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Why Shops Need to Charge Testing Fees

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Why shops need to charge for certain tests, like check engine lights.

A first-time customer scheduled an appointment with us for his annual New York State inspection. This inspection consists of a vehicle safety check and an OBD-II scan to make sure the monitors are complete and with no check engine light on. The vehicle was a 2008 Chevrolet Colorado. As soon as the tech started the car up, he noticed that the check engine light was on, which is an automatic failure.

My service advisor called the customer to let him know of the check engine light and to let him know that his car will fail the state inspection. The advisor asked him if he would like us to scan the computer and let him know what tests would be needed to find out why the light was on. The customers replied, “That light has been coming on and off for almost a year.” My advisor went into more detail about the New York State inspection law and let Mr. Colorado know that after we retrieved the code, there would be a separate charge for the testing and for the repair. Mr. Colorado then said, “Hey, are you telling me you are going to charge me for finding out why the light is coming on, and for the repair? I never heard of that. My last mechanic never charged me for any diagnostic testing. Don’t do anything. I am picking up my car.”

When Mr. Colorado came down to pick up his vehicle, he made it a point to let us know how unfair we were and how dare we charge for the check engine light testing. He also said, “And besides, don’t shops waive the testing fee if the customer does the work?”

Is this true? Do shops really do this? Am I so naïve to think that in 2018 there are still shops out there that don’t know why they need to charge for check engine lights, performance problems, air bag lights, etc.? All the shop owners I speak to say they do charge, so who’s telling the truth?

Recently, my sister-in-law’s check engine came on in her Hyundai. A few coworkers in her office told her, “Just go to one of those parts stores where they come out into the parking lot and check your car. They’ll tell you what’s wrong, you can buy the part from them and your mechanic will install it. I do it all the time.” Is this really happening? You say no? Well, who’s lying to me?

Look, I do know the truth. And here it is: The fact is, shops across the country are losing a ton of money by not charging, not charging enough, or waiving the fee for diagnostic testing if the customer authorizes the repair.

Consider all the associated costs needed to test and repair these highly sophisticated cars these days: the education, equipment and information systems. It’s financially monumental. Not to mention it takes a qualified tech with the right credentials. Now, consider the associated costs with replacing front brakes and rotors on a Honda Civic. Not much has changed in decades, right? So, tell me, why is it that so many shops charge more to hang pads and rotors than to test and analyze a complicated check engine light?

Another sad fact is that we have already done so much damage in the mind of the consumer. Too many consumers think that to test and analyze a check engine light takes nothing more than a small handheld device the size of your cell phone.

Cars are not getting any easier. And the amount of knowledge and equipment that is needed these days has made our business so financially demanding that if we, as an industry, don’t stand together on this, we will not have the financial resources in the future to survive.

We need to explain to the customer that there will be situations, such as a check engine light, where we will need to charge for certain tests in order to know what’s causing the problem. And we need to charge enough. We need to also tell the customer that the testing fee is different from the repair fee.

It’s like going to the doctor. The doctor orders a blood test and an x-ray to find out what’s wrong with you. Once he knows what’s wrong, he will prescribe the correct medication or procedure. There’s a bill for the blood tests, the x-ray, the medicine and/or the procedure. It’s no different for us.

So, let’s all be truthful about what’s going on. Let’s all work to make a difference. We owe to the industry, ourselves and the people we employ.

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