Why is Auto Repair So Expensive?

mechanic wrench on bills

No one actually looks forward to taking the car to the shop. Taking the car to the shop means something is wrong with it, perhaps a strange noise or vibration or the check engine light is on – that’s a stress that you just don’t need in your life. Even worse, you absolutely know that it’s going to cost you, maybe a lot, to get it fixed. Why is auto repair so expensive? Some people would have you believe “Mechanics are just out to get your money” or “They know you have no other choice.”

The reality is far different, and it all has to do with the fact that, in the past, it seemed that pretty much anyone could work on cars. With a few basic tools and parts, even my mom – there really should be more lady technicians – could rebuild a carburetor in about thirty minutes, and replace spark plugs and the fuel filter in another thirty minutes. Fast-forward thirty years, though, and modern automobiles are an entirely different beast.

Auto Repair Technician Training

Looking under the hood of the modern automobile, you’ll note a bevy of wiring harnesses, electronic sensors, and actuators, all designed to maximize performance, fuel economy, and comfort. Monitoring and controlling all of this are the powertrain control modules, and we’re not even going to mention the other dozen-or-so computers controlling the rest of the car. This is not a machine that the average Joe should consider tinkering with.

The amount of training that most modern auto repair technicians undergo can be staggering. Technical programs cost thousands of dollars, comprising of thousands of hours in theory and practical application – they really get to know automobiles. Once they get into the field, their training never stops.  Any reputable auto repair shop knows this, which is why technicians receive ongoing training in the vehicle systems they work on and the equipment they use – every one of them is an expert.

“Why do they need training? The check engine light tells them what to replace,” some may opine, but it’s a bit more complicated. True, a check engine light indicates “a problem,” but only a technician can determine the cause. That kind of knowledge only comes from intense training and years of experience, just one part of the cost of exceptional auto repair.

Auto Repair Tools & Equipment

Running an auto repair shop requires tools and equipment. Most technicians are responsible for their own tools, which means that it comes out of their paycheck, and technician toolboxes and tools may range from $5,000 to over $50,000, depending on the individual. Some may balk at this – “A professional mechanic’s tool set on Amazon is just $500.” Again, reality is far different. Unless doing auto repair on a daily basis, one really doesn’t get a sense of how valuable it is to have eight different 10 mm sockets, six different 3/8” drive ratchets, and five different 14 mm wrenches – this isn’t vanity, but comfort and productivity! If a tool can speed up a job or save a knuckle, it belongs in the toolbox!

Auto repair shops also maintain tens of thousands of dollars in tools and equipment. Diagnosing a check engine light might cost you around $100, but it’s being done on a sophisticated scan tool, worth up to $5,000. A computerized wheel alignment may cost around $100, but the specialized lift costs up to $40,000, the optical alignment computer up to $20,000. If your car has been in an accident, adjusting the frame may cost $5,000, but the frame machine might cost up to $45,000! Even tire mounting and balancing, which may cost you around $50 each, requires equipment that costs anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000.

Perfect Parts for the Perfect Auto Repair

Finally, there’s the parts, some 30,000 per vehicle, which range in price and quality, depending on the brand and where you’re sourcing them from. For many parts, such as sensors and controllers, genuine or OEM parts may be the only parts that exist for the job. Brand name parts tend to be more expensive, but they tend to be of better quality, fit and finish, and function than aftermarket parts. On the other hand, there are some aftermarket parts that have been engineered and proven to work as well as or better than genuine or OEM parts, but it takes experienced auto repair technicians and management to recognize their worth.

Getting your vehicle diagnosed by professionals, using the right tools and the best parts for the job, isn’t that all you really need? Clearly, there’s a lot going on behind your auto repair bill!

Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers is Here to Help!

At your local Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers – we have 42 locations, now – we only employ trained and ASE-Certified auto repair technicians. Each and every one of them is a professional and loves to work on cars. If you have a question or concern about your vehicle, even if you’re afraid it’ll cost a lot to fix your car, let us take a look at your car. We can help you set priorities and keep your vehicle on the road.