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Auto Know: Repair guide sets the fees and protects car owners

Any shop with good mechanics that are efficient and can finish in less than the allotted book time will, in reality, be overcharging consumers for actual time spent on the repair.

  • Auto Know

For 1.5 hours of work done by a dealership mechanic, they charged us for four hours of labour. It seems consumers are being taken advantage of by set billing hours for work done.

Any shop with good mechanics that are efficient and can finish in less than the allotted book time will, in reality, be overcharging consumers for actual time spent on the repair.

Eric Lai replies:

Standard billable labour hours are listed in the Mitchell Manual, which is the industry reference for preparing estimates. The figures listed represent the average time it takes for a mechanic to perform a repair on a new vehicle.

A mechanic familiar with the specific repair may indeed be capable of completing the job in less time. But, conversely, if the job takes longer due to inexperience, rusted components, seized fasteners, bent or damaged parts from age or wear-and-tear (particularly in an older car), the book-labour charges you are billed may be less than the actual time spent.

Ontario’s Consumer Services Ministry warns never to sign a blank work order. Detailed estimates are required unless the consumer authorizes a maximum they are willing to pay for the repair.

Shops may charge an estimate fee but must advise in advance what the total fee will be. No estimate fee applies if you proceed with the repair (unless you make them wait for authorization and they must reassemble the vehicle to make room for other work).

Also, your final bill cannot exceed the estimate amount by more than 10 per cent.

If the industry were to switch to actual-hours billing, shops likely wouldn’t release a vehicle prior to the existing book-labour hours being up, regardless of when it was actually finished, since they’d only be cutting their own throat in terms of income.

Frankly, actual-hours billing is a riskier alternative for consumers, since you’re basically writing the shop a blank cheque, where they fill in the billable hours as they please. Fraudsters could easily milk the repair with more billable hours than really needed.

As a cautionary example of this, the landlord sent a contractor to replace the water heater in a friend’s business location. Thinking it was the landlord’s responsibility, he didn’t ask for an estimate.

The plumber spent a minute opening the heater drain, left for two hours for lunch, and then took another two hours to finish.

They subsequently billed my friend $800 for 10 hours labour (five hours each for the plumber and a trainee) for a job that another contractor charged a $150 flat rate for at the time.

Email your nonmechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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