Understanding Your Auto Repair Bill: The Deal on Parts

You’re driving home after a long day of work. You are tired and looking forward to changing into some more comfortable clothes for a relaxing evening in front of the TV with the family. The light turns green and you begin to accelerate when your car makes a stuttering noise, complaining about continuing on. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time but, reluctantly, as soon as you get home, you dial up your auto repair shop before it closes for the day.

The next day, the technician at the shop diagnoses your car. She hands you an estimate and explains what needs to be done – it’s an important repair that can’t wait. Six hours of labor and over $400 in parts. You want your family to be safe when they are in the vehicle, so you sign off on the work.

Talking to your brother over dinner that weekend he says, “I think you are getting taken. I had the same job done on my car two months ago for less. They charged slightly more for labor but I had them buy the cheaper part and didn’t have them replace all those other little things, so overall my bill was less. You should convince your shop to do it that way or get a second opinion.”

Should you listen to your brother?

It’s true. You can get the “same” part for a range of costs. However, rarely will anyone gain by choosing the cheapest part. That’s why I’m including this post in my series on “Understanding Your Bill,” which also covers diagnostic and labor rates and a mechanic’s pay.

Original Equipment (OE) versus Aftermarket Parts

OE or OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts are supplied specifically for your make and model by the manufacturer of your vehicle. They are made to manufacturer-controlled specifications that help ensure safety and longevity for your vehicle.

Aftermarket parts, or parts made by a secondary manufacturer, are not always bad. In some cases, aftermarket parts are just as good as OE parts. However, the quality of these parts often depends on both the company (some are more reputable than others) and the standards to which they are manufactured. A parts manufacturer may intentionally create parts that vary in cost, durability, and quality control.

If it’s dirt cheap, most likely it is not up to OE specifications, and is likely to fail sooner. Shops that agree to use these cheap, inferior quality aftermarket parts on a customer’s insistence will often not warranty the repair. So, when it fails prematurely, you will have to pay for it to be fixed again.

When priced comparably to the aftermarket, OE parts are often the strongest option for proper fit, functionality, and long-lasting reliability. However, if the OE part is much more expensive, an aftermarket part may be a better option if it is a quality part.

Some shops, including Marinelli Auto Service, insist on using OE parts or high quality aftermarket parts from a reputable company. This is a sign that the shop cares about you and the quality of care your vehicle is receiving and allows them to be confident in the work they are doing.

How Many Parts are Needed to Fix My Vehicle?

If your car has a certain part failing, it’s not always advisable to replace that part alone. The newest part in the system is only as good as it’s weakest link. While the parts connected to or surrounding the new part may still be functioning properly, if they can’t be trusted to last, it may benefit you in the long-run to replace them while they are accessible. This is particularly important if failure of one of those parts could cause severe mechanical damage. Another value may be that replacing these additional parts while they are already accessible saves you the cost of labor to access them again in a year or two.

So, when a technician recommends replacing a group of parts, it’s not always an attempt to take advantage of you. If she is a mechanic you trust and gives you a good reason to replace the part, it’s more likely that she cares about your best interest and is seeking to provide the best long-term solution for you and your vehicle. Yes, it may add to the cost of the repair today, but it may also prevent further (potentially bigger) issues down the road.

Why Shops Mark-up Parts

The answer to this question goes back to the shop’s overhead costs. The cost of running all aspects of the business has to come from somewhere, in addition to making a profit. Thus,  many shops establish a formula of balancing these costs between their labor rate and marking up the parts. Some shops have a higher labor rate and lower or no parts mark-up. Others have a lower labor rate and a higher parts mark-up. There could be two shops with two different pricing structures that are bringing in the same profit. Marinelli Auto Service values a fair labor rate and we don’t sell cheap parts at a high mark-up.

So, should you listen to your brother?

I think your brother may have been well intentioned, but misinformed. I hope this series can help you (and your family and friends) have a better understanding of your bill in terms of diagnostics and labor ratesa mechanic’s pay, and parts mark-up so you can make more informed decisions about your vehicle.

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

Understanding Your Auto Repair Bill: Why Your Mechanic Probably Isn’t Rich

Meet Joseph, a veteran auto technician (aka auto mechanic), highly experienced after 20 years in the industry. Surely, Joseph is rolling in the dough. Right? After all, he’s highly knowledgeable. His experience includes engines, transmissions, cooling systems, drivetrains, axles, suspension, steering, brakes, electrical, and heating and air conditioning. He deals on a regular basis with the physics of the moving parts, the chemistry of the various fluids a vehicle requires, and the various electronic systems.

