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Gonzo
Gonzo

Diagnostics Fee or Free - rerun article but a good one.

Diagnostics fee or Diagnostics free

This has been an issue since day one. Should we charge

to diagnose the car or should the estimate be free. Let’s

define an estimate first.

:wacko: What is an estimate?

An estimate is a list of all the parts and labor involved

in making a repair. With the possibilities of adding

supplements to the original estimate if other work is

deemed necessary after the initial work has started.

Ok that’s an estimate, or is it…? Let’s try this again.

:rolleyes: What is an estimate?

It’s a guess……. With the chance that I might get it right

but more than likely the final bill will be different than what was original “estimated” at.

Hmm, the two definitions are different but at the same time mean the same thing… What about the diagnostic side? Ok, how about that… that diagnostic thing.

:wacko: What is a diagnostic?

It is the process in which a technician is able to determine the cause or failure of a piece of equipment, vehicle, or appliance.

Did ya get that? … One more time …

:rolleyes: What is a diagnostic?

It is the process used to determine the root cause of a given mechanical or electrical problem that has become an issue with a vehicle, appliance or piece of equipment.

Sounds the same doesn’t it…. hmm, maybe we are getting to the real issue… MONEY

tp.gif:) The diagnostics may take some time, may even require a few sophisticated scanners, wiring diagrams, and tools. Time is money as we all know, of course, knowledge, expertise and experience is a commodity that should always be respected no matter what field you are in. A service charge for such “diagnostics” is essential in the continuing financial stability of a shop or for that matter… any service oriented business.

tp.gif:D Once the diagnostics has been completed an “estimate” can then be given to the customer for their approval. This should also be noted that if a “diagnostics” is preformed and the problem turns out to be “intermittent” or none exciting a fee still applies. The time has already been spent to figure out that there was nothing wrong. That brings up another touchy issue. For some reason the customer feels cheated if you charge for nothing found… now wait a minute, how was it determined that nothing was wrong… ah…the diagnostics lead to that result. Then the problem isn’t the problem anymore, it’s the time spent looking for the problem that is the problem. To ease the customer’s woes you could always give them a time table for future re-evaluations. (30 days is a good round number) Note; It wouldn’t be the first time I have diagnosed a car for a customer only to find out that their complaint is from lack of understanding of their vehicle or dare I say… their just another fruit basket behind the wheel.

tp.gifB) Now I’m not in favor of a free diagnostics (if you couldn’t tell already) and I’m not too fond of the free estimate. If there is any “man hours” that are part of any job a “man” wants paid. If that “man” is working on a commission basis, I can assure you that he is going to rush through the “estimate” in order to get to the real money end of the job.

tp.gifB) However a diagnostic is a totally different thing, I don’t think I could have made a living without charging for the time it takes to figure out some of the strange problems I’ve encountered over the years. Some things were easy to diagnose, some took hours. But I believe it’s the standardization of a diagnostic charge that would make things a lot easier for the customers to understand the complexities of today’s problem evaluations.

tp.gif:D If a tech couldn’t figure out a problem in a reasonable length of time … say an hour… then it’s quite possible the shop is going to be losing money if they kept him on that job. The next best thing would be to move him off that job. Put another tech on who might be able to figure out the problem in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, the shop is already behind the 8 ball, since the first tech didn’t get the job done, but in the long run… it will get done, there will be an estimate for the customer explaining the repairs needed.

tp.gif:wub: I don’t know which is more of a problem, the shops out there not willing to charge for estimating… Oops I mean diagnostic time… or the customer who doesn’t feel that it’s a necessary part of the process. Then again, these are not yesterday’s cars.

