# Auto mechanic fraud? Beating the "book rate"

Squire, if you’re being defrauded, the suggestion is that you’re being overcharged. If you’re being overcharged, then the shop owner is making excess profit on the work. If they’re making that much profit, open your own shop and get in on this free money.

The reality is that if the # of hours went down, the \$\$\$ per hour would go right back up to compensate. The shop needs to make a specific amount of money per job, and they set their rates accordingly. Since they quote you a price, and charge you that price, there is nothing fraudulent about it.

during one trip to the shop you may do the following:
Brake job = 2 hours
Replace belts = 1.5 “”
Oil change = .5 “”
Pack bearings = 1.5 “”
Rotate tires = 1.0 “”
Allignment = 2.0 “”

Add these up and you get 8.5 hours. In reality they could probably be done in well under 5 hours.

Here`s what happens:
Some of the tasks require repetive actions. You have to jack the car up to change the oil, rotate the tires, pack the bearings and to do the brake job. “Jacking the car up” time is figured into the flat rate jof each project yet in reality the mechanic only has to do it once. Taking the tires off is figured into at least three of the flat rates yet the mechanic only has to do it once. Prep and clean up is figured onto all of them yet the mechanic only has to do one prep and one clean up. The oil can drain while the mechanic loosens the tires or gets the parts ready for the next project, etc…
This scenario leads to the costumer being double or triple charged for certain portions of the flat rates that cross over into other flat rates.

during one trip to the shop you may do the following:
Brake job = 2 hours
Replace belts = 1.5 “”
Oil change = .5 “”
Pack bearings = 1.5 “”
Rotate tires = 1.0 “”
Allignment = 2.0 “”

Add these up and you get 8.5 hours. In reality they could probably be done in well under 5 hours.

Here`s what happens:
Some of the tasks require repetive actions. You have to jack the car up to change the oil, rotate the tires, pack the bearings and to do the brake job. “Jacking the car up” time is figured into the flat rate jof each project yet in reality the mechanic only has to do it once. Taking the tires off is figured into at least three of the flat rates yet the mechanic only has to do it once. Prep and clean up is figured onto all of them yet the mechanic only has to do one prep and one clean up. The oil can drain while the mechanic loosens the tires or gets the parts ready for the next project, etc…
This scenario leads to the costumer being double or triple charged for certain portions of the flat rates that cross over into other flat rates.

Oops, believe it or not, that is my first double-post in 1144 of them.

First of all, I want to say that I have never gotten an estimate quoted in either dollars per hour or X for parts, Y for labor ( although the final bill is broken down into parts and labor). I get quoted a price for the repair. Just like when my roof was replaced , I was quoted a price for the job, not a per hour charge for the labor, although the contractor must have been taking into account the hours of labor needed to do the job when he prepared that quote. One time I was actually charged the hourly rate- and that was for the actual time spent to find out what the problem was, after which my independent mechanic sent me to the dealer since the problem was covered under the warranty.

The “book rate” only determines how many hours a job should take (or actually the relative amount of time a repair should take) The per- hour labor charge can and does differ from shop to shop (or even from vehicle to vehicle in the same shop), and that will make a difference in the bottom line.

I wasn’t making any argument, I just wanted to point out how easy it was to find an example outside of the auto industry that worked in a similar manner. Another example is how the A/C repair people charged us 60 minutes drive time to come to the house and make us cool again. First, I could have used someone else, but I would have had to wait. I didn’t want to wait, I was hot now! Second, they charge 30 minutes coming and 30 minutes going, even though they are going to another job, and charging those people drive time. What it boils down to is, is it worth it to you? It was to me. They gave me their terms and I accepted them. Free enterprise; it’s a beautiful thing.

Oh, and spell my name right.

[QUOTE]
*Originally posted by Bren_Cameron *
No. You’re paying for the repair. Book time is a measure of how complicated or difficult the job is, in relation to other jobs. The bigger the job, the more you pay. The industry has decided to measure the difficulty of the job by how much time it would take a tech to repair. They calculate the fee using those numbers, but you’re not paying on a per hour basis–you’re paying a flat fee for a specific repair.

[quote]

No, no, NO. You are not. You are paying for the time the book has determined the repair to take. If your garage has a shop rate of \$70/hour, and the book time for the repair is 2 hours, you are paying \$140 (70x2)… even if the clock time the repair took is only 45 minutes.

The only thing that is even resembles a “flat rate” is that every shop that uses the book charges the same time for the repair. You are still paying for the parts and the <don’t get started on this> shop supplies. There is no “flat fee” about this whatsoever, other than the time to charge.

