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If you need an estimate, getting an inspection is your best bet

iStock_000020558644XSmallWhat do you do if you have a persistently sore knee?

We bet that you don’t start calling doctors to find out what they charge for a joint replacement. After all, the problem could be tendinitis, arthritis, a sprain, or a host of other issues, and a thorough check-up and a second opinion are often necessary to determine the proper course of treatment. The same goes for your car or truck. Squeaky brakes don’t always mean what you think they mean.

And just like a health issue, calling different shops to obtain phone estimates is not the best way to start resolving a problem with your vehicle. Here’s some of the top reasons phone estimates aren’t your best bet:

1. If you haven’t gotten the vehicle inspected, you might not know what’s actually wrong. Just because you have a loss of power doesn’t mean you need a new transmission. It could be a clog in the exhaust or a problem with the catalytic converter. The difference in price between those issues is thousands of dollars. Spending a few minutes in the shop for a test drive or inspection can save you money and aggravation.

2. If you have gotten your vehicle checked out somewhere else, the other shop might have misdiagnosed the problem or given you inaccurate advice. It happens more often than you think. If that’s the case, you are getting information about a repair you might not need, and the repair you really do need might be a drastically different scope and price than what you were quoted. Just like when dealing with doctors, sometimes it’s best to get a second opinion─especially when money is involved. Not all auto repair shops offer the same quality, and there’s no substitute for the years of experience and expertise we provide at Auto Lab.

3. There repair cost can vary based not only on the year, make and model, but also by the engine, the trim level, the manufacturing plant and even the date of manufacture. Carmakers often put different parts or different styles of the same part on a car with the “sports” package vs. the one with the “touring” package. Even with brakes, the package can require a different rotor or caliper. And the pricing can vary from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on the part. This kind of variance is nearly impossible to discover or convey accurately in a phone call.

4. The scope of the problem makes a huge difference in the cost of the repair. You might call for an estimate for new brakes, but do you know what you really need? Do you need front brakes, rear brakes or both? Are the rotors rusted? What shape are the calipers in? Are there any fluid leaks? All of these items have an effect on the cost of the repair and we don’t know what needs attention unless we inspect your vehicle. Some shops might give you a basic estimate based on the least amount of work just to get you in the door, but by the time you leave that shop, you could easily end up spending a lot more than you would have at the shop that wanted to do an inspection.

5. All materials are not created equal. There are plenty of parts manufacturers out there, and just like everything else, some are high quality and some definitely are not. Unless you know what brand or grade of parts being used, it’s impossible to accurately compare estimates. The higher-quality parts we use might cost more, but they are worth it in the long run.

6. The fine print can add up. Does a shop’s estimate include taxes and shop supplies? Shop supplies and taxes can vary widely based on the cost of the work. That is going to affect your final bill, and if it’s not part of an estimate, you’ll be looking at an artificially low amount that is going to balloon when you get the final invoice.

For all these reasons, we recommend inspecting your vehicle first when you have a repair concern. This is the best way to obtain an accurate assessment and an accurate estimate. We think it’s well worth a little time up front at Auto Lab to potentially save yourself hundreds of dollars in potentially unnecessary or poor quality repairs.

Bottom line? You can spend a lot of time and money chasing down savings that never materialize. But your best bet is to establish a relationship with a shop you trust – one that can tell you in advance of a brake squeak that you’ll soon need brakes.

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