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Parts and LaborNotes From The Road

Parts and Labor
By Mike Bumbeck/

What to Know, What to Expect -

As an individual that ekes out a living writing about automobiles, I often get asked a question followed quickly by another question. Something like: "Oh, you know about cars, can I ask you a question?” This loaded question then leads into a story about how someone's car or truck went to a mechanic or dealer for repair, and whether the price they paid, or are about to pay, was worth the services rendered.

The underlying implication is that most mechanics are somehow crooked, and that there is some sort of bamboozling going on. While there may in fact be some unethical behavior going on out in the garages and service bays of the world, this is an unfortunate aspect of any industry. The key to avoiding misunderstanding and unnecessarily high repair bills is communication and common sense.

Part of the Problem
One of the major breakdowns between customer and automobile repair occurs when the difference between parts and labor is not fully understood. While a part may cost but a few bucks, removing and replacing it may take more thought. A cylinder head gasket is a perfect example. The cylinder head gasket itself can cost fewer than 20 dollars. Replacing it can cost 100 times as much. The problem is that the engine must be disassembled to replace it. Replacing a head gasket is literally automobile head surgery. A good mechanic also will look for the underlying reasons the cylinder head gasket failed in the first place, and inspect for the kinds of engine damage that can be caused in the wake of such a failure. Since malfunctioning cooling systems are the number one cause of head gasket failure, work there will also likely mean other work will be required.

Add and Subtract
Another piece to the puzzle is that all automobiles are not created equal. The amount of time required to replace the heater core or air conditioning compressor on one automobile may be one hour, where as the same job on another automobile can require many more. A reputable automobile repair shop or dealer will be able to calculate the number of hours required to perform a repair, combine it with the price of a part, and give the customer the best possible estimate on the final cost of the repair bill before the work is done. Time estimates are standardized by the task at hand AND by make and model of automobile. Even with standardization, unforeseen problems can arise, and the original estimate can change. The drawback to standardization is that the customer doesn't get reimbursed if the job takes less time than estimated—even if this is the case.

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