Can you cut your car repair bill by hundreds?

January 18, 2012 3:01:27 PM PST
Americans are keeping their cars longer and that means we're spending more on maintenance and car repairs. But how can you be sure you are getting the best deal?

We know it pays to shop around for a great deal, but when you are talking about an auto repair, we found prices vary big time. So if you have a big ticket repair, you may have to work the phones for about 30 minutes. But it will probably save you money.

"We see it all the time," said Shakil Sheikh, owner of Upland Automotive on the southwest side.

Sheikh says estimates from auto repair shops vary greatly.

"The biggest problem that people are taken advantage of is that 73 percent of cars are misdiagnosed the first time and that is according to government studies," master mechanic Jay Wilson said.

Other reasons why estimates vary may depend on the parts each repair shop uses. Sheikh says some estimates may vary because certain auto repair shops may use the original equipment manufacturer part, or OEM parts.

"Sometimes the quality of the parts you want to use, if you want to use the OEM parts, that is going to be a little bit higher," Sheikh said.

So we decided to see just how much prices can vary. Instead of spending the day going shop to shop, we randomly called four auto repair shops in the Houston area to get an estimate on one single repair including parts and labor.

The repair is for a fuel pump replacement on a 2004 Toyota Camry 3-L. Our first call was to Fred Haas Toyota World in Spring. There, the service department at the dealership quoted us a price of $734.54.

Our next call was to Clear Lake Auto Service. Our quote there was for $520.38. That's more than $200 less than the dealership price.

We also called the AAMCO Transmissions off North Shepherd and were quoted a price of $440. And finally, we check with the folks at Upland Automotive, where they quoted us a price of $409.82 -- that's more than $300 less than our first quote.

But the experts warn just because a shop quotes you the cheapest price doesn't necessarily mean it's the best deal.

"We are seeing a lot of parts that are coming from foreign countries that don't last, we've tried them ourselves," Wilson said.

We called Fred Haas Toyota World to find out why they were more expensive. They actually dropped the price by $40 and told us they are pricier because they offer manufacturer parts that are backed by a one-year factory warranty.

Experts recommend manufacturer parts because those last the longest. Be sure to ask your repair shop what type of parts they use and see if they offer a warranty. You can even ask to see the parts before they install.