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Old 05-29-2001, 01:41 PM   #1
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Default Labor Rates - FYI

I recently took my 93 SL1 to the Burnsville, MN Saturn dealer to get my belt tensioner replaced. The estimate came to $280.00. ($115 for the tensioner and $26 for a new belt). So parts totalled $141. While they were doing my estimate, I called a local father/son owned repair shop recommended to me by my brother-in-law. They quoted the same job for $180.00. When the service writer at Saturn handed me the $280.00 estimate, I asked why Dakota Transmission and Auto Repair could do it for $180.00. The service writer said they probably weren't using Saturn parts. I told her that's all I need, more SATURN parts (I've had to replace the ignition switch, water pump, alternator, blower motor and transmission pressure regulator spring in the last year). I left and went to Dakota Transmission.
At Dakota Transmission, they let you look over their shoulder whenever you want. The owner looked up the labor time needed to do the belt tensioner replacement in his ALLDATA system. The time to do the job was listed at .5 hours. They had their parts runner drive over to Saturn of Burnsville to get the belt tensioner (so I'm still stuck with another Authentic Saturn part), installed it and had the job done in under 30 minutes.
A little math then tells me that Saturn's labor rate must be $280 - $141(parts) = $139 in labor for a job that ALLDATA says should take 30 minutes X 2 to get the hourly rate makes the Saturn labor rate $278/hour. What a deal!
I've noticed when getting repairs at Saturn that they bill you for three hours of labor for example, and you're outta there in 90 minutes (plus the tech was working on not only your car during that time, but two other ones besides).
So, I can only conclude one of two things. Either Saturn's labor rate is $278/hour (not anywhere near the posted rate), or they are padding the labor estimate to rip people off. Either way, it's nothing less than fraud, and I will never take my car to a Saturn dealer again, nor will I ever buy another Saturn.

By the way if you need a great, HONEST place to get car repairs done in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, try Dakota Transmission & Auto Repair in Apple Valley. Sponsored Links
Old 05-29-2001, 02:29 PM   #2
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Steve: the labor rates are based on what a book says the job will take to finish. Saturn says one thing for their Warranty times (with lifts and trained techs and tools), while other sources (Chiltons) give more time for their estimates, partly because they figure alot of owners are not trained on the cars or do not have access to all the right tools or lifts. If the flat rate charge for a timing chain is 6 hours, and the tech does it in 2 hours - it it his fault or the systems fault? Lok at it like htis - you have 2 doctors that do heart operatioins. Both doctors charge you $5,000 for the operation. One does it in 3 hours, while the other one takes 5 hours to finish. Both do a good job with no complications. Is the faster doctor ripping you off? No, he is better at it and faster, or perhaps has better staff supporting him.

Now, some places pull those times out of their ----, and some add on lots of charges, and others charge you for work not done/needed. I have seen all of these happen, and that is a huge part of why I got out of the dealership world. But people need to realize that they are not paying for an hours labor - they are paying for a job to be completed. I agree that the flat rate system is not a good system for building feelings of trust towards service people, but that is what they use now indusrty wide. (The doctor analogy above was only used to show that concept of paying for a completed job). When you do find a place you like - support them as Steve does, but please understand the industry system for charging prices. Words from a former Saturn tech - Chris97sc2
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Old 05-29-2001, 02:47 PM   #3
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Thanks for the reply.
Here's the deal. If I'm not paying for labor by the hour, then why does the estimate list parts separately and Labor @ $72/hour as an item. I AM paying for labor by the hour. It says so on the estimate. The job never takes as long as they put down. That's precisely why I am going to the place that puts the actual time needed according to a reliable source (ALLDATA), not some cookbook that Saturn puts out with false information used to inflate rates. The doctor analogy doesn't make sense since both jobs DID NOT cost the same. The same job at Dakota Transmission was $100 cheaper.
Old 05-29-2001, 04:31 PM   #4
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I too realize that dealerships tend to charge more than local shops, though Saturn technitions are the specialist on Saturn cars. Saturns are more common now and more techs have seen the miles of wires and plumbing inside and out though my trust is in a Saturn technition. I shop around and ask a lot of questions because they are really helpful and providing most people the ability to do their own garage work. I do understand that there are some things that the dealer must do themselves and I am comfortable with that. I tend to take advantage of my car at the dealer, I look over their shoulder (don't like the dealerships that won't let you do that), I ask them questions on other components for my car, I watch so I can learn. Also, I get my car washed (and on one occation get my keys locked inside, auto locking, keys left in my wash boy) and a little bag of candy on the dash and sometimes a thank you card my the mechanic. So it's the good and the bad I suppose. I think that most Saturn parts do have good build quality and live up to my standard of their lifespan.
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Old 05-29-2001, 04:37 PM   #5
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You know what's funny? Saturn gave me an estimate of $330 for them to replace the accessory belt, the upper engine mount and the front brake pads. So what I did was go to Autozone and for $60 replaced all of them myself in less than an hour. That means, I would probably been charged $270 for an hour of labor.

