Welcome to Part V of Auto Repair Shops and You. This is where we deal with pricing differences, repair philosophies, and some of the reasons for disparity on invoices from shop to shop. Aside from techs seeing different “needs” for a vehicle, on a job to job comparison, you may still see differences in the bottom line. This is where we’ll start.
Basic maintenance for a 2013 Honda Odyssey at 105k miles includes timing belt service, spark plug replacement, valve clearance check, transmission fluid service and multiple other checks of systems (basic practice for most any shop regardless of if it’s called for or not). When we do a timing belt service, 99% of the time we recommend the full kit. This includes the timing belt, water pump, idler and tensioner pulleys, the hydraulic tension adjuster, and any drive belts. The reasoning for this is that the labor is the same; the only difference is the parts cost. Now most of you ask why if Honda only says to inspect the water pump and pulleys do we recommend replacing all of this? If we go in and replace the water pump, pulleys, tension adjuster etc. it is all fresh and new. It’s all also covered under our 2yr/24k mile nationwide warranty program. This eliminates a customer having us replace only the timing belt, then a month later the water pump fails, soaks the new timing belt with coolant and then the job has to be done again. Same labor and more parts cost. Not to mention that if one of the pulleys or the tension adjuster were to fail; it could cost the customer his or her engine.
On the flip side of that argument is the “valve clearance check” that Honda wants you to perform at 105k. This might seem like no big deal, however, labor time gives 3.5 hours to do this. With labor rates starting at $100 in most independent shops and being greatly more at the dealers, this is easily $350 in labor plus the new valve cover gaskets and intake plenum gaskets that are needed to put it back together. So for this “check” the customer can be into it for around $500 conservatively. The thing is, it’s extremely rare that at 105k miles valves would be out of spec. especially if the customer isn’t having any performance issues with the van. We do not recommend this to our customers unless we have pretty strong suspicion, along with actual drivability concerns, that this is needed.
Brake jobs, are one of the biggest areas of cost difference from shop to shop. While there are places that advertise those $99 brake jobs, it seldom only costs people only $99. That aside, if you actually do get a $99 brake job, what kind of quality should you expect?
The basics, pads and rotors, are the main components addressed during routine brake service. There are multiple ways to “do a brake job”. Some think that a “pad slap” where you just replace the brake pads, is sufficient. This may get you by in a pinch, but stopping distance is likely to be reduced. You will also more than likely experience brake shake/pulsation as well. This is that shake in the steering wheel and sometimes in the seat when braking. The hotter the brakes get the more prominent it becomes.
Another option is just replacing the pads and rotors. This is better than a pad slap, but you can still end up with pulsation/shake issues. I know, brand new rotors and pads, how could that be possible? The reality is you can have the most precise, flat, true brake rotor ever made, but the mating surface that the rotor attaches to the hub may not be true.
Our approach to brake jobs, while it costs more than the $99 special, is to do it properly and thoroughly the first time, with high quality parts, and a Pro-Cut on the vehicle brake lathe. Yes, we will even put a skim cut on brand new rotors to make sure they are true to the vehicle. We clean caliper brackets and slides, and use high quality lubrication in these parts. We use coated rotors whenever possible to prevent rust and corrosion so our customers get the most life possible out of them. We also use OEM manufacturer brake pads whenever possible. This means Ford, GM, Chrysler, etc. Akebono is the main brand for our brake pads. They are factory installed for over 400 different vehicle models foreign and domestic. They work well and rarely have any issues.
Replacing other components; Say you come in and you have a right front brake caliper sticking. It’s destroyed the pad and rotor on that side. Now there are some shops that will just replace that one caliper and the pads and rotor on that one side. Or maybe they replace the 1 caliper and put pads and rotors on both sides. The problem with this is that both calipers have had the same braking, same conditions, and in most cases same age. If one failed the other one is very likely, shortly behind. Besides uneven braking conditions due to one new and one old caliper, what happens if in a month after spending $300 on a brake job, the other caliper locks up? It tears up the other side with the new pads and rotor you just had installed. Now you need another set of pads (since you can’t buy just pads for one side), rotor, and caliper on that side. Instead of just paying the additional $70 for the caliper the first time, you have to spend more to replace new parts you just put on.
We know that cost vs. value is the name of the game, and we do our best to explain why we recommend doing things a certain way. A way we feel is the best way for our customers.
Just remember that the bitter taste of poor service lingers long after the sweet taste of the lowest price has been forgotten.