 

:unsure: It’s about time there were some standards that everyone in the industry had to go by, be it from the independent side or the dealer side. Regulation or self imposed limits as to how much can be charged across the board for various levels of diagnostics. Not to say diagnosing a bad ball joint is easier than a battery drain, no, not at all. Each field in the industry would have to come up with a balanced set of standards that those involved could agree was a fair price for that type of service. If all the independent shops charge the same fees in a demographic area it would lead to a more even playing field for the customer. Maybe, we should think about using a different term rather than “independent”… we can be independent in ownership, style, quality, etc… but put the customer’s concerns up front. If I wasn’t in the business and didn’t know where to take my car I would really would like to know that I’m getting quality work done at a fair price at any shop I went to. If there was a way to put an end to the “I can get it done cheaper down the street” escapades… my drive home would be a whole lot more pleasant than in the past. .

tp.gif:rolleyes: If that didn’t happen it then only comes down to a question of where to have the vehicle repaired at. Everyone has their favorite doctor, dentist, or restaurant. Which is probably based on location, atmosphere, or “ya just like that particular place”. Price is always an issue, and probably always will be. If you’re not getting the job done right at the shop of your choice… choose another one. How many times a day does your phone ring because you have some “price shopper” who is never coming to your shop because your price is higher than the last shop they called… even though they were referred by a friend to call you.

Maybe we should focus on better instructional classes, more information, and true manufacturer level scanners available to the independent side of the business. Sometimes too much effort is put on the “Be nice to the customer”, or the preverbal “Customer is always right” routine. The old saying; “If the customer knew what was wrong they would have fixed it themselves” still holds true today. But I’m talking about telling them what’s wrong with the vehicle, not how to fix it. With the advent of the computer age upon us the car has become a rolling updateable, flash reprogramming software jungle of information. The cost of these specialized scanners puts them out of the range of most consumers, and a lot of small shops, which, in some ways, also places the shade tree mechanic on the endangered species list.

tp.gif;) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same line from a customer’s after I have diagnosed a problem. “Well, I could have done that myself, I would have looked there for the problem if I had the time, and I don’t know why you’re charging me for something so simple. You should give a break on the price because it was so simple. “Hey, I’m a regular customer I should be getting a discount.” My usual answer is… “So if you knew what was wrong, why did you bring it to me to figure it out?” And, I’m not sure that other professional people you deal with such as a doctor, dentist, or the grocer…etc… is going to give you a discount just because you shop with them on a regular basis.

tp.gif:huh: Common sense, the largest lacking component in all of these situations… In my opinion, once common sense is removed from the conversation “stupid” takes its place. I wonder if I could estimate how many times this has happened… maybe so… but I better think about diagnosing it first…

 

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Sorry for the odd color, for some reason the software wouldn't let me change it.

 

As far as this story, I wrote this one several years ago, and not much has changed since.

I do mainly electrical system repairs and diagnostics. I'm not known for engine swaps or rebuilding transmissions. Strictly electrical. With that said, it's not the kind of thing that I can give you an estimate on over the phone. I have to "diagnose" the problem in order to find out what it's going to take to make the repairs.

 

After the last few weeks leading up to tax time, I was overwhelmed with penny pinchers who didn't want to pay for any diagnostic time. They wanted me to look at their car... So I would stare out the window and say, "I can see it from here, now if you want me to find out what's wrong with it, that'll cost ya."

 

Needless to say, my sarcastic attitude brought on by decades of this BS usually meant they would storm out the door. As they say, you can't win them all, but I'd sure like to win at least a few.....

 

just sayin.....

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Great write up! Every day, gonzo, is the same story repeated. "My check engine lights on, I just want to know what's wrong" sure thing sir we can diagnose it tomorrow morning. "OK great, but can you just tell me what's wrong now real quick?"

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Good article Gonzo. I think it is very important to get paid for diagnostic time. We just have to explain the training, time and equipment investment that goes into finding these solutions. As far as the common sense, well I think it used to be "common", then about 10 years ago it edged into "uncommon", and recently it has been promoted to a superpower! Good read Gonzo. Thanks

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Gonzo: A technician should be paid for his time regardless of how much time it takes to either diagnosis and or repair. Anything else is marketing or selling and should be considered advertising to justify the cost!

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This may be a rerun, but it packs a powerful punch.

 

The issue with charging for diagnostic testing always turns into a heated debate.

 

I do not want to get long-winded here (because we all know I can), but the bottom line is that a shop must charge for diagnostic testing. If not, the shop will never get ahead. Too much labor is eaten away and you can never recover.

