How to Read a Car Repair Labor Guide

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Ever wonder what exactly you’re paying for when you get your car repaired in an auto shop? How much are the parts? How much is because of the labor times? One way you can get more insight is to refer to a repair labor guide. But it’s not always easy to use.
Information on the labor guide may be written in shorthand and abbreviations. Mechanics write concisely as a way to save on time, but it can be more difficult to understand the meaning of the labor guide. Any garage is going to handle its labor costs and billing a little differently, so clear communication between the customer and mechanic may be needed to fill in the blanks. In this article we’ll cover how to read and understand an auto repair labor guide, and how to clearly communicate with your mechanic.

Part 1: How to Understand the Different Parts of a Labor Guide

When a mechanic works on your vehicle, their top priority may not the labor guide. But for straightforward repairs, you should be able to tell from the shorthand what is being referred to with a particular expense. A half-hour “in and out” appointment shouldn’t leave anything to the imagination. However, if your car needs extensive repairs, it’s probably worth going through the labor guide with your mechanic to make sure you’re both on the same page.
The single most helpful thing a customer can do to better understand a labor guide is to know the parts a mechanic is using in the repairs. A bill will refer to installations by the technical component name. Ask about the parts that will be used in the repairs, including whether they’re OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or aftermarket, and make a note of the component name so that you can cross-reference it with the bill afterwards.
The mechanic may still write in a shorthand, but it’s considerably easier to understand when you know what’s getting abbreviated in the first place.
Be wary of miscellaneous fees and other hidden tack-ons that might be added to your bill automatically. If you’ve ever been to a shop before and seen the bill, you’ll see vague references to shop fees and supplies on bills, regardless whether or not you saw these supplies actually used.
These fees are often arbitrary, and they’re unfortunately standard for most shops. You shouldn’t be surprised to see these fees on your final bill. They aren’t usually very high, especially when compared to the costs of parts and labor, but they do serve to complicate a receipt.

Part 2: The Ways a Garage Will Calculate Labor

There’s more than one way for a garage to calculate labor. There’s a host of variables that can make a shop faster or slower on a given day, but it’s possible to look online for an estimated length a certain type of repair should take a mechanic before even settling on a garage to begin with.
While some garages will charge labor based on the actual time it took to repair, others will charge based on how long it would take for an experienced mechanic on average to complete repairs.
This estimation is usually based on an industry standard, and the amount of time naturally reflects the difficulty involved. For example, an oil change is typically listed as a half-hour procedure, while a four tire installation takes roughly an hour.
Most reputable garages will charge labor by the standard rate, so as to increase reliability and trust in the customer. It’s a good idea to ask the mechanic about the pricing scheme in advance so you’ll know what to expect.

Part 3: Talking to Your Mechanic

As a customer, it helps to have some understanding of whatever work has gone into an appointment. While a lot of the relevant information can be found out on your own however, you shouldn’t discount the fact that you have a knowledgeable professional already in your midst. Mechanics should be used to addressing the concerns of their customers, and if you’re unclear about some part of the repair or the bill, they should be happy to answer whatever you need.
A good mechanic will make time for their customers’ comments and questions. A shop is often very busy, but a sound business acknowledges that their income relies on satisfied customers coming back for more. See something on the labor guide that still doesn’t make sense? Simple; ask the mechanic to explain what it is they wrote. Don’t feel stupid about wanting to ask a question you think should be obvious. It’s your money, after all, and you deserve to know where it’s going.

Part 4: How to Understand Costs and Services Before Authorizing Repairs

It’s important to have an accurate idea of the costs before any of the repairs take place. In light of the hidden fees and difficult billing information, prior communication with a mechanic is your best bet. Although there is always the risk of coming across new issues during the repair that need to be addressed, it’s within your rights as a customer to require permission for anything extra. Having a proper understanding of the labor guide can help protect you as a customer and prevent the need to dispute a bill after a repair.

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