auto

How much should your car repair cost?

Tara Baukus MelloAmericans are keeping their cars longer than ever, with the average car being about 10 years old. While huge benefits of driving an older car include not having a car payment and having lower insurance costs, a disadvantage is that you can be hit with some unexpected, pricey car repairs. Fortunately, now there are numerous websites that provide guidance on whether the repair estimate you received is fair.

Two of the most comprehensive websites for car-repair costs are AutoMD and RepairPal, which are both free to use. Launched in 2010, AutoMD is owned by US Auto Parts, an online auto parts retailer. It is staffed of a team of automotive data specialists and certified auto mechanics, using data based on average labor costs by ZIP code, time to repair and real-time pricing data on parts. RepairPal was founded in 2007 by a group of auto enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. It creates its estimates based on real-world data, including actual car-repair invoices, labor rates and parts costs.

Both AutoMD and RepairPal offer repair cost estimates based on ZIP code for regular maintenance as well as car repairs, with pricing estimates at a dealership or an independent mechanic. AutoMD also adds cost estimates for do-it-yourselfers.

Testing with sample repairs on each site showed that the estimates were in the same range on both sites. RepairPal's estimate provides a range for the overall cost as well as breaks down ranges for labor and parts. The AutoMD repair estimate is more comprehensive, also containing the exact time estimate for the car repair as well as the labor rate and parts costs at a dealer and an independent mechanic. As a result, it makes it easier for the consumer to make adjustments if the labor rate at a shop is higher or lower.

Consumers can easily print out the estimate to show to a mechanic. For those who are in need of a mechanic, both sites provide a comprehensive list of shops based on the ZIP code entered. RepairPal's list shows the shops on a map and provides shop details such as hours, specialties and reviews. AutoMD's list takes things a step further, showing how many AutoMD users have requested quotes from the business and the type of quotes, and it shows the number of mechanics. It also specifies whether the shop uses Mitchell or Chilton labor standards and if it installs parts shipped by AutoMD partners.

While these sites help arm consumers with solid information to help ensure they are not getting taken advantage of, consumers still need to decide between using a dealer or an independent shop and whether it makes sense to save a few dollars by using aftermarket parts instead of original equipment parts.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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