Cars & Vehicles Auto Parts & Maintenance & Repairs

How to Estimate Automotive Repairs

    • 1). Identify your car's problem. Start with the system that's not working properly. Malfunctioning dashboard lights, radio, headlights or brake lights, for example, are symptomatic of electrical system problems. Perform a few basic tests to verify your suspicions. Most auto parts stores will test your battery and alternator for free.

    • 2). Trace an unusual sound while the car is idling. For example, if the car is squeaking from under the hood, you may find by opening the hood that the pulley belt should be replaced. If the car is having shifting difficulties, the transmission may be your suspect. Type your car's symptoms into a search engine to narrow down a list of potential problems.

    • 3). Make a preliminary estimate using a vehicle repair guide for your model. Buy one online or borrow one from your local library. Look in the index for the parts you suspect are faulty. Most repair guides list an estimate of how long the repair will take to remove and replace specific parts. For example, if you look for details on replacing your alternator, you will probably find in the repair guide that it takes one hour.

    • 4). Go online or to an auto parts store and find the price for a replacement part. Using the previous example, let's say a new alternator costs $150 and the repair shop charges $65 an hour for labor. Add in 7 percent for taxes, or $15.05, and your preliminary estimate is a little more than $230.

    • 5). Get an official estimate from a repair shop. When choosing a shop, look for credentials such as an Automotive Service Excellence certification. Ask the mechanic for an estimate in writing. Compare the shop's estimate with your preliminary estimate. Ask the mechanic to explain a big discrepancy. If the mechanic does not provide a detailed reason, or tries to confuse you with technical jargon, then find another shop. In Washington state, for example, a repair may not cost more than 110 percent of the shop's official estimate.

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