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Why calling around for estimates doesn’t work

By Staff | Sep 30, 2015

The phone rings. “I’m going to bring my car in on Friday for brakes. What’s that going to cost?” Oh-oh.

Two things need to happen before repair work begins. It’s true for car repairs as well as for medical procedures. You need to get a diagnosis, and then you need an estimate. They are not the same thing.

A doctor first gives a diagnosis and, if you doubt it, you can get a second opinion, which means that you ask another doctor what he thinks your problem is. It may or may not agree with the first doctor’s diagnosis. You then pick the one you want to go with, or get a third opinion. After that, and ONLY after that, you can ask for an estimate of what the repairs will cost. You can’t ask the first doctor what he would charge to do the treatment proscribed by the third doctor, because he probably wouldn’t do it. He would prefer his own proscribed treatment. You have to ask the doctor whose diagnosis you accepted.

Now if you reread that paragraph and insert the word “mechanic” wherever “doctor” appears, you should see why cold-calling a mechanic and asking what he would charge to do something someone else says you need is a waste of both of your time and his.

A good mechanic wants to give you a repair job that will be sure to take care of your concerns without doing anything unnecessary and without missing something that is necessary. He wants to guarantee the job does these things. or this to happen he must make up his own mind about what he thinks you need or don’t need, then if it doesn’t come out right, it’s his own fault. He will not be willing to make an estimate guess based on what you think you may need, or even what your expert friend thinks you need. The person making the estimate has to be the person making the diagnosis.

An e-mail appears. “I need a quote on my Mercedes for a timing cover replacement and a new alternator bracket gasket.” Oh no.

Here’s a list of some of the things that could be necessary on a “brake job:”

– 1 set of rear pads or rear shoes

– 2 rear wheel brake cylinders

– 2 sets of shoe springs and hold-down hardware

– 1 or two rear brake hoses

– Up to 20 ft. steel brake line

– 2 rear brake calipers

– 2 rear brake drums or rotors

– 1 set front brake pads

– 2 front brake rotors

– 2 front brake calipers

– 2 front brake hoses

– 1 master cylinder

– 1 power brake booster

– Replacement brake fluid

A car might need only a few of these items, or might need all of them. Asking for a “sight unseen” estimate, (without the estimator doing his own diagnosis) is unrealistic at best, and incorrect at worst.

The proliferation of phone apps that solicit estimates on repair work are leading us down the garden path to hair pulling conflicts when the jobs bid on and done are not the jobs that were needed. Get expert opinions first, and estimates from those experts whose opinions you have solicited.

On the Mercedes, I pass. I never heard of an alternator bracket gasket. (Help me, Lord, I’m fading).