Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

Serving the interest of Ontario New Car
and Truck Dealerships for over 100 years

Dealer garage service repair bill demystified

Created on Friday, 11 June 2010

Customers often wonder why automotive service repair invoices can be difficult to interpret. I agree that a repair invoice can be confusing, but service advisers are more than happy to explain the various charges, descriptions and acronyms that appear on a customer's bill.

An average service repair invoice contains a lot of highly detailed information, such as diagnostic information and recommended items, parts, labour rates, shop supplies, disposal fees and taxes (provincial and federal).

On a service repair invoice, the replacement parts and labour rates are itemized separately for the benefit of the customer and for tracking purposes (dealership and manufacturer).

A dealership needs to know how much time technicians and service personnel spend on each job, so that its employees can be accurately scheduled and compensated for their efforts.

A typical invoice may contain two types of labour rates: flat rate and straight time (hourly rate). A flat rate is applied to routine maintenance procedures, such as oil changes, brake and exhaust repairs, coolant flushes, etc.

Calculation of a flat rate repair is the shop's hourly rate, multiplied by the industry standard, pre-determined flat rate repair time for that particular job on the same particular make and model vehicle.

A straight time charge is applied to diagnostic and repair work, where the cause of a problem isn't known beforehand. Today's vehicles are complex and often various culprits may mimic the same symptoms. If a technician is trying to isolate the source of a problem, it may require additional time, and the customer would be made aware of this before any work commenced.

Before proceeding with any service-related work, all automotive repairers (including new-car dealers) are required by law to obtain approval from the customer. That approval can be either written or verbal.

Environmental charges are often questioned by some customers. These are real fees that the dealer incurs for waste and recycling.

Environmental charges include the cost of disposing of items such as: engine oils, filters, brake fluids, radiator coolant, tires, batteries, plastic containers etc. At a typical repair centre, disposal fees range anywhere from $3.50 to $20. These fees are clearly itemized, not unlike the plastic bag fee that retail stores itemize on your receipt when you buy groceries.

Service customers sometimes feel that the cost of repairs doesn't always equate with the amount of time required to diagnose and fix a problem. This is often the case with flat rate repairs.

For example, let's say a vehicle needs a mechanical repair, and the allowable time for this job is 2.5 hours. If the technician does the job in two hours, the customer is still billed for 2.5 hours.

Conversely, if the technician spends 4.5 hours on this job, the customer is still only charged for 2.5 hours. No two technicians work at the same speed, just as no two electricians, plumbers or cabinetmakers work at the same speed.

Industry time and labour guides are used to indicate the average time a qualified technician would take to do the same job.

Another important component of a service repair invoice is information pertaining to the vehicle itself. At car dealers, all repair invoices must contain the date, make and model of the vehicle, along with the customer's information, vehicle mileage and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

This information is gathered for purposes of transparency and disclosure, and so that the dealership can access it in case a repair or maintenance issue needs to be addressed at a later date. Most dealers keep a detailed service history of your vehicle.

If any part of your service repair invoice isn't clear, contact your service adviser or the service manager of your dealership.

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