 

One of the issues is the lack of standardization among the industry. If it became common practice, and we all charged, it would be a different world.

 

One last thing: Doctors do diagnostic tests that sometimes does not lead to a conclusion. We don't argue with them, do we? But, someone pays for that x-ray or MRI.

 

I better stop here....Thanks Gonzo.....now where did I put that blood pressure medication....

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This may be a rerun, but it packs a powerful punch.

 

The issue with charging for diagnostic testing always turns into a heated debate.

 

I do not want to get long-winded here (because we all know I can), but the bottom line is that a shop must charge for diagnostic testing. If not, the shop will never get ahead. Too much labor is eaten away and you can never recover.

 

One of the issues is the lack of standardization among the industry. If it became common practice, and we all charged, it would be a different world.

 

One last thing: Doctors do diagnostic tests that sometimes does not lead to a conclusion. We don't argue with them, do we? But, someone pays for that x-ray or MRI.

 

I better stop here....Thanks Gonzo.....now where did I put that blood pressure medication....

My biggest problem is... me. I've been at this so long and have had to deal with the "Does this apply to the repair and so... the diagnostics is free then?" or "I'm not paying somebody just to look at it." for so long that I really don't have the "bed side manner" to keep my big mouth shut anymore. I take great offense to somebody wanting me to do my job for free, and believe me, I've lashed out at some of them after their rude comments about charging for diagnostic time.

 

A standardized fee may not be the answer, but I do agree every shop should charge something for their diagnostic time. Even those fly by night jerks that hang a shingle and call themselves a repair shop. I think a national awareness of the need for diagnostic fees would be a step in the right direction.

 

In the mean time, ya wanna piss me off... ask me to look at your car for free. (pass the blood pressure medicine Joe)

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The average consumer is a victim of what they don't know. They really don't know all the associated costs behind diagnostic testing: The scanner, the training, the information systems, the software updates, the complexity of the testing procedures, the tools needed, and you need a highly-trained tech - All of which costs money.

 

Perhaps the consumer sees no difference between a check engine light and a brake noise?

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I think what has made this worse is the auto parts store down the street who advertises a " free check engine light diagnosis" or the chain of stores who advertise on their commercial " come on down and maybe all you need is a gas cap instead of a catalytic converter that garage down the street is trying to sell you " . When I' m told that the auto part store said it was an egr valve, I politely tell them to have them replace it. But if they want us to repair the car and warranty it, we have to do the testing required to make sure their car is fixed right the first time. 😄

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Throw out the blood pressure medicine. People want the PERCEPTION of free....so give it to them guys! The answer can be quite simple. Ex: FREE DIAGNOSTIC WITH REPAIR. not rocket science. Another choice is to have a 10 minute conversion with every customer about why you charge. Or just ask them if they would work on their job for free. Don't get mad at the part store. Rethink the game. Customer brings egr valve...give price with NO WARRANTY... offer paid diagnostics but don't be pushy. We are in the business of SALES....not simply repair. If you make the customer feel stupid, they won't spend money with you. I don't give my services away but I do offer choices that end with a SALE and a repaired car. It's always more than 1 way to sell those ice cubes to an Eskimo.

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The perception part is what I'm talking about. They perceive that a $90 code scanner used by a parts guy will be all they need to find out what is wrong with their car. Because of that, a lot of them also perceive that an honest garage with thousands of dollars in scan tools, info system access , and testing equipment, not to mention qualified techs with lots of training, is ripping them off by charging a testing fee. True, there is some of them that you can talk into paying the fees and turning them into loyal customers. But we don't install the parts that the parts store said they need. When it doesn't work, they are not happy that it didn't fix their problem. You offer to diagnose the problem, but then they find out there is a testing fee, and you're ripping them off twice! Once for installing the parts and now you want to charge for testing! I think you need to set some boundaries and keep the "converts" and send the rest down the road. They wanted a cheap way out and that not the customer you want.

