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Why Do Car Dealers Charge Diagnostic Fees and Should You Pay for Them?

Updated on March 28, 2016

Diagnostic Fees

Anyone who has ever had to go to a dealership's service department because their check engine light or some other type of indicator came on knows that in most cases there is a charge to diagnose the issue. In some cases these diagnostic charges can be hundreds of dollars! Is the charge fair? Should you be charged at all?

Dealerships charge these fees for many reasons and here are some of the things you need to be aware of before bringing in your vehicle:

  • In case you don't get the repair, they at least get paid for the time it took to diagnose it. That sounds fair enough, but in most cases, it's anything but fair. Most dealerships will charge a flat fee, which in most cases is their labor rate per hour. This rate can range anywhere from $90 to $125 and in some cases even more depending on the make of your vehicle.The reality is that the majority of the time it takes a lot less than one hour to diagnose the issue, but you still end up paying the same fee. When I ran service departments I never charged this way because it's unfair to the customer. Instead I would charge the actual time it took to diagnose the vehicle (Ex: $100 per hr. and it took 30 minutes to diagnose = $50.00 charge) and you should insist upon the same.
  • Should you opt to have the repair done after it's been diagnosed there is usually some labor overlap involved. Overlap meaning that if you came in with a brake concern, in most cases the wheels are already removed from the vehicle as part of the diagnosis so you should not be charged the full labor time to replace the brakes because some of the labor has already been done and is included in the diagnostic fee. The labor time a dealership will charge for a brake job has removing the wheels and inspecting the brakes already built in, so don't let them double-dip by charging you both diagnostics and full labor on the brake job.
  • Make sure you know up front if there is a diagnostic fee and if so how much. A lot dealerships will not tell you about this charge until you've declined the work and then they hit you with a charge. In the case you approve the work, they will build it into the price they quote you for the job without ever telling you about it.
  • Almost all driveability concerns you may have with the vehicle should be road-tested as part of the diagnostics. Make sure you check your mileage before and after and then compare it to the in/out mileage shown on your invoice.

So there you have it, my thoughts as they pertain to diagnostic fees. Keep in mind that there are certain issues that will sometimes require extensive diagnostics such as water leaks and electrical issues, but you should never authorize more than one hour for diagnostics. Should they be unable to find the issue within the hour the service advisor will need to come back to you to get authorization for additional diagnostics. In any case, never authorize more than an hour at a time because if you authorize more than that chances are that's what you will be billed for even if it took less time.

Diagnostic fees are necessary and justified in most cases, but you need to be aware of how and what for you are billed.

Should you have any questions regarding this topic or any other topic regarding dealership service departments, please don't hesitate to ask.


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    • profile image

      tony 4 years ago

      so if they do a diagnostic and find i have to pay for parts and labour and diagnostic fees?

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      Wayne 4 years ago

      If you broke your arm and went to the doctor, a diagnostic charge (office visit and X-ray) will be applied. The doctor will consult you on the course of repair and you will authorize parts and labor (hardware and surgery/casts/etc). Should the X-ray technician not get paid now that repairs are being made? Isn't that training and equipment expensive?

    • reagu profile image

      reagu 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      The more electronically-dependent cars are becoming, the more upkeep and maintenance are needed. And diagnostics are the only way to find out what else is broken or requiring a fix. I've been taking my car to a local shop, independent of dealers. Whenever I take my car in, he gives me an opinion of what else could be wrong and an assessment of its priority. Hasn't failed, thus far. Perhaps a good independent mechanic is the answer to any car woos.

    • profile image

      tony 4 years ago

      so do i have to pay parts and labour including diagnostic fees say for a one hour diagnostic?

    • profile image

      Christine 4 years ago

      They started my car up and say its my starter. I don't want them doing the job bc their price is outrageous. Should I still be charged the diagnosis fee for them just going out and starting my car?

    • profile image

      Bob 4 years ago

      I took my car to Merchants Tire & Auto. Their fee was a flat 99 for a EVAP read that probably took them 20 minutes to do. The result? Your gas cap might be loose. So I threw away 99 bucks for a mechanic to tighten my gas cap (which still hasn't fixed the issue.) I hate cars, I hate Pontiacs, and I hate overpriced overpaid mechanics.

    • dmvjane profile image

      Jane Katigbak 4 years ago from Philippines

      It would be more ethical, I think, if they would ask you first about the diagnostic. It's some sort of a hidden fee used to juice money from car owners.

