A few years ago, I would have said that auto shops don’t give quotes on the phone because if your car is on their hoist, you’re more likely to agree to agree to whatever price they’ve made up.
The quoting process is much less cynical, but slightly more complicated than I had originally thought, which was essentially: “These guys have worked on thousands of cars so they generally know how much the parts cost and they add in whatever they think the labor will be”.
As it turns out, parts prices are highly variable depending on the distributor, the part itself, and the specific vehicle.
It also became apparent that there are over 30,000 unique vehicles (or at least that’s how many we have in our database) and it would be unwise to think that the same job would take around the same amount of time on those specific vehicles.
At this point, you might be wondering “Well why wouldn’t auto shops just time how long the job takes and charge me out that way”.
That’s not how the industry works and for good reason.
The industry revolves around “hours”, which can be set by the shop or dealership, or they can use industry standard labor estimating software such as Mitchell1.
These hours keep things fair by rewarding the better mechanics and punishing the bad ones.
For example, a front brake job might be set at 1.5 hours. That’s what will show up on the work-order and your invoice. If the mechanic has no experience and has no idea what they are doing, then it might take them 3 hours. That’s not exactly your problem, is it? You still pay the 1.5 hours. If the mechanic is good, they might finish in an hour because they’ve done the same job 20 times this week. That’s the trade-off.
The consumer ends up paying the same amount, but this is how the good shops maximize profit: efficiency and experience.
For auto parts, most mechanics have their own distributor – someone they’ve had a good working relationship with for many years. This distributor might have just run out of stock for brake pads that fit your specific vehicle. The only brake pads they have might be the cheapest option, and generally, mechanics don’t want to go with the cheapest option as there are more quality issues, more complaints, and it’s a bigger headache for everyone involved if something goes wrong.
So maybe they have to call their backup parts distributor to check stock and prices. Just because a part fits does not mean it’s an option, especially if it’s the ultra-premium version that is unnecessary for the average consumer.
Keep in mind, at the end of all this, the mechanic must be able to get you to agree to pay for it.
They want that part of the transaction to be as smooth as possible because the more time they spend talking, the lower amount of jobs completed, which results in lower overall profit.
The truth behind why auto shops don’t give quotes over the phone is a combination of the following three reasons:
What You Think You Need vs. What You Actually Need
There’s a significant amount of customers that call and ask for quotes for jobs they think they need.
“How much to change my battery?”
“How much to replace my rear brake rotors?”
Sometimes that’s what’s required, but sometimes it’s really not. The battery could be fine, but the alternator is malfunctioning.
The rotors might not be worn, but the calipers aren’t clamping properly.
Any responsible auto shop should be inspecting the vehicle themselves before giving an accurate quote.
It takes time to construct an accurate quote, and that quote is binding by law (up to a 10% difference).
When customers call to ask, it really seems like they will just go for the shop that gives the lowest number, and instead of trying to convince them why that may not be the best idea, it’s simply easier to not waste time quoting these jobs that won’t close.
Mechanics are much more willing to spend the time both constructing the quote and breaking down the cost if they see your initial commitment from dropping by in person.
one happens. We’re not sure how often it does, but we know it happens. We’ve
had auto shops tell us that they used our services to quote jobs because they
simply weren’t sure of how much to charge.
This doesn’t diminish the expertise of the mechanic. After all, most of these people want to spend their time fixing cars, not fiddling with what is essentially math homework.
If you’re ever calling an auto shop and they refuse to give you a quote over the phone, we recommend asking for their hourly labor rate that they charge out on work-orders. Keep in mind, every shop knows this rate and are obligated to include it in your bill at the end.
Of course, you can always use our web app (https://bukl.co/quote) or download our mobile app to see transparent pricing for various automotive services from over 150 auto shops in the GTA.