Were we overcharged for service by the dealership?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader confused by a pricey labor charge he received.

–George Kennedy

Q. I’m hoping you could shed some light on this: My husband took his car to our Honda dealership for an oil change. The technicians suggested other work, mostly of the oil and lubrication variety. The car was there for 2 hours and 15 minutes, and the total bill was $800 with a $400 labor charge at the end. We were in shock. We disputed the labor charge. We were told that an extra mechanic was used and that this is normal. We aren’t young kids, and this has never happened to us. What do you think?

A. There are three methods used to calculate labor for repairs: Menu pricing, straight labor, and flat-rate labor. Most shops use a combination of menu-board pricing and flat-rate times. In the flat-rate system, the vehicle manufacturer performs time studies for repairs. In this case, the customer is charged the flat-rate time, regardless of whether the repairs are performed quicker or take longer than the scheduled time. Some shops will use the “pit-crew” approach to work more efficiently, saving the customer time. Consumers should always ask for an estimate before repairs are performed, and if there is any doubt, ask for a thorough explanation of all the fees for both parts and labor. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE certified master technician. Email your car question to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.