    • profile image

      lj 3 years ago

      I paid a diagnostic fee at a dealership to have my car looked at for a rattle under the hood. Their quote to fix the problem (worn drive belt and tensioner bearing) was astronomical so I took it to a local mechanic who assured me that nothing was worn or broken. He also tightened a loose heat shield and the rattle has stopped. No charge from the mechanic. Can/should I call the dealership back to request a refund for the wrong diagnosis?

    • Mac31 profile image

      Mac31 3 years ago from United States

      One of my best investments was to purchase a diagnostic computer from Pepboys. At the time they were having a really good sell and I decided that I should just buy the computer, which ended up being the best decision I could have done.

      When I get a check engine light I plug it into the car and write down all the codes. After writing down all the codes I google all the codes according to the type of car that I have and to be honest I haven't came across a problem that I have not been able to fix on my own.

      If you are not a mechanical person I would even suggest youtube to figure out where you can find certain parts, so that you are able to locate the part on your own.

      I recently was able to help fix a Mercedes Benz by using my computer diagnostic machine and believe it or not I only spent $20.00 at Pepboys for that computer.

      Good luck!

      Don't pay someone for something that you can do yourself!

    • profile image

      hkim310 3 years ago

      Why should diagnostic fee's be free if you decide to do the work? You are paying for the tests necessary to identify why the fault code (check engine light, ABS, Airbag, SRS) has been tripped from the on board computer. Its similar to going to the doctor and the doctor issuing an X-Ray to be performed to identify the problem. Would you have an issue paying for the X-Ray? If you go to the doctor and the doctor tells you that there is nothing wrong with you do you think the doctor will tell you the visit is free now because he/she did not find anything wrong with you? What you are essentially doing when you visit a doctor, lawyer, mechanic, etc. is paying someone else for their specialized knowledge in regards to an issue that you cannot figure out on your own. I find it strange that people would assume that the diagnostic tests necessary to find the problems with their car should be free but the diagnostic tests at a doctors office should be paid for and not be free.

    • profile image

      rhenxi 3 years ago

      i have a 3 month old new car and engine light went on..the lady said i have to pay for diagnosis and she said its not cover by the warranty of the vehicle..

    • profile image

      Qxman 3 years ago

      To those guy keep compare mechanic to a doctor is stupid. Doctor have to go school for 10-12 years and dealing with human body matter of life and death situation. Mechanics often gain knowledge from working on car or one year school at community col. How you gonna charge someone 99 dollars for looking at the freaking brakes and said yeah you needs brake pads or bells needs grease etc. you don't see barber/hairstylists charge you looking at your hair and tell you to May go with 6m brown or dark blond. When do comparing, do it right ok my good friend. When mechanics have to use computer to check then yes diag. Charge may apply not just looking at a freaking simple tasks man.

    • profile image

      Prissy Soles 3 years ago

      @qxman.. So now the technician has to stop work on a vehicle he is making money on. Get the keys to your vehicle, find it, pull it in the shop, put it on a lift and raise it up, take off the wheels, inspect the brakes, fill out the inspection form, price parts, and then write an estimate all for you to just Decline the repair??? If it is such a simple task then why are you taking it to a technician in the first place?

      If an untrained mechanic leaves your brakes loose is it not a life and death situation then?

      FYI most dealer technicians take classes in high school, go to college for 2 years, and are CONSTANTLY going to manufacture classes every few months.

    • Mac31 profile image

      Mac31 3 years ago from United States

      I really do think that somethings should be left to a mechanic, but it depends on what needs to be done to your car. I would say that having brake issues with your car can be done by yourself without the need for a mechanic to check them for you.

      The most obvious way to tell if you need brakes is to listen for a scratching sound and that alone will tell you that you need brakes. Now, for the brakes that you have in the back tires you will have to remove the tire if you don't have a good view of them already. You need to make sure that you have enough brake pad left on the pads itself otherwise...."you need brake pads"!

      Prissy.....there is no way possible that anyone can put brake pads loose. If you do not fasten the attachments down you will never be able to put the tire back on the wheel. Most cars already have attachments on them that will clearly show you that it needs to be put into place........

      I would say that the only reason why I would take my car in would be........oil change..."I don't want to get dirty, and I wouldn't have a place to put the old oil anyway"......Timing belt......although this is easy to do you have to have time and all the tools necessary to get this job done. And,.......Major engine problems.......that't really about it...everything else can be looked up on Youtube.

