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More on estimating

October 22, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Getting an accurate estimate for your repair job can be difficult, but not impossible. Here are some of the problems and some of the solutions:

P: A man calls asking what we would charge to drain the bad gas from his tank. He's calling around to different shops with this question, looking for the lowest bidder. If a shop does what he wants and looks up the labor rate to remove his gas tank, they might give him a figure of $200. If that's the lowest number he heard, he brings the car to them and they pull the tank and clean it out. Now there will be one of two scenarios following:

n The gas actually was bad. However, the car still won't start. The fuel filter is plugged from the bad gas. Changing it costs another $40. The car still won't start because the fuel injectors are plugged also. Cleaning them costs another $100, and two of them have to be replaced for $100 each. His bill reaches $540 before he can drive out. He tells his friends that he had an estimate for $200 and paid $540. He says the shop didn't honor their estimate.

n The gas wasn't bad. After cleaning the tank the car still has a miss and a hesitation. The shop runs some diagnostic tests on the engine for $100 and determines that the spark plug wires are faulty, which is causing the misfire. The wires are replaced for $150 and the man drives off with a final bill of $450. He tells his friends that the shop didn't honor their estimate.

In both case the shop was bad-mouthed, although they did what was asked of them. That was their mistake. The customer made the mistake of doing his own diagnosis, and the shop made the mistake of accepting his diagnosis. The shop cannot know what to charge unless they know EXACTLY what needs to be done, and they can only know that after a thorough examination.

S: The most important point to be made here is that we need to start with symptoms reported, not with what the owner thinks should be done to the car. If, in scenario one above, the driver had said the car wouldn't start, a diagnostic routine would have brought out the plugged fuel system, and the shop would have known that the entire system needed to be cleaned, not just the tank, and the estimate would have been correct. If, in the second case, the engine miss and hesitation were reported as symptoms, diagnosis would have revealed the actual culprit and saved the expense of removing the tank.

If you start with symptoms and let the shop do the diagnosis, you can hold the shop responsible for the accuracy of that diagnosis and their estimate. If you tell them to work according to your own diagnosis, you can't hold them responsible for the results you want. It's that simple, and that complicated.

P: The phone just rang. The caller wants to know what we'd charge to change a fuel pump. When asked why he needs a fuel pump, he says, "Because it's been squealing."

Fuel pumps don't squeal. Here we go again.



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