I think you’re saying the same thing I did. The time that they base their charge on and the time that they actually take are very different things.**

Absolutely not. The technicians I knew that pulled that off were excellent and I would trust them with my vehicle, no question. They were just experienced and good.

Heck, I am a relatively experienced backyard grease monkey, and I know I could easily beat the time the book lists to charge for many procedures. I’ve seen 1 hour book charges to re and re a distributor cap and rotor! That would probably take my wife 30 minutes and me, maybe 15.

I am not saying the industry is crooked. However, I will say that it, without question, the “book” is very liberal with the time to charge.

Ugh. Please just ignore the coding nightmare that is the above. :rolleyes:

If the more experienced mechanic takes longer, he is essentially charging a higher “per hour” rate. Is that strange?
The book rate could be considered a standardized charge based on “normalized” hours… and allowing for the occasional job that simply takes longer than expected. Sure, faster mechanics go faster, but you’d still pay more for the expert if the time were really sold by the hour. And sure, sometimes even the jr. guy can do it faster, but you are protected when it takes longer.
The real gripe is that you think even the “normalized” hours are not realistic, that in the great majority of the cases they finish faster. This just means the rate is higher per hour. Is this fraud? Only if they really charged by the hour, and they tell you in advance they don’t.
As a programmer, I also can charge my customers two ways: fixed price, where I estimate the time it will take, or actual by-the-clock time. You can betcha that when I quote fixed price I’ve gone a bit on the high side on the estimated hours, because sometimes I’m wrong. The customers know this but about half the time choose the fixed price anyway because it’s a known, certain amount. If I finish faster we are both happy.

At the moment, my car is in the shop, and my cheap repair bill has magically risen to close to \$1,000. Apparently, every part on my car is like a Palestinian terrorist strapped with explosives in a crowded Israeli mall. Whenever these parts fail, they try to take out as much as they can around them in a blaze of glory.

I have the Mitchell guide for my car, and I consistently refer to it when calculating my repair cost, yet consistently get quoted 2-3X that amount for what gets done NO MATTER WHERE I TAKE THE THING!!! I’d love to tell you all mechanics are crooks, but I now realize two things:

1. No one actually follows the ‘book rate’. They charge what the market will bear and too bad if you don’t like it
2. The real crooks are Chevy for designing such a piece of shit car

Oh, and to Jonathan Woodall…how the hell do you take your car to 2-3 people to get price quotes? Every mechanic I go to first has to ‘run a diagnostic’ to find the problem, and you have to leave your car there for them to do it (at some nominal charge).

Even if I get the problem identified, I have NEVER taken my car in and had the problem I took it in for be the entire problem. It is always, “Well, yes Mr. Yarster, the fuel pump is bad…but this other assembly next to it has also failed and so has this gasket and the surrounding pieces so this \$300 repair is now \$1000”

I know…I know… I should save my venting for the pit

It’s not fraud because it’s disclosed in advance to the consumer. What you wish it to be or think it “should” be is wholly irrelevant.

Time spent gleaning the specific facts of the case-20 minutes
Time spent reviewing the relevant law - 50 minutes
Time spent carefully drafting a demand letter - 30 minutes
Time spent on assorted relevant telephone calls - 15 minutes
Time spent organizing new file - 5 minutes

Having your client call your attempt to do a thorough job “false billing” - Priceless

You’re paying the rate they have determined is appropriate for that particular job. They determine that rate based on a certain number of hours, but that’s not the same thing as charging per hour. It is, indeed, a flat rate–every brake replacement costs the same thing. It’s a flat rate. They base their flat rate on their calculations of how long it should take. That is not the same thing as charging per hour.

Look at it this way–say I sell chocolate eggs. I calculate the price of the eggs by how much chocolate I put in them (parts) and how much time it takes me to make them (labor). I don’t change the price of the eggs because I made them faster one day, or charge less for one egg that’s identical to the others but I spent three minutes less time making it–because I’m not charging for the eggs “by the hour” I’m selling them at a flat rate. The fact that I used the average time it takes me to make the eggs to determine that flat rate is irrelevant to the customer because I’m not charging by the hour, I’m charging by the egg.

Similarly, the repair shop isn’t charging you by the hour, they’re charging you by the job. They use a number, however determined, to figure out what that charge should be. The fact that each shop arrives at different charges, based on those numbers, does not mean it’s not a flat rate–it means those shops charge differently.

That’s what I’m saying, but you’re not understanding me. The time they base their charge on is simply a number they use to determine their charge. Our theoretical hairdressers could, if they wished, base their charge on average ounces of hair lost in each cut, and they would be under no obligation to charge you less if you could bring out a scale and weigh less than their “average.” Because the prices on the sign say “Long hair, \$30, medium hair \$20, short hair \$10” Not “haircuts, \$10 oz.”