    • profile image

      Pissy Soles 3 years ago

      So your saying a brake caliper can't become loose and cause it to become entangled with the wheel and lock up causing a wreck??... I've seen that and many other similar things happen. Besides that was just a basic example. What I mean is that there are many new advanced systems on vehicles that untrained people do not need to work on themselves for safety reasons.

    • profile image

      Mac31 3 years ago

      I have yet to hear of anything like that happening.....Pissy Soles. To break this all down just as this goes with anything you are doing yourself. If you don't know what you are doing don't do it! plain and simple. As far as systems becoming more advanced....I honestly think that the automakers make it look as if the system is complicated, when in actuality all they are doing is adding screws and nuts that the average Joe would not have or they are simply putting other equipment pieces in hard to reach places that once again the average Joe would not have the tools for! The training part is pretty easy if you are a person with mechanical skills. To be honest with you the way that I learned was to take things apart step by step and put it back together again over and over until I was finally comfortable with my work.

    • profile image

      Pissy Soles 3 years ago

      It happens. Trust me. So you can accurately diagnose a malfunction in a 300v HV hybrid vehicle? Or diagnose a ring break concern with a new Cadillac CUE intertainment system? The list could go on and on. It's a lot more than "screws and nuts"... The only point that needs to be made here is that with any occupation , Time is money.

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      brutuses 3 years ago

      I refused to allow a warranted part be installed on my van because the dealership said they would not install it unless I purchased another part that was not warranted for $487. I did not allow them to put that part on because I know it's a racket they are running and when they see middle aged woman they think we're stupid. I had the van diagnosed by 2 other mechanics before taking it to the dealership so he was trying to rip me off. Well he refused to do the warranted work but still charged me the diagnostic fee when in fact he did not hold up his end of the bargain. Has anyone had a service manager try to extort money from them for a part, then refuse to do warranted work? I'm so upset by this I can't get to sleep. I need to put it out of my mind, but the audacity of this guy has me very upset. I'm on a fixed income, have stage 4 cancer, very little money and this guy ripped me off without one minute of regret. I will get my money back but I know it will be a hassle and stress is the worst thing in my fight with this cancer. Pray for me. LOL

    • profile image

      Pissy soles 3 years ago

      Brutuses, Would you mind explaining what part was bad? As in which one was warranty, and which one were they wNting you to pay for. Also, what kind of vehicle and mileage?


    • Mac31 profile image

      Mac31 3 years ago from United States

      Pissy Soles,

      You are talking about the technology side of the vehicles, which I along with just about everyone is not going to try to fix something like an entertainment system or a hybrid vehicle. I can tell you this though.....give me a manual or a training on youtube and I bet you I can fix it......what we are talking about is mechanic related issues not computers, entertainment systems but mechanical issues.

    • profile image

      Pissy Soles 2 years ago

      That's the point I'm trying to make to you. Vehicles are becoming more and more advanced every year. There will be fewer mechanical issues as time goes on. Mostly any system on a car has a module that controls it. Take power steering for example, what used to simply be a hydraulic pump with some lines and a steering gear is now an electric motor with a computer to control it. Soon even all the brakes will be electric and so on. ..

    • profile image

      MADD 2 years ago

      Bought an extended warranty for my Chevy Truck. Already had 100,000 miles and so I bought the extra 100,000 mile last year. 30,000 miles later motor locked up. they are wanting to take the motor apart and charge me 500 to do so. Is this normal? So the extended warranty is an extra 500. This seems totally ridiculous.

    • profile image

      Pissy Soles 2 years ago

      Depends on the stipulations of the extended warranty company. How much is your deduct able? 100k warranty extended on a vehicle with already 100k miles. Something's not adding up. You were either misinformed or you haven't ready the agreement carefully.

    • profile image

      Girl 2 years ago

      The 500 is for tear down in case the warranty doesn't cover the repair. If the warranty company denies the claim the mechanic will have to work for free. And that's not fair.

    • profile image

      drumrabbi 2 years ago

      Everyone has varying sides. I am a dealership service manager to be clear.

      @ Brutuses: manufacturers cannot deny warranty repairs. Plain and simple. The fact that they require you to replace a non- warranted part is ridiculous. I have in the past, informed and put into writing that we are not responsible or the customer has declined replacement of a part that has been recommended. I will sometimes good will the part if it failed as a result of a covered part.

      To the others that don't get it:

      Technicians are doctors. Our shops have expenses such as uniforms, electricity, factory training, insurance, rent, equipment etc... the time it takes a technician to "look at a car" is just that. Time. I don't sell service , I sell time.

      Time is precious. What job do YOU do?

