Oh boy, I love this question. Every week, at least a couple potential clients reach out just to ask this one question. We enjoy the great conversations that come about when we inquire why a person is asking. Most folks that ask about our service rate are trying to determine how expensive we are – or aren’t. And that’s fair! We’re all on a budget and nobody likes spending money on car repairs. However, we’re quick to point out that while our service rate does affect the price they will pay, there are other factors that any potential client should be much more concerned with. In this post we’ll detail some of these and how they affect both the price and the value of your service.
PART ONE: FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR PRICE
The price is defined as the total dollar amount that you will pay for a given service. This is very different from the value, which is actually more important – and we’ll explain that later. For now, here are some factors that you may not realize affect the price of auto service.
Because the cost of parts typically makes up 50% of a service invoice, it’s worth asking if a garage will shop around on your behalf to strike the ideal balance between cost and quality – or if they are tied to using one supplier. You’ll be happy to know that we most definitely do shop around for you, sourcing parts based on quality, availability and cost.
For the sake of consistency, most garages rely on a labour guide as a starting point for creating estimates. In these guides, car manufacturers list estimated times for most repairs on their vehicles. However, there are instances when these repair times might overlap. A common example would be replacing front brake rotors and a wheel bearing at the same time. We’d expect to spend about 1.0 hours replacing the rotors, and another 1.3 hours replacing the bearing. That means a total of 2.3 hours, right? Not so fast! The brake rotors actually have to be removed in order to change the wheel bearing, so it wouldn’t be fair to charge the full amount for both repairs – but lots of garages still do. In a case like this, we’d normally charge our regular price for the brake rotors and then reduce the service time for the wheel bearing by half, for a total of around 1.6 hours. This adjustment results in a cost difference of over $100 at average Airdrie service rates; vastly outweighing any varience in the hourly rates themselves.
In our industry’s very competitive labour market, service centres that charge less typically have to hire less capable technicians. This can and does affect the price that you pay, to the point where a “cheaper” shop will sometimes saddle you with a higher bill than a more competent one. Will you be charged for two hours of service time to diagnose a problem that a more skilled technician could solve in one? Will your vehicle be damaged or components be broken during a repair? Will a misdiagnosis leave you paying for repairs that you didn’t need? Speaking of that, what is the garage’s policy in the event of a mistake? We’re all human beings and mistakes happen, but not every business owns up to their mistakes like we do. Have you ever heard the lines “It’s kind of a different problem now” or “Part A must have taken out Part B”? These are red flags!
You deserve absolute honesty throughout the whole service process. You also need to be able to trust that a business is truly looking after your best interest. It sounds crazy, but one of the ways to ensure this type of treatment is to ask how a garage’s employees are being paid. While there are many good, honest folks in our industry working on an incentive-based pay plan, as a general rule you will receive more equitable and transparent service from an employee whose boss isn’t dangling a carrot in front of them. We wrote an article about how technician pay plans matter here.
An aside on service advisors:
The quiet, technical mind exhibited by most automotive technicians sometimes doesn’t lend itself well to interacting with dozens of people all day long. For that reason, the original concept of a service advisor was a good idea: A polished “people person” to liaison between the client and the technician would both improve the client experience and let technicians focus on work that they enjoyed. Sadly, what began as a boon to drivers eventually became a drawback when some service centre owners decided to turn their service advisors into salespeople. While this is most prevalent in dealerships, the idea has infiltrated independent service centres as well and today more service advisors are paid on commission than by the hour. These commission pay plans can be incredibly complex, too! Before we hired Michelle, we interviewed another advisor from a Calgary dealership and her wage was calculated based on a combination of:
- Her total sales for the month.
- Her average invoice cost, known as “ARO”; of course higher is considered better.
- Her CSI score – from the surveys sent to customers after the sale.
- Her percentage of “customer pay” vs warranty work; a higher “CP%” is considered better.
- How many wheel alignments she could sell per day.
The above actually isn’t an uncommon formula in the industry today, and that’s sickening. You’ll be happy to know that My Garage still employs service advisors in the role that they were originally intended to perform – but because the title has been tarnished in recent years, we call them Client Advocates instead.
Some service centres charge an additional 10-15% for “shop supplies” or other fees on top of their service rate. This can turn an advertised service rate of $160/hour into an effective service rate of $184/hour, and many potential clients don’t think to ask about this. Some garages – particularly the “cheaper” ones – also charge an extra fee for services that we consider to be part of a proper repair, such as buffing corrosion off wheel hubs or cleaning burred lug nut threads.