Similarly, repair shops don’t say, “brake jobs \$20/hr.” They say, “Brake jobs, \$100.” When you get your estimate they say, “this will cost you \$200,” not “the job will be \$75/hour.” They use hours to arrive at the \$100 but they’re not charging you by the hour. Can you not separate those two concepts?

Pulled it off occasionally? Sure. Pulled it off regularly? As in more frequently than once every couple of months? I don’t buy it. Mr. Cameron has been fixing cars for twenty years, definitely knows what he’s doing, and works for a dealership now, and boy don’t I wish he would pull down 30 hours in a nine hour day every week or so. Money would be a lot easier around here. I’m betting your friends pulled those numbers every couple of months, at best.

The only times he’s known techs to actually do that, they were crooked. And he left those shops as soon as he realized what was happening.

Does he beat book time regularly? Sure he does. He’s good at his job. But not to the tune of 20 extra hours a week.

But that’s irrelevant, because they’re not charging you by the hour. If they were, you’d pay less if the tech only took fifteen minutes. The book time is a convenient number they use to determine part of what they charge you. Just like I’m not charging you by the hour for my chocolate eggs, but the amount of time I think I might spend making them is part of how I determine the price.

Right–but that’s not relevant. They could use the atomic mass of the parts, or the calories expended by the average tech doing the job, or anything they wanted to, but as long as they have the same price for every similar job (\$20 for an oil change, \$500 to replace a transmission) it’s a flat rate, and they’re under no obligation to charge you less because the guy fixing your brakes skipped breakfast.

having spent a little over half my life in the automotive business, I feel qualified to comment here.
I used to be a flat rate technician (worked by the book times X\$/hour to determine my pay) I worked at several dealerships over the years. I always worked straight out of the car maker book, which was that generous.
How close was the book? I averaged about 105-120% efficiency every time I measued it.* Efficiency is a measurment of what if billed (called flagged) vs the time the mechanic is on the clock. So if I was at the dealership for 100 hours I was billing between 105-120 hours. Not a huge overage I am sure that you will agree. To achieve this efficiency level required an investment of my own money of over \$50,000 in tools, and years of practice. It also required many lost lunches, and skipped breaks.

In a legal sense the labor guide (Its proper name) is a method of estimating the time necessary to do a particular repair. This is important for shop scheduling. A shop only has so many hours to sell per technician per day. No one person can know how long every job is going to take. The current labor guide for Volvo is contained in 4 binders and when I get a new copy the pages alone (no covers) is a stack about 7" thick. (memorize that, there will be a quiz )
So the labor guide is an effort to bring some type of order to a chaotic process, so a shop can schedule technician’s time effectivly. As has been mentioned you are paying for the labor to do the job, not X hours of a technician’s time. The hours in the time guide are for labor estimation only, and at least at many shops I have visited there is a sign to that effect.

Now before someone gets the bright idea to do away with flat rate, let me suggest that you be careful what you wish for as you just might get it.
Without flat rate, a written estimate would be pretty much impossible except for very common tasks. (remember the 7" stack of paper, how much did you memorize) In California and some other locations a written estimate is the law before work is done. So just how will that work?
Also there will be no incentive for the technician to work quickly or effectivly. If I get to charge by when I clock on and when I clock off the job, do you think I am going to haul ass on my way to parts, and rag on the parts guy to get the parts for your car in a hurrry? Get real, I will walk as slowly as possible, stopping for coffee, and a chat with my buddies. In parts I will tell the guy to take his time, becasue when he drags his ass, it isn’t costing me any money (Like it does under flat rate) it’s costing the customer money.
A straight hourly system would reward the slow, lazy, and incompetent. There would be no incentive for a technician to go out and buy a special tool to fix your car right. After all if he breaks a bolt, or strips a thread you get to pay him more money. The guys that can actually fix cars would make less money than the sloths. I would not want to work in a system like that.
***** Not all labor guides are created equal. Some guides are more generous than others. (Chiltons will usually be higher than the factory guide) Also some car makers guides are more generous than others. Brand A may pay more for electronic diagnosis, Brand B may pay more for engine heavy line repair (rebuilding) Brand C may be generous on brakes

I am a certified mechanic, and also was involved with creating the times for the book time while working for one of the big three.

*No, no, NO. You are not. You are paying for the time the book has determined the repair to take. *

You are paying for the repair, You take your car in to get fixed and they fix it, you pay them, that means you paid for the repair. The time is a reference as to how much to charge, the book could say charge \$xxx.xx but since each shop charges different rates there would have to be a different book for each rate. A book if your shop charges \$60.00/hour, another if they charge \$65.00/hour and so on.

