Report Confirms Auto-Repair Gouging, Ranks Best And Worst Cities

February 25, 2010
With auto repair chains ever expanding and dealership service becoming more consistent and predictable, you might think that repair costs are becoming much more standardized than they used to be for car repairs done at independent shops, with very little variation, once you average a few shops, across town or from city to city.

But that's not the case. The repair resource AutoMD studied more than 600 repair shops—including dealers, independent shops, and franchises like Pep Boys—in the market areas surrounding the top 50 most populated cities in the U.S., and found a lot of variation.

For consistency, it chose a job that's quite common and due to easy parts availability should be relatively consistent in price: replacing the front brake pads on a Ford Focus.

But initial estimates for the job were wildly inconsistent, ranging $60 to $545 on a national level and with some shops in the same local area costing three or four times that of others. Even more shocking is how few shops stuck to their original price quote. More than half of the shops polled wouldn't stick to the original number.

You're going to need to be especially careful in Chicago. There, bait-and-switch on repairs is more common than windy days, it seems: 100 percent of the shops checked changed the price by more than five percent.

2008 Ford Focus SES

2008 Ford Focus SES

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And even when you average out results over many shops, having that brake job done in Chicago typically costs more than a hundred dollars more in Chicago than in Jacksonville ($226 versus $130).

AutoMD ranked cities not just on the average price quoted and the range from lowest to highest, but on so-called shopping integrity—the likelihood of switching quotes once a shop started doing a repair job.

For instance, Miami had the lowest price quotes, with an average of just $127, but a whopping 92 percent of shops switched quotes, dragging the city down to sixth place overall. Omaha averages $149, with only 33 percent switching quotes, bringing it to a second-place overall rating.

The five best cities for auto repair, according to AutoMD, are Memphis, Jacksonville, Omaha, San Antonio, and Austin, while the worst are Chicago, Honolulu, Albuquerque, Washington D.C., and Raleigh. They've posted the entire list, with prices and percentages for all 50 cities.

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