ESTIMATES

Here I want to provide some explanation about repair estimates.

Naturally, almost everyone wants to know in advance how much it would cost to repair or service their vehicle. This also applies to me as a business operator: I also prefer to know in advance how much money I will make by doing the job. Providing the correct repair or service estimate is not as straightforward as it might seem for an outlier, especially when it comes to extensive and complex repairs.

I don't want to give a customer false expectations of a low repair cost or attract customers by false promises of low prices.

I don't want to tie myself up with an unrealistic low price promise that would reduce or eliminate my business profitability.

I also don't want to damage my business reputation by providing repair estimates that would be too high and uncompetitive.

For those reasons providing the correct repair and service cost estimates is an essential part of my business. And to be honest, I consider this to be the worst and the hardest part of the automotive repairs and maintenance business, believe it or not. Doing any actual repair or even chasing a complex and elusive problem with diagnostic procedures is way more pleasant and exciting than dealing with the financial side of things. Unfortunately, though, it is inevitable...

The total repair cost is the price of all the parts and materials required for the job + labor time cost + taxes and service charges.

Obviously, I don't know all the prices for all the parts for all the vehicles right off the top of my head. It is simply not possible. Even the parts technicians at main dealerships cannot tell you the price of every part without referring to the parts catalog and price list first. And this is while they work for years with only a single brand of vehicles, dealing primarily with OEM parts for that brand. I deal with multiple brands of vehicles and various parts sources in my shop: OEM parts from main dealers and online merchants, aftermarket parts from different suppliers, and even used parts merchants on some occasions. I am trying to pick up the best choice from these sources based on the price, part quality expectations, and my previous experience dealing with a particular part or supplier. I often end up quoting the same component from several suppliers and comparing their offers. In many cases, I present those options to my customer to choose between using the best quality but more expensive part or a cheaper but probably not so reliable one. Different people have different preferences in this regard, and it is my business interest to satisfy as many customers as possible by offering them a variety of choices.

It helps me big time to know the VIN of the vehicle when pricing the parts as it allows me to identify the vehicle quickly and correctly rather than by entering the model, make, and year of the vehicle. This is why I will ask for the VIN in most cases when a customer asks for a repair or service estimate.

When the required job is extensive and complex, I also need to go through the repair procedure and list all the parts and materials that will be required to get the job done correctly. In modern vehicles, some parts and components are not reusable and must be replaced after disassembly (such as certain fasteners, gaskets, seals, etc.). Therefore, if such disassembly is required to replace the actual failed parts or components, these non-reusable parts must also be listed, priced, and included in the total estimate. 

Consumable materials such as fluids, sealants, or special chemicals must also be priced out and added to the overall cost of repair or service.

As you can see, even pricing all the required parts and materials is not that small of a deal, and it takes considerable time to do in some cases.

Now comes the next step, calculating the labor cost. In a perfect world, I should get labor time data for every required job from some reference book, multiply that time on my shop labor rate - and, voila, here is your labor cost! However, it doesn't work that way in reality.

First, I have access to three different labor time reference databases, and they can give me up to six (!) varying labor times for the same operation. Which one is the right one to use then? The difference could be significant, sometimes more than a triple! Therefore, I only consider this data as a reference rather than price guidance. 

Second, the actual labor time estimate is mostly a product of my previous experience doing the same or similar job - and the age, mileage, and general condition of the vehicle in question. For this reason, I certainly prefer to see and inspect the vehicle first before providing labor estimates! This is because the conditions like excessive rust, mud buildup, contamination with leaking fluids and grease, mechanical damage, vehicle modifications, and installed accessories could interfere with a standard working procedure and add up significantly to the required labor time. The cars are only the same when they leave the assembly line. But after years of operation in various and differing conditions, they end up being very different from one another!

Of course, I am still unable to see the future and know in advance that this or that particular bolt, for example, can be seized and hard or even impossible to remove. I can only try to guess or refer to my previous experience in these matters. And while I got pretty damn good at this over more than 25 years of doing this work, I am still unable to know exactly in advance how much time it will take to do every job. Sometimes, the old and rusty cars are not as bad to work on as I expected; sometimes, the new and seemingly clean cars become a massive headache because of just one or two seized joints. Such is the nature of this work, inevitably.

For this reason, provided estimated labor cost is just that - an estimate. Not a hard quote that I swore never to exceed. However, I am doing my best to provide the estimates that would reflect the labor time and costs close enough.

With the cost of parts, materials, and estimated labor cost added, I can finally add the service charge and tax and then contact the customer with an estimated total repair cost. Because of all the variables and available choices, the repair estimate could be presented as multiple choices or a price range, so don't be surprised. 

I hope you understand why I am not always able to tell you right away how much it would cost to fix a problem with your car. Sometimes I don't even want to make a rough guess because I know I might be way off with that guess without knowing all the details first. 

Finally, I'd like to ask you to be patient when requesting estimates. Calculating estimates takes considerable time, and because I am essentially not getting paid for my time doing estimates, I naturally leave this work for times when I am less busy in the shop. I would not like to stop doing the work that some customer waits to complete, only to calculate an estimate for another customer (unless it is some quick and straightforward estimate that only takes a minute or two). Eventually, when I get some free time (and still have the energy to work), I will calculate the estimate and send it to you, I promise.