Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Bring your own parts?

Can I bring my own parts to the mechanic

If you’re one of those knucklheads who thinks you can save money by bringing your own parts to the auto shop take some time to answer this question first:

Would you bring your own ham and eggs to a restaurant, ask them to cook them up and then offer to pay only for labor? Of course you wouldn’t. I mean, really—they’d laugh you out of the place. Well guess what? Bringing your own auto parts to a shop and offering to pay for labor is exactly the same. The auto shop survives the profit they make on labor and parts. They’re not in business to lose some of that profit because you brought your own ham and eggs to the party. Before you flip a gasket thinking that isn’t fair, take a minute to understand how a repair shop works.

Repair shops have incredibly high overhead

You may think $100/hr is outrageous for labor until you run your own shop. Then you’ll think it’s a very fair price. First, repair shop owners have to pay rent and utilities like every other business. Electricians and plumbers charge close to $100/hr and they have the cost of hand tools and their truck. But unlike electricians and plumbers, auto repair shops also have to buy and maintain really expensive shop equipment like lifts, jacks, engine hoists, special tools, monthly software subscriptions for shop manuals, monthly subscriptions for calibration updates, yearly subscriptions for scan tool updates, brake lathe, recycling machines, etc. etc. Plus, they have to keep an inventory of oil and other consumable items. They have to get a return on their investment for all of that equipment and inventory.

People also think it’s outrageous to pay $100 for a shop to troubleshoot your check engine light? Well, the scan tool the tech uses costs about $3,000 and the annual software updates can easily run $1,000. Drivability techs go to classes several times per year, and they have to keep up to date on the latest service bulletins. How often does a plumber take classes? How many service bulletins does a plumber have to read?

So, when the shop sets an hourly labor rate it has to include all those costs PLUS the cost of repairing the equipment, PLUS license fees, insurance (which is mighty high), and regulatory inspections. According to salary.com, the national average wage for a senior automotive technician in 2014 was $52,879. Add in the cost of social security tax, unemployment and worker’s comp premiums, vacation and sick pay, and healthcare and you’ll find the shop pays out close to $75,000 for the technician. That comes to $37.50/hr based on 2,000 billable hours per year (working days minus holidays). But NO technician EVER consistently bills out a full eight hours per day. Six hours is more realistic. So really, the shop’s cost is closer to $48/hr.

And even $48 isn’t a realistic cost because the shop must also have a service writer and bookkeeper, as well as a car runner and cleanup crew. So the shop’s hourly cost is higher.  Then, when you add in profit, return on investment and overhead expenses, you can see why a shop MUST charge $100/hr.

In addition to making money off of labor, shops also make money off of parts—just like every other business.

Now about those parts

Every time a car or truck needs parts the shop has a choice. They can call the dealer and buy OEM parts or they can call a parts jobber like NAPA and buy aftermarket parts. If they buy from the dealer, YOU’LL pay more and the shop will make about 20% profit on the parts. For that 20%, someone at the shop must spend their time calling the dealer and ordering the part. On the flip side, OEM parts are generally more reliable than aftermarket parts. So the technician can install the part and feel fairly confident the part will work the first time.

But customers don’t want to pay dealer part prices. You want the shop to order the part from the aftermarket. Great. The shop still has to make money on the part. After all, it takes their time to order the part (or did you want the shop to give you that time for free?). Then, a bookkeeper has to deal with the invoices and pay the jobber. Again, somebody has to pay for that time.

So the shop makes the diagnosis, orders the parts, and installs them. The part fails. Guess who has to eat the cost of replacing the part? The shop. The parts manufacturer will warrant the part but they do not pay for labor. The shop has to eat the labor cost. So part of the profit on parts goes to pay for those times when parts fail and the shop has to eat the cost of labor.

Now you walk in with your own parts.

And you want to deny them the profit on the parts. Did the shop’s overhead go down the second you walked in the door? Nope. They still have someone on staff who orders parts (they didn’t get laid off because you walked in the door). They still have a bookkeeper to pay. But now they’re out the profit they would have made on the part. So you’re basically asking the shop to forgo some profit on the job because, ah, exactly why did you think they should lose profit on you? Your good looks?

Some shops will tell you to shove it, others will install it

A shop that’s busy will tell you to shove your parts where the sun doesn’t shine. And they’d be within their rights.

A shop that doesn’t have a No Customer Parts policy may offer to install your parts. But it’ll come with two caveats; First, they won’t warrant the part. If it fails don’t think you can come back to them and install the replacement part for free. Second, they’ll most likely charge you a higher hourly rate or a higher flat rate to compensate for the profit they lost by not selling you the part.

The truth is, you really don’t save money by providing your own parts, and you create far more problems for yourself if you bring the wrong part or the part fails.

Shops know good from bad

Finally, there are parts, and then there are GOOD parts. You can go online and find a part that’s much cheaper than the one the shop quoted. You think the shop is ripping you off. Nope. First, I doubt you’re comparing apples to apples. The part you found is most likely a Chinese made knock off, or it’s the same brand but “service grade” rather than “professional grade.” Most parts manufacturers offer two grades; an economy part for price shoppers and a professional grade for shops that value their reputation. Guess which part is junk? Do you know the difference? Because if you buy an economy part (which is what most of you buy) and then end up paying the shop the same price to install it, you’ll actually come out behind because the part will fail sooner.

Even if the part you found is pro grade and includes shipping, the shop still isn’t ripping you off. The online seller prices the part cheap because they sell in huge volumes. But the shop has to buy the part from a nearby jobber who delivers it to his shop. Those jobbers must make a profit. So the shop usually pays more for the part from the jobber than the same part costs online.

The bottom line—every business has to make a profit

Everybody thinks the shop is ripping them off. But how many multimillionaire shop owners do YOU know? Probably none. Sure, they make a decent living. If they didn’t they’d close up shop and work for someone else. But getting rich? Nope.

So think twice about asking a shop to lose money on your next repair job because you want to bring your own parts.

©, 2015 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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