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The perception part is what I'm talking about. They perceive that a $90 code scanner used by a parts guy will be all they need to find out what is wrong with their car. Because of that, a lot of them also perceive that an honest garage with thousands of dollars in scan tools, info system access , and testing equipment, not to mention qualified techs with lots of training, is ripping them off by charging a testing fee. True, there is some of them that you can talk into paying the fees and turning them into loyal customers. But we don't install the parts that the parts store said they need. When it doesn't work, they are not happy that it didn't fix their problem. You offer to diagnose the problem, but then they find out there is a testing fee, and you're ripping them off twice! Once for installing the parts and now you want to charge for testing! I think you need to set some boundaries and keep the "converts" and send the rest down the road. They wanted a cheap way out and that not the customer you want.

I'm with you. After 30 years of doing this and dealing with customers on this subject I've tried every angle you can think of. Installing parts on a none diag. car never ends well. Giving free diag. with a repair is absolute stupidity. I've tried that, and even after I'm all done with the repair they still want to bargain down the final bill.

A good example is someone who says that they'll let you "look" at the car if the diag. is included. You say OK... then you go out and diagnose the car, come back in and tell them that it's going to cost XXX dollars. They tell you they don't have it and want to leave. AND, now they are walking out with your diag.

I often will retry some of these ideas just to see if anything has changed, only to find out nothing has changed from ten years ago to today.

My advice... get paid for your time, get paid for diag.

90% of my work is diag. Since I mainly am the guy who chases down electrical shorts I can't give my diag. away. It's not like I'm reading a code or pulling a tire off to inspect the rotor. My diag. time is my job. And I sure as hell ain't giving it away.

 

Now I need some more of Joe's blood pressure medication.

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How about calling it check out time. Then if the person asks i say what kind of job do you have.

Do you get paid for the time you spend at work.

Most of the real customers understand .If they bark then you can say i will discount part of the checkout time if you do the job with us.

It works most of the time.

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Just a quick response, I have to agree with waiving the diagnostic fee if the repair is done the same day at the shop...... but then again, I ALWAYS charge over book time so I'm not really losing anything. In that sense, it is all about perception.

 

Installing parts with no warranty or customer supplied parts though? That's just asking for trouble. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I'll sweep the shop and twiddle my thumbs before I go down that road again.

Edited by mmotley
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If our guys diagnose a car they will get paid for it. The customer will always pay the diagnostic charge. I would never discount the charge. We would just add it to the total cost of the repair. We all need to stick to our guns and charge what we need to charge, period!

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The average consumer is a victim of what they don't know. They really don't know all the associated costs behind diagnostic testing: The scanner, the training, the information systems, the software updates, the complexity of the testing procedures, the tools needed, and you need a highly-trained tech - All of which costs money.

 

Perhaps the consumer sees no difference between a check engine light and a brake noise?

 

this!

 

I tell our people not to take offense to the customer not wanting to pay for the diag charge. I tell them to inform the customer and they will understand it, if they don't understand it we liken vehicle diagnostics to medical diagnostics, it is NO different in the meaning. We use, books, diagnostic equipment, self knowledge, learned knowledge etc in order to form a "diagnosis" and the same in the medical field, ALL of that costs money to make available to find out what is wrong with the car.

 

Knowledge is power, use it to your advantage and you will gain a customer rather than insulting one, take the time to educate them, it will pay off for you.

 

We have also had customer turn and walk out, but those are the customers that didnt have the money to repair the car anyway, that is a fact in 95% that walk out. The other 5% was we didnt explain it enough or well enough for them to understand or be reeducated.

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I have been wanting to put a sign up in the shop

 

 

Diagnose : The work done to pinpoint a problem

Guess : What you do without diagnostic testing

Hope : A feeling you have after 3 expensive guesses

Pray : I have money left for diagnostic testing

 

Should take some of the argument away.

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What I've been doing is giving "free" diagnostics when you buy the repairs, but charging a little extra on every item so the diagnostic cost is recovered. The customer think they got something for free and I didn't lose any money.