So, while a mechanic like Joseph may have both depth and breadth of knowledge as well as formidable mechanical skills, he may also be tied to a pay system which constantly contradicts his mastery, and the only “dough” he’s rolling in will soon become the base of his pizza dinner. This, in part, is what makes talking about diagnostic and labor rates complicated and why I’m including the mechanic’s pay in this series, “Understanding Your Auto Repair Bill”, alongside posts on diagnostic and labor rates, and the deal on parts mark-up.

What is Flat Rate?

Flat rate is a type of commission paid to mechanics. Instead of paying them per hours worked, their hours are added up according to the jobs they perform. Where your bill is concerned, flat rate compensation is usually worked into the labor rate. It’s important to note here that the labor rate you see listed on your bill is not Joseph’s hourly pay-rate. Joseph’s hourly pay is one small portion of the total labor rate which also helps cover the shop’s overhead expenses.

What do I mean by small? In Central Florida, for example, labor rates can vary from $70-$120. Technicians will commonly be paid anywhere from $15-$25 per flat rate “hour.” Some of them may get paid more hours than they work. Many will not.

On the surface, flat rate seems fairly simple. Once you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not. Here’s how I’ve come to understand it.

Scenario A:

You bring your car to Joseph because it’s making a funny noise. The shop will pay Joseph 1.0 hours diagnostic labor time but it takes him two hours to figure out what’s wrong (see my post on diagnostics). He tells you your Thingy-Ma-Jig is flatter-walling. The industry standard for replacing the Thingy-Ma-Jig is two hours (called “book time”). However, this is not a common problem, so Joseph doesn’t have a ton of experience doing this repair. Additionally, the Thingy-Ma-Jig in your type of vehicle happens to be underneath the Whatsit.

So, because he wants to be sure to do the job right, Joseph takes some time to research the correct way to do it and is careful to not miss a step. Plus, he first has to take out the Whatsit so he can reach the Thingy-Ma-Jig, and then he has to put it back and make sure it is done correctly so as not to cause further problems for your car.

When all is said and done, it takes Joseph three hours to do the job, but he’s only paid for two hours (called “flag hours”) because that’s an industry standard time to repair the Thingy-Ma-Jig. This is a common scenario. It seems good for you because you only pay for part of what Joseph put into it, but unfair to Joseph who is only getting paid for part of his time.

Scenario B:

On the flip side, say Joseph has seen and replaced many flatter-walling Thingy-Ma-Jigs. He knows what’s probably wrong and how to quickly confirm it. He gets paid for 1.0 hours of diagnostic but it only took him 0.5 hours to confirm the problem.

Plus, in your car the Thingy-Ma-Jig is very accessible, making it a simpler fix. It only takes him 0.75 hours but he still gets paid for one hour of labor. This seems good for Joseph, but bad for you, the customer.

Why do businesses pay their mechanics flat rate?

One idea behind flat-rate is that while some jobs may take a little more time, others take a little less time, so Joseph should be able to flag 40 hours each week. So, you win some, you lose some, but at the end of the week it should all even out. Reading professional auto technician forums and talking to my husband and his fellow mechanics, it seems this rarely happens.

Usually the techs are scrambling to make up lost hours on previous jobs – especially jobs that are particularly involved, difficult, or complex. They find some of the book times to be inaccurate. Or, sometimes a manager requires the techs to spend time doing things they don’t get paid for. And the list goes on because the system doesn’t allow for adequate legal protection (and that’s another post for another day…).

Some mechanics have figured out how to work around the system – cutting corners in ways that jeopardizes the quality and safety of the work on your vehicle – so they can bring home a decent paycheck. But that’s where honesty and integrity is lost in the industry and you, the customer, suffer.

Aside from flat rate being the norm since the mid-20th century, most of the time, flat rate is used because it brings good probability that the business will meet its overhead costs and still make a profit. Meanwhile, the mechanic’s pay often suffers. The question is whether there is a better way for the business to both meet its overhead costs and compensate the mechanic fairly.

What is the alternative to flat rate?

It seems like hourly or salaried pay would be the ideal alternative to flat rate. Maybe they are. Some mechanics will be much more motivated to work in that environment. Many employers fear that hourly or salaried pay will remove any motivation of working hard.

Some technicians and business owners believe that a hybrid system of commission mixed with base hourly pay is the best option. Other technicians thrive under the flat rate system and may not want to work under a different pay plan. Yet, other techs find an hourly position and hope to never go back to flat rate.

Marinelli Auto Service believes that treating others well takes top priority. Techs with strong character will show that character through their work no matter how they are paid. No matter what pay system is used, employers should seek to compensate their employees fairly and adequately. While flat rate can work, the current reality is that it is commonly abused.

