Getting a Car Repair Estimate in Columbia MD

by | Jul 8, 2015 | BA Auto Care News, Car Problems & Repairs

Like so many other things in life, preparation, attention to detail, and good communication go a long way toward getting the best service for your car. How an auto shop handles the car repair estimate and authorization process is a key part of delivering good auto service, and you can help to make this process work even better.
Here in Columbia, MD, like in other places, getting the best car repair estimate begins before you even get to the auto shop. If you are having a problem with your car, download a diagnostic form and complete it before your service, or if you are having a factory scheduled maintenance service, check your manual before you drop your car off. Once that’s done develop a list of items you want to address as part of the service or repair.
When you take your car in for servicing, be sure to review each item with the auto service adviser or the auto technician who will be coordinating service on or working on your car. You will want to understand whether a service you want to have performed is included as part of a auto service or repair “package deal”. For example, auto shops may advertise fixed price “Brake Specials”, “Oil Change Specials” or “5K Service” packages — be sure you understand exactly what’s included. Also, you will also want to ask about any charges associated with diagnosing a problem you may be experiencing. Many shops may offer a free initial scan, but often more diagnosis is needed to get at the root cause of the problem. You can be charged for this diagnosis even if you don’t decide to have the car services performed at that shop.

Once the auto shop has had a chance to diagnose the problem, they will give you a call back with your service estimate. Pull out your list to make sure that everything you’ve asked for is being addressed in the estimate. Additionally, be sure they provide you with the total price for the auto service including labor and parts. At times, your auto repair shop may call you back to indicate that they will need more time to diagnose a repair problem. If this happens, wait until you have a complete picture of the needed auto services before authorizing any work.

When the shop is reviewing the recommended service or repair plan with you, be sure to ask that they prioritize the work based on the following:

  1. Safety – If there are safety issues with your vehicle, it’s important to address these as soon as possible. Never skimp on safety.
  2. Reliability – Clearly, we need our cars to perform when we need them. No one wants to be sitting on the side of the road, in the driveway, or in the garage when we need to be somewhere else. If you can afford it, be sure to have any reliability issues addressed.
  3. Preventive Maintenance – These are the services that will really help to maximize the life of your car. If you are planning to keep your car for several years, preventive maintenance is essential, but at times you may have some leeway in exactly when that maintenance is performed.
  4. Future Issues – Whether it’s the battery, brakes, or another vehicle system, often times good mechanics can see signs that a system will need work. They can tell you whether delaying a repair can increase the potential expense, so be sure to ask what will happen or the consequences if you wait on these “future issues”.

Sometimes when you are bringing your car in for a scheduled service or preventive maintenance, the process may be a little different. You may get a price up front and only get a call if there is a problem that the service technician has come across while he is performing the service. But if they do notice a problem, and give you a call back, have them follow the priorities stated above.

If there is something that you don’t understand, and you don’t feel comfortable, you may want to have a friend or relative who is better versed in the technical aspects of car repair call the auto service center to discuss the issue. Even if this is the case, it’s important to remember that there may be some issues that arise that only experienced auto technicians really understand. Also, if you don’t understand a word, or have never heard of it, have the service adviser spell it out for you so that you can look it up online. There may be information online with photographs that can help you better understand what the auto technician is talking about.

Once you have had a chance to review the recommended services, tell the shop exactly which services you would like to have performed and ask for the total cost of these specific services. Make a record of the amount and whom you spoke with. It’s important to remember that the cost the shop provides you with is only an estimate, but you should also know that Maryland law requires that the estimate be within 10% of the final price you are charged.

If you want to compare the estimate you received with an online source or another shop, be sure that you are comparing apples to apples. We have found that there can be a wide range of difference, not only in price, but in the actual work being performed by various shops addressing similar problems or services. Even with something as simple as an oil change service, the actual ancillary services performed can vary from shop to shop.

Once you decide what and where you would like to have the work done, be sure to clearly communicate the work that you are authorizing. If you can, send an e-mail. That way everything is in writing and there’s just a lot less room for error. Even if you authorize the work over the phone, you can follow up with an e-mail. Then the auto shop can give you a call back if there was a misunderstanding in the phone communication.

And lastly, when you come in to pick up your car, compare the final bill and work done to the estimate. If you follow this process you’ll find that taking the time to prepare, pay attention to detail, and communicate what you want goes a long way towards getting from the car repair estimate to a successful auto repair or service. It also goes a long way toward developing and maintaining a good relationship with your auto service provider.


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About the Author

About Brian England

Brian England, the current president of BA Auto Care (formerly British American Auto Care), got his start with an auto apprenticeship in a small town in northwest of London. He came to the U.S. in 1972 to work for a Land Rover dealer in Rockville, MD. A few years later, he started British American Auto Care with his wife, Jennifer. Brian is a big believe in preventative maintenance, and his philosophy is to encourage and educate drivers on the benefits of a regular maintenance plan.