Help Joe avoid lowball estimates!

Lowball estimates and how to avoid them

Dyrell Hicks Consumer helps

Joe Customer got an estimate of $355.19 for installing a timing belt…

Good price!? Or is it?

Joe drives his car to Mr. Goodsocket’s and they begin work. After the car is dismantled, Joe receives a phone call from the manager, Slick Willy. It turns out the car also needs a water pump, all new drive belts, cam and crankshaft oil seals, and a timing belt tensioner pulley. The bill has now jumped to $1399.99. Poor Joe, he only had $355.19.

Cars are unpredictable, and sometimes Joe’s situation is unavoidable. Often though, repair shops give a low estimate, hoping they will get the job, even though they know that the actual job seldom costs that little. We call it a “lowball” estimate. Sometimes shops will do the job for that dirt cheap price when they shouldn’t have, doing a marginal job, and not recommending items to make the job more reliable and complete.

Here are a few tips that will help Joe and you jump over those lowballs!

Beware of the drawing card

A nice sounding price in an advertised special is not nearly as important as a good, fair price on the “unadvertised” repairs. Not to mention the importance of being able to trust what the shop tells you. A $20.00 oil change is no bargain if you end up buying additional work that wasn’t necessary.


Look for a realistic estimate for every repair, not just the lowest. Is the shop letting you know what possibilities might arise and increase the bill? Most shops avoid telling the “possibilities” to keep from scaring away the customer. But it is honest to let you know about what else may be found, and doing so indicates the shop’s trying to be “up-front” with you.

On major work, you can bank on having some surprises. It’s acceptable to get a price range as an estimate, instead of an exact price. On a big job, you usually run into additional parts that it’s wise to replace while the car is disassembled. There’s no way for a technician to know in advance all the extra parts that may be needed. If you’re being told that a large repair job is at a set price, you need to do some checking on what the shop is saying.

So rather than go with the lowest estimate possible, it’s wise for you to look at the big picture. There are other big-picture things you need to consider, including the people at the shop.

Who’s doin’ the work?

As with every field of work on the planet, there are those that are good at what they do, and those that are not so good. The only way to be sure your car is safe and dependable, is to have only qualified technicians work on it.  A good way to tell a technician’s qualifications is to see if he or she is ASE certified, as our technicians are.

Even more important than technical skill is a desire to do the job well. Here is where old fashioned trust comes in. A good referral, or at least a “warm, fuzzy” feeling about your conversations with the shop will go a long way here.

This post was last edited on by Dyrell Hicks.