To change the mindset of both business owners and mechanics after 70 years of using the flat rate system will take time. Some shops have already done away with flat rate. Others have figured out how to make it work well for both the business and the mechanic.

In the mean time, Joseph relies on his experience and knowledge as he approaches each new vehicle that comes through the shop. He knows that some days he’ll be able to make a decent wage and others he’ll be trying hard to make up for lost flag hours. Such is the life of a highly skilled automotive technician.

Now that you have a better idea of what is involved with diagnostics and labor rates and a mechanic’s pay, keep watch for the final post on parts mark-up.

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

Understanding Your Auto Repair Bill: Why Am I Paying for Time?

You leave your mechanic shop with your car running well again, but there’s a bit of anxiety embedded in the invoice you’ve thrown onto the passenger seat. You head home to look up your bank account balance and calculate how many days until your next paycheck.

“Do I need to hold off on grocery shopping this week?” you wonder, “Maybe I should have found a cheaper shop after I received the estimate…”

I understand that anxiety far too well. Understanding money matters has never been my strong suit. Understanding money matters related to my car was even weaker. Now that I am immersed in the context of car repairs on a regular basis, some of that anxiety has been replaced by knowing that a job well done is worth the cost, and you often get what you pay for.

In this three-part series I will help you understand your auto repair bill in terms of diagnostics and labor rates, mechanic’s pay, and parts mark-up.

Time is Money

Diagnostics, or the process of finding a fault in your vehicle, is just that – a process. Many people have fallen under the false assumption that they can have a free code scan done on their vehicle to figure out which part is causing their problem, and then simply have that part replaced. Voila!, the vehicle is fixed. Maybe.

Maybe replacing that part will fix the problem. On the other hand, if you replaced multiple parts but really only needed one, which one actually fixed the issue? Or possibly, the part you did replace seemed to have fixed the issue at first, but the problem returns down the road.

I’m not saying all code scans are bad. Scanning the vehicle for trouble codes is an important, preliminary step of the diagnostic process. This initial step often helps a technician determine where to start in diagnosing the vehicle. Occasionally the process to confirm a problem is quick. However, depending on the cause of the problem, it may take a lot of time, research, analysis, and troubleshooting to get down to the actual root of the issue.

During this time, the technician must use a variety of tools and resources to diagnose the problem. These tools are not free for techs, the resources are not free for the shop, and time is not free for either. Adequate charges for diagnostics is what allows the business to cover the price of tools, resources, time and other costs that keep the shop running. The details of this would be another post entirely, but I provide an introduction in my post, Dollars & Sense: Are Free (or Cheap) Diagnostics a Myth?.

Cheap Labor Often Means Cheap Work

If you are relying on cheap or free diagnostics, you are likely setting yourself up for a bumpy ride. The technician is probably not getting paid fairly for the time she is spending on your vehicle, causing her to rush so she can start on a job that does pay. So, the diagnosis is not properly confirmed, meaning the recommended fix may or may not be the right repair. You risk having to bring your car back to shell out more money for repairs. Competent diagnostics take time, and paying fairly for them will yield better results for you in the long run.

The same applies for any labor charge for your vehicle. The tools, equipment, knowledge, and resources used to properly repair your vehicle cost both the shop and the technician. These costs, along with the technicians pay and the shops profit, affect the labor cost you find on your bill. A technician not being paid fairly is more likely to cut corners and take less care to do the job right. A shop owner who feels he may be losing money on a job is more likely to rush the technician, causing him to skip steps or miss something inadvertently. Like in diagnostics, fair labor rates will increase the likelihood that your vehicle’s repair will be accurate, preventing you from returning with the same problem too soon down the road.

As I mentioned, the rate for diagnostics and labor is more than just the mechanic’s take-home pay. Stay tuned for the next article in this series, “Why Your Mechanic Probably Isn’t Rich.”

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

Should I Price Shop for Auto Repair?

What is “Price Shopping”?

For the sake of clarity, I’ll define “price shopping” as any of the following:

  1. Moving from shop to shop as you look for the cheapest price for a desired service.
  2. Returning regularly to a shop because it seems to be the cheapest. (Even if you’re not calling around for price comparisons, price is your main consideration.)
  3. Making purchasing decisions based on perceived “bargains” (coupons, specials, advertisements etc.)

I don’t recommend that you do any of these things. I recognize that you’ll often save money in the short-term, but we believe you might spend more in the long term.

There’s that old (and true) idea that you often get what you pay for. In automotive repair, there’s a lot that you should want to “get.” Such as the following:

Quality Interaction

Does the shop treat you fairly and honestly? Do they give you good information and enough information to help you make good decisions? Do they care about you as a person?

