that were about the same age and mileage. One was a BMW while the other was a Toyota. From being a part of conversations with Andrew and clients about ownership costs and having done many repair estimates, I instantly knew the Toyota’s ownership costs would be lower. The client got the Toyota, brought it to the shop, and Andrew was pleased with his choice.

Honesty is the Best Policy

We understand that honesty is a big concern when it comes to auto repair. It can sometimes cost a significant amount of money for repairs and you don’t want to pay more than you have to. We’ve seen that by being completely honest with our clients, we’re able to build a trusting relationship, which puts both our clients and us at ease. We know that we are doing what’s best for the client and they know they are being treated fairly.

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