We see this time and time again – someone has a problem with their car, and they want to know how much it is to fix it. In many cases this is pretty cut and dry, but quite often we need to figure out what’s actually causing the problem before we can tell you how much it is to fix it. This is where diagnostics come in!
Diagnostics is one of the most important aspects of car repair, yet it tends to be the one thing that many people try to avoid. Why? There are a few reasons, usually. For one, diagnostics can be expensive, and it’s often charged by the hour. For two, a shop may not be able to tell you how long it will take them to find out what the problem is if it’s complex. I can see why people are hesitant: you’re paying by the hour for an undetermined number of hours. Eek, that means your bill could be...who knows how much?!
Why Can't a Shop Tell Me How Long Diagnostics Will Take?
Let me illustrate it this way: in a nutshell, doing diagnostics simply means we are looking for the problem. It’s a lot like looking for a lost set of keys: you can’t really estimate how long it will take you to find them. You may have a rough idea of where to look, or you may not. It just takes the time it takes, as you have to keep looking until you find them.
Why Aren't Diagnostics Free?
Diagnostics is often the most challenging part of auto repair, and more complex issues usually need to be diagnosed by the more experienced technicians (who, like any other technician, need to be paid for their time). It's very similar to the medical field, where a doctor will determine why you're sick. And of course, hospitals also don't provide this service for free because they need to pay their doctors and their overhead.
Are Diagnostics Really Worth it?
Another thing about diagnostics that can make people hesitant is that you don’t get anything “tangible” in return. It’s not like getting a tune-up, where you can feel how much better your vehicle runs. After diagnostics, your car is probably still in the same condition it was in before. This can make it seem like you aren’t getting much value for your dollar, but trust me, you are. I’ve lost count of how many vehicles I’ve seen on Craigslist that have new spark plugs, new coils, a new ignition module, a new starter, a new battery, a new fuel filter, and a new fuel pump – and they’re selling it because it still doesn’t start. They may think they’re saving money by not having it looked at by a professional, but in all reality they just spent hundreds of dollars on parts that their car didn’t even need. In the auto industry we call this “throwing parts at it”, and it’s an expensive way of trying to fix a problem.
The Limitations of Trouble Codes
Small tangent here: that free code read at the parts store is not diagnostics, so don’t rely on that to tell you what’s wrong with your vehicle. Why? Because a code doesn’t tell you what actually failed; it only gives you a general idea of where to look for the problem (in some cases you do get lucky, but not always). For example, a code for “low charging system voltage” doesn’t always mean you need a new alternator. The battery terminals could be dirty, or the computer that controls the alternator could have failed, a wire could’ve broke, etc. The code tells you where to look for the problem (in the charging system), but it doesn’t tell you what the actual problem is. For that, someone may need to dig a bit deeper. And that someone is a diagnostician.
What do You Charge for Diagnostics?
In quite a few cases, we can diagnose a problem for our standard $40 (plus tax) checkout. Diagnostics for more complex issues or on vehicles that have several issues may be charged hourly, at our usual labor rate of $80 per hour.
What if You Can't Find the Problem?
We are good at what we do, so it's very unlikely that we won't find what's causing your issue. But, our policy is this: we do not charge you if we can't find the problem. Please note that this only qualifies if we cannot find the issue. If we find the issue and you decide that you do not want to fix it (or you want to fix it yourself), you will still have to pay for the diagnostic work done on your vehicle.