Home > Personal Finance > How to Figure Out What Your Car Repair Really Costs

Comments 3 Comments

How much do people hate going to auto repair shops? A new survey says 41% of Americans would rather do their taxes — by hand! — than head to a garage for car repairs.  And why not? About 60% say they think they’ve been ripped off by an auto repair shop.

The survey also found that three-quarters of Americans think repair shops are condescending to women, and are more likely to overcharge them.

A website named RepairPal is hoping to tip the scales back toward consumers with a simple online tool and app called RepairPrice Estimator. Drivers enter their ZIP code and service required, and it returns a price range and additional notes about potential repair costs.

For example: A driver in suburban Seattle who needs a new water pump for a six-year-old Jeep Liberty will find the price should range from $263 to $368, and should include coolant, a gasket, and hose clamps. The estimate also includes a warning that drive belts may require replacement as part of this procedure, particularly if a leaky water pump has spilled coolant on a belt.

RepairPal said the estimator is fueled by technicians and analysts, who spent 75,000 hours analyzing the cost of labor and parts for various repairs alongside ZIP codes across the country.

I love tools that give you price ranges, such as FlightAware’s new airline route comparison tool. It tells you the median cost paid by consumers flying between two cities, by airline, giving fliers a chance to see if they overpaid.

There are other estimators online, such as these from Napa, AOL Autos, Consumer Reports, and AutoMD. Napa and AOL Autos license RepairPal’s data, so those tools produce the exact same results. AutoMD’s tool offered additional results, comparing dealer prices with independent repair shop prices and do-it-yourself costs. Consumer Reports asked for relevant information about a car, but after filling out the web forms, wouldn’t show estimates until users paid for a subscription.

RepairPal announced this week it has a partnership with AARP, which grants discounts to that association’s 37 million members at repair shops around the country.

“RepairPal and AARP share the same core principles of building value through trust, quality, transparency, and savings,” said Art Shaw, CEO of RepairPal. “Finding a quality repair shop is a difficult and often uncomfortable task.”

The survey, conducted earlier this year by Harris Interactive, shows seniors are no strangers to that ripped-off feeling. It found 56% of Americans over 55 felt they’d been ripped off at a repair shop.

But the survey also found the younger the driver, the more likely they would feel ripped off. Among those 18-34, 73% said they thought they’d been overcharged or paid for unnecessary repairs.  That’s not a surprise – younger consumers generally are less familiar with hands-on auto repairs than their parents or grandparents.

Red Tape Wrestling Tips

A cost estimator can’t help stop unnecessary repairs — it simply lets you know if the cost of such repairs are consistent with what other shops nearby are charging. As with most consumer purchases, the only real way to make sure you aren’t paying too much is to shop around and get multiple estimates for a repair. With auto repairs, it’s common to receive estimates that vary by $500 or more, as mechanics often disagree about “necessary repairs,” and are often compensated by nudging consumers to replace parts prematurely.

In truth, many drivers are in a poor position to shop around. When your car breaks down and won’t run, it’s hard to do comparison shopping. That’s why it’s important to find a trustworthy shop while conducting regular maintenance, before a real crisis hits. It also helps to be a member of a discount program, such as AAA, so you can have a car towed from one shop to another for a second opinion if major repairs are recommended.

(Editor’s Note: It’s also important to build up an emergency fund so pricey car repairs don’t turn into unwanted debt that you may be paying off for months. Even if you have wiggle room on your credit cards to charge expenses, adding a large debt like a car repair to your account can raise your credit utilization ratio and hurt your credit score. You can check your credit for free using the Credit Report Card, a tool that updates your credit scores monthly, to see where your credit utilization currently stands.)

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team