Quality Labor

Diagnosing and repairing vehicles is a complex and demanding field. Mechanics make many decisions that affect the quality, dependability, and longevity of their repairs. Would you rather pay more for a long-lasting repair or less for one that may fail you prematurely?

Quality Parts

A repair is worthless without functioning parts. Parts are available in a huge range of prices, and while the most expensive part is not always the best option, it’s naive to assume that the cheapest part will always be “enough.”

What happens when people price-shop?

People who price-shop often wind up in shops that cater to the desire not to spend money. And then these things happen:

  • Cheap Oil Changes
  • Loss Leader Services
  • Upsells
  • Low-Ball “Estimates”
  • Poor work quality
  • Poor parts quality
  • Shotgun Diagnostics/Diagnostic Dice
  • Unnecessary Parts Replacement

These shops may cater to the desire not to spend money, but that doesn’t mean you’ll actually spend less in the long run! Value is what really saves you money over the long haul. Value is presented by quality service, services, and products at a fair price.

Now am I suggesting that you forget cost? Not at all! Spending wisely requires balancing cost versus value.

I don’t recommend cost shopping, but I do recommend seeking out a trustworthy auto repair shop where you can build relationships with the employees.

Don’t go looking for the lowest cost. Look for trustworthy people who care about you, and the cost will take care of itself.

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

6 Qualities to Look for in an Auto Mechanic Shop

For several years after college I moved a lot. I’d pack as many of my belongings as possible into my yellow Dodge Neon, Clunky, to settle into my new home in a new state and a new city. Michigan. Ohio. Florida…and when my oil needed changing or something more, I brought my car into a shop the same way one would spin a globe, close their eyes, point to a location and say, “Someday I will live here!” I never knew if I was going to be treated well or get the care needed for my car and I rarely brought it back to the same place twice. It’s this near recklessness with searching for a mechanic shop that causes me to joke, “Well, it’s a good thing I married a mechanic!”

You’ll often read about the importance of building a relationship with your mechanic on this blog and it’s not because I’m married to one. Rather, it is because someone who is familiar with your vehicle, its maintenance and repair history, and who knows you will be more likely to take the greatest care of you and your car. This trusting relationship will reduce the stress of the inevitable major repair and you’ll be able to drive down the road confident in your vehicle’s performance and safety.

So, what should you look for in an auto mechanic shop? Here are six qualities to consider:

1. Customer Service

Will the mechanic (or their Service Writer) sit down with me and talk through the repairs needed, the urgency of each, and cost? Will he or she listen to my experiences driving the vehicle and hear out my questions and concerns?

2. Quality of Parts

Does the mechanic use Original Equipment (OE) or high-quality aftermarket parts? The shop should look out for you by selling you quality parts that last. Some parts are too cheap, will fail prematurely (or never work correctly to begin with), and cost you more money in the long run.

3. Diagnostics

Does the mechanic apply skill and effort toward diagnosing problems instead of guessing with parts? You should always be given a good reason to replace a part, and it’s ideal to replace parts based on a confirmed diagnosis. A trustworthy mechanic won’t want to recommend more parts than needed.

4. Labor Practices

If there is a quick way to do a job versus a better way to do it, which one will your mechanic choose? Will they charge you fairly for a lasting quality repair or charge you less for inferior work that causes you to return sooner?

5. Pricing

Consider how their pricing compares to other mechanic shops. Are they the cheapest? Why? Are they the most expensive? Why? Cheapest or most expensive doesn’t always mean better or worse. Good work that costs more now will be less painful on your bank account than lesser quality work which needs to be revisited multiple times.

6. Tools and Resources

Is a shop equipped for a variety of diagnostic, maintenance, and repair jobs? In addition to tools and equipment, do they have access to professional service information and resources to get the job done well?

I speak fondly of Clunky, my yellow Neon, because I no longer have her. I didn’t have a trusted mechanic to tell me she was worth keeping; that the price for fixing her was worth the miles she still had left. I didn’t have a trusted mechanic to advise me against my next car (whom we will simply call Zelda in order not to hurt the feelings of others like her) due to her impracticality. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that anymore but I realize that not everyone can marry a good mechanic, so I hope these tips will help you find a great one!

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

Should I Repair or Replace My Vehicle?

As vehicles age (or face expensive repairs), many people weigh repair costs against the vehicle’s worth. If the repair cost exceeds the vehicle’s worth, they will often sell or trade in the vehicle. By “worth” here, we’re referring to resale value.

