Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

How mechanics charge for labor?

How do mechanics know how long a repair takes?

Consumers often ask me how mechanics charge for labor. Well, there’s a method to their madness, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not based on your gender or car smarts.

Labor charges are based on flat rate guide

Several data companies sell flat rate labor guides that list the time required to do just about every possible repair on a vehicle. I’ll use the guide to show you how a shop would compile an estimate to replace a water pump on a 2005 Chevrolet Impala with the 3.4-liter engine. Keep in mind that every engine is different so you’ll see different labor estimates for the different engines. In addition to different labor rates for different engines, you’ll also see two time estimates for each engine. The different data companies may label the times differently, but the two times almost always refer to how much time the carmaker estimates the job will take while the car is under warranty versus how much time the job takes once the car is out of warranty.

flate rate guide

At first glance, the two times for the same repair may seem unfair to consumers since the in-warranty times are always less than the out-of-warranty times. But think about what the mechanic faces in the two different scenarios. If the car is under the factory warranty, it’s usually fairly new. That means the mechanic won’t have to fight rusted fasteners or grease-covered components. Believe it or not, rusted fasteners add a great deal of time to a repair. In the case of this water pump replacement, the labor guide shows an extra 0.3 hr (20-mins) to complete the repair on an out-of-warranty pump.

What steps are involved in this water pump repair?

I’ll use the step-by-step instructions from the same data source as the flat rate labor estimate.

Step 1 Drain the cooling system
Step 2 Remove the drive belt shield bolt.
Step 3 Remove the drive belt shield.
Step 4 Loosen the water pump pulley bolts.
Step 5. Remove the drive belt.
Step 6 Remove the water pump pulley bolts.
Step 7. Remove the water pump pulley.
Step 8 Remove the water pump bolts.
Step 9 Remove the water pump (1).
Step 10 Remove the water pump gasket (2).
Step 11 Clean the water pump gasket mating surfaces.
Step 12 Install the water pump gasket (2).
Step 13 Install the water pump (1).
Step 14 Install the water pump bolts.
Step 15 Tighten the bolts to 10 N.m (89 lb in).
Step 16 Install the water pump pulley.
Step 17 Install the water pump pulley bolts.
Step 18 Tighten the bolts to 25 N.m (18 lb in).
Step 19 Install the drive belt.
Step 20 Install the drive belt shield.
Step 21 Install the drive belt shield bolt.
Step 22 Tighten the bolt to 10 N.m (89 lb in).
Step 23 Fill the cooling system.

How much does this water pump job cost?

The labor guide shows 1.4-hrs. to perform all 23 steps. If the shop charges $100/hr, the labor will cost $140. The list price for the water pump is $193.44 for a genuine Chevrolet pump. If the shop finds that the coolant is old or is contaminated,

water pump cost

they’ll refill with new coolant. The 3.4- liter engine requires slightly less than 2-gallons of coolant, so the shop will charge approximately $46. In addition to the parts and labor charges, the shop will charge for shop supplies and hazardous waste removal. Shop supplies are those miscellaneous items that are used during the repair but are too small to be itemized individually. For this repair, the mechanic would use rust penetrant, shop rags, and nuts or bolts to replace any that were rusted or broken. Most shops cap the shop supplies at 10% of the labor charges. You can argue that these items should be built into the hourly labor rate and you’d be right. After all, plumbers don’t charge extra for their glue, putty, or solder. However, that’s the way it’s done in the auto repair business—when in Rome….

So the estimated cost to replace a water pump on a 2005 Chevrolet Impala is:

Labor $140
Parts  $239.44
Shop supplies $14
Hazardous Waste fre $10
Total $404.44

Where are the labor rips offs?

Now here’s where consumers get ripped off when shops use the flat rate guide. Let’s say you ok the water pump estimate and the shop calls to tell you that your drive belt is worn and should be replaced. They quote you $37 for labor and $43.28 for the part.

Scroll back up to Step 5. That step requires the mechanic to remove the drive belt in order to replace the water pump. In other words, you’ve already paid for that labor. If you weren’t having the water pump replaced and just came in for a new drive belt, the flat rate guide shows 0.3 hours labor.

flat rate guide

How to avoid double-dipping on labor charges.

Unless you know exactly what steps are involved in each repair, it’s pretty easy for a shop to take advantage of you by charging twice for labor. To avoid that, simply ask the shop if the drive belt had to be removed to do the water pump repair. If they say “yes,” then ask for a package price since the labor is free.

Check out the estimated repair cost to see if it’s right
Many public libraries offer online car repair information. You can print out the step-by-step instructions to see what must be removed to get to the broken part.

If you think the estimate is too high, call another shop and ask for an estimate for the same job.

©, 2016 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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