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To add to the customer confusion we charge for diagnosis sometimes. For example; a customer comes in with a squeak complaint. We check it out and they need brakes. Checking it out means we retract the calipers to see if they're any good. The brake job is partially done at this point. They OK the job so we don't charge for diag. If they refuse the work because bubba can do it cheaper we charge .5. Ultimately every car in the bay gets billed the hourly rate.

 

First timers with check engine lights are charged $75 no matter what. If its a regular customer we will do a scan for free (5 minutes) and determine that it needs diagnosing for $75. unless they left the gas cap loose. Free doesn't buy me a scanner update so we try to avoid it. Sometimes they come in for diag when the maintenance required light is on, we retract the fee when this happens.

 

I feel if we charged diag for every rattling heat shield our reputation will suffer. Occasionally someone will translate our kindness into a free repair hotspot, we reeducate these types or convert them into ex customers.

 

CD Howell - that's a great sign!

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This all started because someone like Autozone thought it would be a good idea to have "free check engine light" So the people go there and Autozone whips out there $100 code puller. The customer then comes to the shop saying "Can you install my O2 sensor" Then to compete, little shops and other part stores offer the same thing.

 

The customer is now conditioned the wrong way. They all think diagnostic should be free because all you have to do is plug in that $100 code puller and you will instantly know what's wrong with the car. They have no idea that the code puller really only gives a general idea of where you should be looking at the problem. They believe it tells you exactly what is wrong with the car. Yeah sometimes an O2 sensor code really means its an 02 sensor so to speak, but not always. The customer doesn't know that though. They don't want to know that. They just want to save money. It would be almost impossible to recondition them at this point.

 

I do recondition customers though. The perfect time is when they come in saying "Autozone said I needed an 02 sensor." You really cant tell them otherwise. They insist on putting it in... because that unqualified parts guy said so. Put the 02 sensor in. After they waste their 250 bucks and it doesn't fix the problem... that's when you explain what diagnostics really is. Its the only way they will listen... when money they spent doesn't work.

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What I've been doing is giving "free" diagnostics when you buy the repairs, but charging a little extra on every item so the diagnostic cost is recovered. The customer think they got something for free and I didn't lose any money.

 

So you lied to them? I think you'd be better off being up front and telling them you have to cover costs. That kind of practice will end up biting you in the butt sooner or later.

Edited by WrenchWorks
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What I've been doing is giving "free" diagnostics when you buy the repairs, but charging a little extra on every item so the diagnostic cost is recovered. The customer think they got something for free and I didn't lose any money.

 

wow, you should stop this immediately. Deception is not the way to go, take the time to explain it to them.

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I do what carbtech does. I also pay my techs salary so i dont have to worry about them rushing. I also market appropriately so i dont get price shopping calls. I always offer to look at the car for free but insist on seeing it before giving a price. I have a 95% closure rate and cover diag time with a better profit margin and high average ro and high jobs written per ro. Customers never feel like they payed for nothing and i can focus more on educating about maintaining and the repairs and spend less time trying to teach them why a charge is written as diag instead of just adding .5 to an hour across the ro as .1 or .2 per job. I am not lying to the customers any more then you are when you sell a $0.49 light bulb for $3.49.

 

If some one ever asks why the extra time (has not happened yet) I explain that we torque everything. Which we do. Or that we needed extra time for research or any other number of legitimate reasons. People that do not like to pay for diag will not notice they are if you can hide the extra charges without being too agressive about it.

 

Free code checks and free tire pressure checks should be thought of in the same way and your missing out on a very loyal customer base if your not doing both. I just had an argument with a local dealer because the customer wants to bring the car here and the girl at the counter would not tell me what code it had without getting $100. Really? You know autozone will right? Customers arent that stupid any more.

 

Marketing.. if your using discount coupons to get new customers your asking for price shoppers. If your putting out coupons then getting mad at price shoppers your really throwing all of that marketing money away. A coupon as a business owner says i am Willing to do some discount work to gain volume. If you do not want people calling for a price stop the coupons and focus on your reviews.

