— Compare costs
Auto mechanics typically charge for labor by the hour. Generally the rate can range from around $50 an hour to more than $100 an hour.
When you're given an estimate it's usually based on a flat rate. That means the mechanic looks up how long the repair should take for your particular car, and then uses a flat hourly rate and cost of parts to calculate a total. The wide gap in possible labor costs means what you pay can vary greatly from one garage to another.
Before you have your car worked on, ask what happens if the repair doesn't take as long as the estimate and see if you're satisfied with the response.
In addition to labor, you'll also have to pay for parts. Make sure the shop uses parts made by the car manufacturers. Parts like starters, alternators, and radiators can vary greatly in quality.
Simply shopping for the cheapest garage gets a lot of consumers in trouble, said Shaw, the RepairPal CEO. Quality shops invest in training of their mechanics, diagnostic tools and equipment.
While shopping, make sure you ask whether the garage charges separately to diagnose what's wrong. Today's cars usually are plugged into a computer to pinpoint the problem and a $100 charge is common.
If you receive an estimate that seems steep, try an online calculator to help gauge if it's out of line. For an example, visit www.automd.com/repaircost.
— Assess customer service
Choose an auto repair shop that willingly offers a detailed written estimate and assures that the cost won't significantly exceed that amount unless they check with you.
Also see what type of warranty the shop offers for repairs. Parts and labor should be guaranteed for a period of time or number of miles. AAA certified shops offer 12 months or 12,000 miles, for example.
Before settling on a mechanic, visit the shop for an oil change or tire rotation. This gives you time to potentially interact with other customers, view the operation, and get a feel for how the business functions.
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