Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mechanic's Fees Aren't Always What You Think

Photo courtesy of GM
A few weeks ago I was reading somewhere about a person who was complaining that his mechanic was charging for five hours of work when the customer found out the repair only took two and a half hours to complete. I wish I could remember where it was, but I honestly don't.

The point is that the commentary by the customer and the comments from different Internet users generated a spirited debate. Some people called such a practice unethical, while others pointed out that it's a method that is widely used.

Let me back up and provide a better explanation of how some mechanics figure out what to charge for different repairs. Different shops use different guides that state how many hours a repair on a certain vehicle should take, which when combined with the cost of the parts is how a price is calculated. For example, such a guide might state that replacing the alternator on a 2003 Honda Civic should take 1.5 hours to accomplish, so the shop takes its hourly cost of labor at $100 an hour and would figure that labor should cost $150. If the part is $200, the final repair bill would be for $350. Those are totally random numbers, so don't get hung up on that fact.

People say that's unethical because some mechanics can swap out an alternator in just an hour, so the final bill should only be $300. These same people are always trying to find a way to save a buck on their car, which is why they drive on tires until the steel belts are clickety clacketing away on the road.

The truth is that a flat rate fee schedule actually acts as a form or protection for the consumer. If your mechanic is an idiot and shears a bolt while trying to remove the alternator, you don't have to pay for the extra work it takes to complete the job. Or if the new guy is doing the swap and he needs 2 hours to complete it, you're not going to have to shell out an extra $50 just for that. I've done enough car repairs to know that sometimes you run into a novel situation fixing something that seems routine, which makes the job last longer.

I also know from my experience that the more you do a certain repair, the faster you get. You also do a better job with that repair. The flat rate system favors mechanics who are proficient, since they can complete work faster and essentially make more money. In other words, those mechanics are rewarded for being good at their job. Who doesn't want that?

So you see, there's nothing unethical about flat rate charges for work performed on your car. There is, however, an ethical quandary when it comes to attorneys who double-bill clients, but that's another post for a different blog.

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