 

If you do get a referral and they need a price give it to them. If you earn that refferals business it will usually fan out again when they say they found you cause so and so referred them. If you turn away that referenced person or blow them off when they call for a price, they will instead tell the person that referred them that you were rude and you could lose both as customers.

Edited by Hands On
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I do what carbtech does. I also pay my techs salary so i dont have to worry about them rushing. I also market appropriately so i dont get price shopping calls. I always offer to look at the car for free but insist on seeing it before giving a price. I have a 95% closure rate and cover diag time with a better profit margin and high average ro and high jobs written per ro. Customers never feel like they payed for nothing and i can focus more on educating about maintaining and the repairs and spend less time trying to teach them why a charge is written as diag instead of just adding .5 to an hour across the ro as .1 or .2 per job. I am not lying to the customers any more then you are when you sell a $0.49 light bulb for $3.49.

 

If some one ever asks why the extra time (has not happened yet) I explain that we torque everything. Which we do. Or that we needed extra time for research or any other number of legitimate reasons. People that do not like to pay for diag will not notice they are if you can hide the extra charges without being too agressive about it.

 

Free code checks and free tire pressure checks should be thought of in the same way and your missing out on a very loyal customer base if your not doing both. I just had an argument with a local dealer because the customer wants to bring the car here and the girl at the counter would not tell me what code it had without getting $100. Really? You know autozone will right? Customers arent that stupid any more.

 

Marketing.. if your using discount coupons to get new customers your asking for price shoppers. If your putting out coupons then getting mad at price shoppers your really throwing all of that marketing money away. A coupon as a business owner says i am Willing to do some discount work to gain volume. If you do not want people calling for a price stop the coupons and focus on your reviews.

 

If you do get a referral and they need a price give it to them. If you earn that refferals business it will usually fan out again when they say they found you cause so and so referred them. If you turn away that referenced person or blow them off when they call for a price, they will instead tell the person that referred them that you were rude and you could lose both as customers.

MOM and pop shops might be able to afford to do diag for free. I also see a 10% off coupon on your site and lots of old car in the shop. Lets see you diag a no start on a 2012 BMW or Audi for free. If it works for you thats great but for most shop owners i know .Nothing is free my overhead does not allow it. Light bulbs or tire psi check oil is ok buy eng diag no way.

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I am talking about coolant pressure tests on cars with a blown hose or $104 to just know what code is in the car. Once you have the conversation things can change.

 

Mr. Johnson, You have a code p0301, that means you may have a miss fire. I would like to spend some more time looking into it, would it be ok if we ran some diagnostics at (insert rate).

 

I build the cost to cover the code check into my services. I bill for the smoke test... sorry i if was mis understood there

 

I had a customer at my door the other day livid because the dealer would not talk to her about what was wrong with the car with out collecting money up front, after she spent 4k the week before... it just didnt make sense, but I can also see situations where you cant trust a customer is going to buy into the repair and need to make sure you will be covered up front

 

One last thing I should say is that no two customers are exactly alike. Some of my customers I know understand diag fees and are ok with them, others do not even want to hear the word diagnostic. Both customers pay me the same gross profit percentage and both leave happy, neither one realizing what the other is getting/paying for. I am sure if our shop was bigger I could never keep track of these things, but being small I know each customer and can tailor things accordingly. I probably should be taking the time to educate all of my customers to make the industy as a whole better, but the wallmarts and quick lubes of the world are not going away anytime soon and they do not waste a second of their time on educating people.

Edited by Hands On
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MOM and pop shops might be able to afford to do diag for free. I also see a 10% off coupon on your site and lots of old car in the shop. Lets see you diag a no start on a 2012 BMW or Audi for free. If it works for you thats great but for most shop owners i know .Nothing is free my overhead does not allow it. Light bulbs or tire psi check oil is ok buy eng diag no way.

Thats a 1967 Poniac GTO and a 1979 Jeep J20, I see no shame in having those vehicles in my shop. We just finished the Diag and Fuel pump replacement on the 2010 Tundra that the dealer chased away. Charged a total of 3.2 hours to cover diag time and fuel pump replacement, all bundled into one package, customer is very pleased.

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