When we determined the time on a repair, we would have a brand new car on a hoist in a clean shop area with nothing else going on. We would start the clock and follow the procedure in the shop manual and record the time it took. We would hear it from both sides, the mechanics and shop owners. The mechanics would say we were nuts on the time that it takes longer then what we say it would, we had a brand new car, no road salt/dirt, no rusted bolts etc. and the shop owners would say it can be done quicker. The books were set up for the industry. The dealers and general repair shops.

If you work on the same kinds of cars all the time and do the same job over and over again you will get quicker at it by knowing which size tools you will need and what shortcuts you can take. That’s how you can make money because you could lose some when you do repair that you have never done before.

I have worked at dealers and general repair shops, I have lost on book times, I have equaled on book times, and I have beaten book times. There are pros and cons what ever way you look at it.

But back to the original post, they state how much you are going to be charged on the estimate, for this point it doesn’t really matter how they get that price, they got it and told you how much it was. No fraud. If someone doesn’t like the price don’t get it repaired there. There are shops around that don’t follow the book rate and charge for just the repair time.

Every repair industry reference time on there price, If a plumber comes out and quotes a job he thinks how long it will take him and times that by his going rate plus materials. If a builder comes out and quotes a job same thing, how long times his going rate plus materials.
*No, no, NO. You are not. You are paying for the time the book has determined the repair to take. *

There are some little things you are overlooking.
The time for a job is built up from pieces.
Time to go find the car (parking lot with 200 Volvos, go find Mr. Jones) plus
Time to diagnoise (not always included in repair but may be)plus
Time to go get the parts from the parts department (the damn things don’t just jump off the shelf, this step alone can take 15 minutes in some shops)plus
time to do the repair (duh)plus
Time to do the paperwork plus
Time to test drive the car

Well, I think I have realized that you are trying to say the same thing I am, just in a different way. You are calling the “book time” the “job”, where I am calling it the “time” you are getting charged. We’re basically arguing the same points to eachother, just changing the terminology. If you get your brakes done, the bill will say something like:

Re/re rotors and calipers. Replaced pads. 3 hours@70 = \$140

Even though it may have only taken them 1-1/2, they are charging you three. Thats all I’m saying. They are billing you for TIME in the BOOK, NOT the time the actually took?
It looks like you’re trying to say the same thing, from what I understand.

However, I consider a “flat rate for a job” to mean “total price, period.” That is something that different shops rarely equal as their rates and parts are almost certainly different.

Re/re rotors and calipers. Replaced pads. 3 hours@70 = \$140

Bernse,
Most places won’t put the hours down on the bill, most will just put R/R rotors and calipers \$140.00 labor and then whatever for materials.

I think you are right alot of people are talking about the same thing just wording it different.

Shops I’ve worked at the job doesn’t start until the car is in the bay.

Off the top of my head, I know of no job booktime to include diagnosis, except an actual job that is a diagnosis.

True, but should never be more than 5 minutes. And thats generous. Many shops already have the parts on the bench before the car is even in the bay.

An experienced tech can do most jobs in literally seconds, for what they have to write. For the rest, that is what a service writer is for.

True, this would take the longest out of all of them. I’ll give you 5-10 minutes for that.

This seems like a funny complaint, and I’ll try to explain why:

1. You can go to any mechanic you want - some will charge varing rates - for instance the mechanic that I went to for years charged \$45/hour or 75% of the usual, but he would still bill for the “book-rate” number of hours. Bingo - value for the consmer - a 25% discount. There is nothing stopping any consumer from shopping around to find a good rate.

2. The “book-rate” applies regardless of how long the job takes. When I had my engine replaced, due to an anomily with my make and model of car, the mechanic wound up having to remove the entire transmission in order to get the new engine in, and then put the whole tranny back in. He still charged me the “book-rate” of about 8 hours labor, despite the fact that it took about 3 days for him to actually reassemble the damn thing - good value for me, the consumer.

Heres the thing - I look at the book rate like a salary - at my job I make a salary - lets say that I bust my hump to get my work done quickly so I can spend the whole afternoon on the SDMB. Good for me. An incentive to be fast.

Now imagine that I get paid and hourly wage - humm - an incentive to go slow. If the mechanic can charge for how ever many hours he wants, and ignore the book rate, don’t you think a few guys are gonna be drinking 27 cups of coffee and taking repeated trips to the lou and generally procrastinating to the hilt? Obviously, the longer it actually takes to do the job, the more they get paid. You’d never get your car out of the shop, and then get a bill for 12 hours of labour to change a tire.

The book rate keeps everyone honest. If you don’t like the price, shop around - another mechanic will charge a lower hourly “book-rate”.