How Auto Repair Quotes Are Calculated

Don’t waste your time shopping for the cheapest mechanic shop.

You always get what you pay for.

Price shopping is very common when it comes to performing maintenance on your car.

People call several shops in the area to get quotes.

Then they get a large range of estimates and choose the cheapest one with the best reviews.

Sound about right?

I’ve studied the car mechanic industry to learn more about why things are priced the way that they are.

What goes into determining the cost of the service?

There are variables such as how long the repair is going to take, the shop rate, material pricing matrix, and material cost.

1. Time Estimation of Service

Most shops use a time guide such as ALLDATA and Mitchell; 98% of the data are the same. There is also a buffer time included just in case something doesn’t go according to plan.

Some shops don’t follow the time estimating software. They charge the customer based on how much time they spend doing something that actually helps the consumer.

2. Labor Rate

The shop rate for independent mechanic shops in the San Mateo County is between $95-$170/hr.

Car dealership labor rates are around 20–25% higher.

Generally, the more expensive the car, the higher the rate.

Why is there such a large disparity between labor rates?

Some shops need to charge a higher labor rate to employ the most experienced mechanics and invest in training so their mechanics stay up to date with the latest advancement in the auto industry.

Experienced mechanics know what to look for to ensure that the car is safe to drive. An experienced mechanic may be worth the higher cost.

3. Material Pricing Matrix

The material pricing matrix for each shop has the goal of profiting ~50%.

Mechanics mark up the materials they purchase by specific percentages depending on part cost.

The lower the cost, the higher the markup.

4. Material Cost

The biggest variance in the quote is due to the parts that are used.

Lowest quotes generally means that the shop is using the cheapest quality products.

Is the brand/quality of parts being put into your car important?

The short answer is yes.

There will always be a huge price difference between brands because some are meant to last longer and perform better.

For example, a serpentine belt for my Honda Accord from MasterPro that costs $22.99 has a 1 year warranty while one from Gates costs $32.99 but has a 3 year warranty.

Typically, aftermarket parts are cheaper however some do not even fit or perform correctly.

Mechanics know the best aftermarket parts to use that will make the customer happy, but some shops use less reliable parts to get your business.

Key Takeaways

Get an experienced mechanic who stays within the limits of the labor time guide. You are trusting that the mechanics know what they are doing.

Make sure you know that a knowledgeable mechanic is working on your car. You are paying for more than the agreed-upon service; you are also paying for the “free” inspections.

The cheapest material is marked up the most so make sure your mechanic uses quality parts.

Always go with shops that use quality parts. Trust the brands that are known to last.

Mechanic shops can only have two of these three qualities: good, fast, or cheap. We chose to work with mechanic shops that are good and fast.


MechanicLot makes free recommendations and provides quotes from multiple shops that are good and fast based on the vehicle information, requested service, and location.

These shops have all the proper licenses and insurance, received an overall customer satisfaction rating higher than 92 and are backed by a performance guarantee (up to $1,000).

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