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