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Old 05-29-2001, 05:55 PM   #6
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While dealers in general tend to be more pricey than Saturn retailers, I have found that Saturn prices are in the same ballpark as most mechanics. Add on the part and labor warranty, and it is hard to beat. But, I don't go to my retailer for work. Why? They wanted $200 to change the EGR valve on my SL2 (took me $75 for the part, 1/2 hour of work myself), and the valve wasn't even bad! It was the $30 solenoid! Any competent mechanic would have sense enough to check the solenoid as well if the computer is showing a fault in the EGR system. I went on what they told me (assuming they had diagnosed it correctly- a $75 mistake). Anyhow, that is why you won't find my car in a service bay at Saturn of St. Charles County, MO.
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Old 05-29-2001, 08:29 PM   #7
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Steve: The doctor ogy was to show the difference between 2 techs in the same shop that might take different amounts of time. The Official times are produced by Saturn bringing in Saturn techs from various shops and getting them to perform repairs by the book. They then take the average time from several different techs times and end up with their estimated times. When techs do not go by the book, they can get the job done faster and still get it done accurately if they are good. If a shop or tech charges only for the time it actually takes - that is great and the way it should be. Chris97sc2
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Old 05-29-2001, 09:51 PM   #8
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You know some times there is a real temptation to tear into people over things that they say. Because two different shops charge differently for the same thing DOES NOT make one shop dishonest and the other honest or more honest than the other. The majority of the automotive industry runs on the flat rate system for a guide line on how to charge for their services. The two most common labour rate guides Mitchell and Chilton are on the whole fairly close in the hours that they use. There are obviously other rate guides out there. Any good shop though will use the guide that gets them the best bang per job and is fair to their customers.
The flat rate system works on the premise that they give X hours to do a job. For example, the book we use gives 2 hours for a water pump replacement on a S-series Saturn with A/C. If I get the job done right in 1-1 1/2 hours I get paid 2 hours. If it takes me 3 hours I get paid 2 hours. So I can go as fast or as slow as I want, the faster I go the more I make in one day. But I also have to do the job right or I get to do it over for free. The posted labour rate in a shop is what they charge per hour of flat rate time, the water pump is 2 hours at the hourly rate--in your case 72.00 times 2=144.00 dollars. The flat rate guide books are there to give a consistancey in what a shop charges for the work that they do.
Please also remember that the techs that are working on your car don't take home a third of what the hourly door rate is. They also have to pay for their own tools (except for special tools that the retailer has to take from Saturn-no choice). So before you start slamming a system that is industry wide take some time to try and understand it before you start labeling people/stores as dishonest.
One last thing (hopefully). I sure hope that the shop that did your work will be around for awhile. At .5 of an hour for a belt tensioner (1.8 at our shop) they may not be able to pay their bills for much longer. Flat rate for changing a serpentine belt is .4!
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Old 05-30-2001, 12:51 AM   #9
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I know from my own experience many years ago that some jobs can be real book beaters, while other will eat you alive if there are any complications. I'll give two examples of the same job, one where it is tough to meet the book,the other where the book could consistently be beat.

On job 1, clutch replacement in an overdrive transmission MGB, you MUST pull the engine and transmission in order to replace the clutch, the job paid 8 hours, it was a tough 8 hours, you might beat it on a good day, but you wouldn't go under 7.

On job B, clutch replacement in a non-overdrive transmission MGB, the manual tells you that you pull the engine and transmission. However, it is possible to pull the transmission out the bottom (just barely) if you drop the exhaust system which you would have to disconnect anyway. Using this technique, the job can be done in under 5 hours (if things go well, under 4), but you get paid for 8, and the job is done just as well and with actually less potential for incidental damage to the car.

Did the non-OD tranny B owner get ripped off? No, I could have done the book way, but this helped to make up for all those times when you spend time that wasn't chargable during diagnosis. Things have changed considerably since I turned wrenchs for money and now there is more latitude in charging for diagnosis.

Other considerations are what was included with the estimate? Many dealerships have a small percentage fee that is charged against all work orders to cover the cost of expendable supplies such as shop rags, cleaning solvents, etc. Did the estimate include sales tax? All of these would have reduced the labor from your stated $139.
Again for arguements sake, let's say that expendable charges and sales tax were $31 (probably high, but it leaves us with a "nice" number) of those dollars, that leaves $108 in labor, or at $72/hr, 1 1/2 hours of labor. The real question then becomes, why the discrepancy between the 1/2 hour shown in Alldata vs. the 1 1/2 hour from Saturn?
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Old 05-30-2001, 12:00 PM   #10
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So if the "book" rate is supposed to lend consistency to pricing, it obviously doesn't work, since each shop or dealership uses different books with different rates for the same job. I guess when it all washes out, I'm going to go to the place with the best price assuming the quality of work is equal. That eliminates all Saturn dealerships. They can keep their cheapy little mints.
As for longevity, Dakota Transmission has been in business for over twenty years, a lot longer than Saturn will be.

Old 05-30-2001, 12:34 PM   #11
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Ive always had good luck at Brooklyn Park and Golden Valley. Everytime ive gone in for repair (twice in 140k miles) the total was right on or less than estimated. My wife and both parents own saturns. Same story - no problems.

Go buy any other car and after a year or two let us know what you think about saturn.

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Old 05-30-2001, 11:33 PM   #12
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Just to balence things out, I've used the Burnsville Saturn since they have been open...and always have been happy with the service.
Old 06-02-2001, 12:58 PM   #13
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In a shop by myself in 1hr I can have the motor and tranny out of car. That's motor all accesories except AC. How much would Saturn charge to remove a motor/tranny and put in on a pallet next to my car?
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