      Do you ask a restaurant to try before you buy? Imagine going in to McDonald's or Burger King , ordering a meal and saying you just want to try it before you decide to purchase. Now try that with your doctor.

      Doctors are specialists as are technicians. Your insurance has a copay that the doctors office collects...even if he or she doesn't find anything wrong. It could be intermittent, or the conditions may not be right to duplicate. Either way, you were looked at, correct?

      Deductibles and co-pays are usually waived if it is related or a follow up. If you don't like the answer your technician gives, you can go somewhere else.

      That's the beauty of free enterprise.

      Any questions?

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      Brad 2 years ago

      Most of you guys have no idea what you are talking about. A dealership service tech works off of hours flagged for the day. If diagnosis was free a tech could literally work the whole day and make no money. Most dealers charge 1 hour diagnosis and they have to pay the tech for his time spent on the car. If you take your car in they check it in and tech A gets assigned the job. Tech A then has to get your keys and ticket, walk out and get the car to his stall. Then he diagnoses your car. Then he has to go to parts and get pricing etc on what is wrong. Then he has to inform the service writer on what is needed to fix the car. Rarely is all of that gonna take less then one hour. The dealership then has to pay that tech 1 hours time for looking at the car otherwise he has just spent that time and made no money. Tech's do not clock in and clock out for pay like a normal employee. They only get paid for each jobs alloted time.

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      Liz G 2 years ago

      I have no problem paying a diagnostics charge, but what I have an issue is, the staff didn't supply me a printout showing that one was even done. The service I had done could have been diagnosed in other ways. So I do not have proof that the part they replaced was even valid, because the solution to my problem could of been a fuse or even ignition module. Granted a starter was also a possibility, but it was not the only solution. So the diagnostics could of pinned pointed a less expensive fix, but because I was not handed proof of service of the diagnostics, I have no idea if what they told me was valid. If I pay for the diagnostics, don't I have a right to that printout?

    • profile image

      Tarci 2 years ago

      @Liz i totally agree with you the automotive industry does not have an ethics regulatory body that i know off in their profession, diagnostic charges and tools used are not standard, yet the pricing is high now imagine someone who tells you they have diagnosed your car and yet have no print out to show you what has been tested , or even as a customer service poit explain what they have tested and what the results mean,

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      Emling1 22 months ago

      Question for anyone who can help/lend advice- We were just charged $619 for diagnostics/labor to be told we needed $6,500 in replacements at a dealership. We declined their work, and unfortunately, my husband just paid the bill... and brought our broken car back home. Upon my $$ shock, I began studying the receipt, it only stated our original complaint and 'labor' (oh, and our first call, we were quoted $230). We took it to a local place and had it FIXED for $530, and were told the dealership never removed the dash- there's screws/pins etc that weren't even touched so they were able to determine this. Btw, it was an electrical issue. Does anyone know if there's a good way to contend this wasted $619 with the dealership? I stopped in and asked that I get a list of exactly what was done to get to this price already, but of course the main guy that worked on it was out until Tuesday. We have pictures of what they did to get at the problem (that my hubby took to show me)- which was behind the glovebox- not extensive labor. They did pull up the floor mat on the passenger side too. Does this sound ridiculous, or am I crazy to be upset about this experience at the dealership?

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      Shaun 22 months ago

      The never ending crying continues. No one is going to go to work and do their job for an hour or 2 and not charge for it because it was "diagnostic". The tools, training, equipment and overhead associated with running a repair shop is extreme. Tools change year to year, equipment becomes outdated after a few years, and all of this has to be replaced by the business owner which is very expensive. Point blank I, nor any of my techs will ever work for free. Its just rediculous

    • profile image 20 months ago

      I own a 2013 Chevy Equinox and the Check Engine Light came on after 2 years exactly a couple of days prior to inspection. The dealer wants to charge $195.00 just to diagnose. That's outrageous because it should nt take more than 5 minutes to figure out the reason for the CEL. The OBD machine displays it on the screen as soon as you plug it in under the dashboard. There should be a law against such theft.