I recommend a different approach. Blue Book and Edmunds (etc.) can help you decide what to sell your car for, or what you might pay for a used car. But they can’t quantify what the car is worth to you.

I’m not talking about emotions and memories here either. I’m coming from a practical point of view.

Continue reading “Should I Repair or Replace My Vehicle?”

How Marrying A Mechanic Changed My Life

As a little girl I imagined marrying a business man, much like my father. As a college student I was sure I’d marry a man doing full-time Christian ministry or a missionary. Instead, I married a mechanic. Even more to my surprise, my husband’s profession has become a part of my own identity, just as much as my own job has.

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Dollars & Sense: Why Do Labor & Parts Cost So Much?

Your stomach drops (and maybe your jaw does, too). You begin mentally calculating how much money you have in your bank account, the date of your next paycheck, and then you wonder if you’ll have to dip into your savings to pay for this auto-repair bill. Suddenly, you begin to question everything. Can I really trust this mechanic? Was the problem really important enough to fix now? Should I have gotten an estimate from another repair shop to compare?

In my last post I discussed whether free or cheap diagnostics are worth the savings. In this final post of the four part series, Dollars & Sense, I will explore the cost of parts and labor for automotive repairs.

Breaking Down Parts and Labor

Parts, parts mark-up and labor are the main components of an auto-repair bill. Labor and parts mark-up are how most shops make money. These charges pay for overhead costs – utilities, tools, diagnostic equipment, information systems, etc. – and the shop’s employees. The question is, how do these charges get decided?


The first thing to know is that not all parts are equal. Asking, “How much does a radiator cost?” is too simplistic. For example, when you buy a pair of jeans, you may consider spending more for a pair of Levi Strauss brand jeans because they are known to last for many years. A cheap pair from a super-mart are likely to wear out more quickly, thereby costing you more money over the years. Similarly, automotive parts have different brands with varying levels of price and quality. A cheaper part might seem appealing today but is it worth the time, money, and your family’s safety if it fails prematurely?

Most shops buy parts at a commercial rate and mark them up for a profit. This can be a controversial issue which will be discussed in future posts. What you really need to consider is, when you pick up your vehicle is the total amount due a fair price? One shop may mark up the parts and charge a lower labor rate and another may do the opposite, but the total bill could equate to the same amount.


This is another complex issue deserving a blog series of it’s own. Shops might charge a labor rate of anywhere from $70-$120. You may say, “What? Mechanics must be rolling in it!” Please remember, this is not take-home pay for the mechanic; the total labor covers a variety of expenses for the business. Most mechanics only receive $15-$25 per labor hour and often flag (or log) less than 40 hours each week.

Every repair takes varying amounts of time depending on the setup of the vehicle and its condition. My husband jokes that he married me despite my owning a car which was challenging to work on (said car shall remain unidentified for the security of other such models). There are industry guidelines for estimating the time it takes to do each repair but these times should be adjusted based on experience and the condition of the vehicle. What is important is whether the number of hours billed reflect a fair representation of the time it actually took.

How to Know When the Rates are Fair

There is no cut and dry formula for whether to mark up a part and how much, no more than there is a correct labor rate. The rates should be decided based on the shop’s operating costs, fair wages for the mechanic, and the best interest of the customer.

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

Dollars & Sense: Are Free (or Cheap) Diagnostics a Myth?

You go to the doctor and tell her about all your symptoms and yet she’s stumped. She runs some tests and they all come back negative. You are sure your symptoms aren’t a figment of your imagination! Finally, someone is able to diagnose the problem and find a cure…or at least a treatment to help you cope with your symptoms.

Now, even though it took many tests and lots of your doctor’s time to figure out the problem, you are at least grateful for a solution to your health issue. Your insurance company and your bank account may not be as grateful – medical diagnostics cost a lot of money! It’s a good thing automotive diagnostics are free (or at least cheap)…or are they?

In my previous post I discussed whether or not cheap oil changes are worth the savings. In this third installment of this blog series, Dollars & Sense, I will introduce the realities of auto diagnostics, including methods used and why they’re not necessarily free (or cheap).

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Dollars & Sense: Do You Really Want a Cheap Oil Change?

As you cruise through town, the signs jump out at you:

20 Minute 

Oil Change 


You glance at the tag on your windshield and realize you’ve passed the 3,000 mile mark since your last oil change. You make a note to self to get your car in later in the week while you’re running errands.

Before you run into the nearest auto shop with the lowest price, I encourage you to consider your options. In this continuation of the four-part series, Dollars & Sense, you will get a clear picture of the importance of giving your vehicle to a proper oil change.

Continue reading “Dollars & Sense: Do You Really Want a Cheap Oil Change?”