In The Shop: Why Repair Bills May Vary

Published on: 15:24PM Feb 19, 2012

 Back in the '60s, my father and uncle each took their 450 Farmall tractors to the local dealership for an overhaul. Not at the same time, but within a few months of each other. Later that year they compared bills, and found a significant difference in price. Not surprisingly, intense discussions with the dealership ensued shortly after that discovery. The dealer explained his side of the story, compensations were offered, and you can be certain every bill was carefully checked, line-by-line, item-by-item, whenever repair work was done in the future.

I now understand how two bills for nearly identical repairs could vary by a hundred dollars or more. Yes, many dealerships have "flat rates" that standardize the cost of common repairs, but there are variables in every repair job that can increase or decrease the final cost, compared to flat rate. If a bolt breaks off and has to be tapped out--that's extra time. If the machine is so filthy dirty that the mechanic can't make repairs without risk of contaminating the oil, fuel or air system and has to be washed prior to repairs--that's extra time. If a tractor has a loader, or a planter has a liquid fertilizer system that interferes with normal access to components on the basic machine--that's extra time. And at equipment dealerships, time IS money.

There may also be extra costs associated with parts that are used during repairs. Some mechanics routinely replace every nut, bolt and fastener during a repair. Other mechanics evaluate the condition of nuts and bolts and re-use them if they're in non-critical locations. Some mechanics drain and re-use hydraulic oil or antifreeze with the customer's permission. Other mechanics have an "all-new" policy with fluids to eliminate the risk of contaminating newly repaired components.

It pays to read every line of a repair bill, and nobody should be offended if you ask questions about specific charges or costs. Looking back, I now understand both sides of the situation when Dad and Uncle Francis went to war with the local dealership over differences in bills for "identical" repair jobs. Nobody was completely wrong, but it was the dealership's duty as a reputable business to make sure its customers were satisfied and comfortable with their billing.