Why top-quality auto repairs don’t have to cost more

WASHINGTON — Taking your car to a highly regarded repair shop doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pay higher-than-average prices for the work, according to a local consumers’ group that’s evaluated more than 520 D.C.-area auto repair shops for quality and price.

“If they do great work, they’re just as likely to charge you a low price as a high price. You really do have to shop around,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Checkbook.org.

Dealers vs. independents

Dealers typically aren’t rated as highly as independent shops and routinely charge more, Brasler said.

Percentage of surveyed customers who rated shops “superior” for overall quality

  • Dealers: 61 percent
  • Independents: 84 percent

Average hourly labor rate

  • Dealers: $130
  • Independents: $106

Average price comparison

(Scores here are based on prices quoted by shops for several jobs and indicate how each shop’s prices compared with the average prices quoted for the same jobs. So $120, for instance, indicates the shop’s prices are 20 percent higher than average; $90 indicates the shop’s prices are 10 percent lower than average.)

  • Dealers: $118
  • Independents: $95

“Unless your car is still under warranty, there’s really no reason to use a dealership,” Brasler said. “There’s kind of a myth out there that dealerships have better equipment and mechanics and training than independents, and that’s just not true.”

Get this in writing

What to get in writing before a repair shop works on your vehicle:

  • An estimate for repair costs
  • What’s covered and for how long by a warranty
  • Whether repair parts are dealer, after-market or used

If you’re not comfortable with the price you’re quoted for repairs, Brasler said, go to another shop. Even if your car isn’t driveable, he said, you’re better off paying $75 for a tow to another place to do the work versus potentially paying hundreds of dollars more for the work.

“AAA will actually tow you to that second shop for free,” Brasler noted. “It’s a good member benefit to have.”

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can see Checkbook ratings on Auto Repair Shops for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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