Questions Worth Asking
Will you shop around for parts, or only use one supplier?
When invoicing, do you account for labour overlap between related repairs?
How are your service advisors paid?
How are your technicians paid?
If I approve a repair and it doesn’t fix my concern, will I still have to pay?
Do you charge any additional fees on top of your service rate?
PART TWO: FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR VALUE
Unlike the price, value is a little harder to measure, but it’s arguably more important. Here are some factors that affect the value you receive from an automotive service centre; not just at the date of servicing, but over time as well.
Ah, time – the only commodity more valuable than money. It’s funny; most of us don’t even consider time when we think about auto service, but perhaps we should! It’s a hassle to be without your vehicle, so you’ll want to find a service centre that’s as serious about sticking to their time estimate as their price estimate. Some garages are a little too comfortable making that “Sorry, your car won’t be done today” phone call, whereas we can’t stand doing it. If we make that call, it’s only after a significant amount of time spent furiously brainstorming in an attempt to find any solution to the delay.
Does the garage offer a shuttle service so you don’t have to waste the time of a friend or spouse to deliver or pick up your vehicle? Can you deliver or pick up your vehicle after hours? Will the service centre communicate via text message or email so you don’t have to take phone calls during work? Do they offer courtesy cars so you aren’t without a vehicle?
Quality of parts:
There is a staggering range in the quality of automotive parts available today and some of the options, even from big-name retailers, are absolutely terrible. Economy suspension parts, for example, often wear out within one year! That’s hardly acceptable when replacing an original part that lasted for 10-15 years. As another example, it has been our experience that most aftermarket air conditioning compressors and power steering pumps have a failure rate of almost 100% within the first five years. Cheap parts aren’t worth the money that you “save” because nobody enjoys repairing the same problem over and over again. As part of offering Airdrie’s highest quality auto service, we’re very picky when selecting parts and will only install premium aftermarket or genuine OEM parts on your vehicle. Our longer-lasting repairs will save you money over time – plus reduce breakdowns, headaches and inconvenience, too!
Quality of workmanship:
To a lesser – but still significant – degree than with parts, there exists a disparity in our industry when it comes to quality of workmanship. When asked about their quality of work, no business is going to reply negatively, so here are some tips that might point you in the right direction:
- Are employees willing to spend time with you?
Most businesses that rush or overwork their service advisors also do the same to their technicians, so this can be a good indication if a business prioritizes quality or quantity of work. If you’re being dismissed or rushed by a receptionist or advisor, it’s likely that your vehicle received the same hasty treatment in the service bay.
- What’s the atmosphere like inside the business?
Do employees seem happy and seem to get along, work as a team? This is always a good sign and can indicate a business that does the little things right.
- How are the employees paid?
Going back to this subject again: Not only can flat rate or incentive-based pay affect honesty, it can affect quality of work as well as technicians are constantly racing the clock to complete your repairs in a much higher-stress environment.
Not only can a favorable warranty indicate superior quality of work, but it obviously reduces the chance of having to pay twice for the same repair. Some service centres in Airdrie only stand behind their work for 30 days, while we back all parts and service for three years – and this is something that many potential clients don’t think to ask about! Some service centres are also members of networks that can offer you a guarantee when you’re traveling. With My Garage, you are even covered for the first 2 years/40,000 km right across North America through the NAPA Autopro Peace of Mind Warranty.
Questions Worth Asking
Do you respect my time by offering (see examples above)?
What type of parts will you install on my vehicle?
How long do you stand behind your work?
What happens if I experience an issue with your repairs while traveling?
PART THREE: FINAL THOUGHTS
We hope this helps you make an educated decision when selecting an automotive service centre to care for you and your vehicle. (Remember that the “you” part is just as important!) Our last piece of advice is that when comparing repair costs, ask for a complete estimate for the whole visit including GST. While you’d expect a service centre of our caliber to cost a little more than competitors given the value proposition involved, a large difference usually indicates an apples-to-oranges comparison. When comparing estimates from any two garages, a broad discrepancy might indicate that one business has forgotten to include necessary parts or procedures; one business has made a mistake; there’s a large disparity in the quality of parts being used; or other concerns. Lastly, find a business that is willing to explain their estimate, to answer your questions and to explain any other benefits that their price might include.