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      Jrsteeze 13 months ago

      Ebourjollys response is about the most ignorant thing i have ever heard. To think that they are just charging you for hooking up a scanner is rediculous! It doesnt diagnose the problem for you! It mearly tells you what system has a fault in it. Its the tech that has to inspect that entire system and figure out what is malfunctioning in said system and then come up with a fix for it. It takes years of knowledge and expertise to do this with accuracy and a good tech will not waist your hard earned money on guess work. I love how people think auto repair is an easy job . Well its NOT. Yes there are some thing that peope with limited knowhow can do to save a few bucks here and there but even then just using the wrong/cheap/aftermarket parts will make your efforts and time wasted. Plus you dont have to mess up your body or get dirty. I always see bad comments from people that are just plain cheap skates! Not all but most. And there are bad shops out there. Just go somewhere reputable and not the place with the cheapest prices( they are cheap for a reason) and you will be fine. Infact most shops will waive their diag fees if they do the repair. Unless it is a crwzy electrical problem that takes a lot of time to pin down. Then they have the right ti chsrge accordingly. Do you work for free?

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      Rash 7 months ago

      My VW PASSAT was not starting up, Engines dies out after few sec. I paid $140 diagnostic fee. After an hour, they called me up and said that they have not found any issue with the engine system. But can't tell yet why this is happening. So need additonal two hours for diagnosis and find the problem will cost me additional $280, total of $420.

      Just to find the problem, need to pay the technician hour by hour, seems ridiculous to me. VW is ripping people.

      At last found, it happened because of 10 cent Fuse flown out, which is located near the steering wheel.

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      mark oconnell 6 months ago

      dealer charged $130 dollars to tell me they can't find the problem with my truck,but they know there is a problem. so why do i have to pay if u can't find the trouble with my truck,how do i know if they even tried.

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      Jon 6 months ago

      I love the attempt to compare to a doctor. Why don't we compare to an engineer, or landscaping company, software developer, carpenter...etc. Almost ALL service related jobs have to stop what they are doing, inspect and write up a quote, and lose work from 'paying jobs', but yet don't see the need to charge you just to come out and earn your business.

      Also, I don't know how many time I've taken my car to a shop and receive an absurd quote to fix things I know were not broken. Once, i had a clutch cable that needed adjusting. One shop wanted to replace it and 2 -3 other things...over $1000 quote. Took it to another, he tightened the clutch cable (like I knew was all that was needed), and all was good. Took him under 20 min...more time spent just getting into the bay than to do the actual work.

      I wouldn't mind a reasonable diagnostic fee ($60/hr) and be billed on the actual time spent. Also, what do you think the shop would have said if I had demanded a refund of the diagnostic fee since they didn't diagnose properly? Yea...that's what I thought.

      Finally, that hooking up to a diagnostic machine isn't that hard. You plug it in, let it run, go off and do something else, then come back. Why should I pay $100/hr to offset the mechanics time, when the mechanic isn't spending that time tied up on my car?

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      Grace Marie Baldacci 5 months ago

      We were told that battery was that the CCA was below 600 on a Jeep and it should be above 750 - 800 for our tough Chicago winters. I googled recommendations on a Jeep and it agreed with what service guy said. However. We went to pick up vehicle and asked for a copy of the diagnostic report. All the report said was that the "battery is bad". Shouldn't it have said what the numbers were somewhere?

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      Angry Man 5 months ago

      So my new car is still under warranty, took it into the dealership, they told me the undercarriage hit something and a somthing bend. they told me because the car hit something under it it would void the warranty and i have to pay for everything and it would take 175 just to do the diagnosis...does that sound fair? the freaking car is still under warranty and they could even do a diagnosis

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      Vic 5 months ago

      Why some people want services for free, nothing is free in this life, even if they tell you is free, is not free, you are paying some how. To offer diagnostic services on a repair shop they need 4 things, 1) a trained and experienced technician, 2)diagnostic equipment, 3) information systems., and time. A reputable auto repair shop may spend 40k to 60k on diagnostic equipment every 5 years. (they have the same span life as your smartphone) 5k to 10k a year on updates, 3k to 7k on repar information subscriptions, and if they got only one master tech 50k to 80 k per year. we are talking about 62k to 117 every year. if diagnostics are free who's going to pay for that overhead?

    • profile image

      Terry 4 months ago

      To people who thinks diagnostic should be free.

      You think knowledge for your specific problem is free.

      Heres the answer for u, go library and read the books, u may get your answer for free. If ure stupid, then looking through book for days may not help.

      U think time is free, because your pay scale and work attitude tells you , you just have to sit in office, pretend to be working and you get paid.

      You are born built in xray eyes.

      assume that every mechanics but not other people have xray eyes , granting them the ability to see your issue with their free eyes , and not with their equipments.

      Lastly, you hope to get pay for your time and hope that other people dont get pay for their time.

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      Judy 2 months ago

      The word diagnosis is a general term. Dealer pissy because I want to know step by step what is done in machine, voltmeter, man under hood checking how that works. Am I wrong.

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