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Women’s Guide to Navigating Unfair Auto Repair Prices
For women, the topic of pay inequality has another side. You may have heard of the pink tax, which is the practice of charging more for products that are marketed towards women. It’s a relatively innocent name for the fundamentally discriminatory phenomena of gender being unnecessarily impressed on products like laxatives, calculators, or identical hotel travel kits.
According to a study from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, of the nearly 800 products over 90 brands that were compared, products marketed towards women and girls cost 7% more than the male counterparts. These practices aren’t limited to retail, however. Women often end up paying more for things like cars, car insurance and auto repairs. This guide aims to help women get a fair price for auto repairs and highlight what to look out for.
Women pay more for car insurance
Contrary to common belief, women are more likely to pay more for car insurance. 48% of Americans believe that men pay more than women, while only 23% believed that women pay more. The Consumer Federation of America found that women aged 40 to 60 tend to pay around $100 more a year for insurance coverage. Even though, according to the Fatality Facts 2018, from 1975 to 2018, the total number of male car crash deaths was more than double the number of female crash fatalities.
But this cost difference doesn’t stop at car insurance. Something as simple as getting an oil change can turn into a bigger bill than it needs to be.
Getting a fair price
The average yearly maintenance and repair costs for a new car is around $1,186, according to AAA. Though women may be paying more on average than men. A woman’s perceived lack of knowledge is one of the contributing factors to women paying more for car repairs. Whether that means overcharging them or selling them on things they don’t need, some mechanics do take advantage of those who seem to be out of their depth.
Gender price discrimination
In a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research investigated the relationship between gender and presented knowledge of auto repair pricing. The study found that women who called auto repair shops and confessed they weren’t sure what it should cost were quoted around $10 higher than men who disclosed the same. Additionally, auto shops tended to quote higher for people who overestimated what it should cost. The gender discrimination was not present when the callers presented themselves as informed consumers who knew the expected price. Suggesting that a good way to avoid price discrimination is to do your research and present yourself confidently.
What to expect
We can’t ignore the fact that there may be certain stereotypes that come to some mechanics’ minds when they see a woman walk into an auto shop. Regardless if it’s “she doesn’t know what she needs” or “she’s in a rush to get out of here,” there are some things to watch out for. To help you feel the best prepared, we spoke to some experts in the field. In an effort to get as truthful responses as possible, we chose to keep their names confidential.
Perceived available time
A factor mechanics consider when you come in their shop is how much time you have. If you are perceived to be in a rush, then the prices of things may change. Less expensive methods that may take longer may not be explored. Mechanics may use the “shotgun approach,” which our first expert, who has been an auto mechanic and ASE-Certified Master Technician for 32 years, describes as a “shop term we use when a vehicle has a symptom and there isn’t time (or in some cases, there isn’t competence) to make sure of the cause, so all of the most likely parts are replaced.”
“Another way that being in a hurry costs more is in parts. For any given part, there are typically dozens of different manufacturers, levels of quality and price points. Most shops will have one or two favored suppliers, who might have one or two options of each on the shelf. In a hurry, these one or two parts are the only options, and they may not be the most economical parts or the best value. If there is more time, and if the customer conveys that price and warranty are important, then it is usually possible for the shop to track down an optimal value part, which might take a day or two to be shipped in.” – Expert 1, Auto Mechanic and ASE-Certified Master Technician
A customer’s perceived knowledge of cars and what they need is crucial and influences the prices they get from mechanics. Expert 1, Auto Mechanic and ASE-Certified Master Technician, mentioned that how you present yourself at the shop also has something to do with it. He said, “It’s always seemed to me that men at the counter are a little more ‘at home’ and sure of themselves, and comfortable with questioning services and saying no. Women at the counter are typically more afraid of asking questions; less self-confidence and more afraid of appearing ‘not smart.’ Men might be no more informed, but are more prone to bluffing their way through and brushing off mistakes.”
Expert 2, Owner and Operator of an auto repair shop for over 20 years, told us a story about her female friend being taken advantage of by a mechanic. The mechanic lied about her friend’s car needing a full brake repair when the pads were “well within specs.” She suggests that women should look for shops that have a digital inspection. “A digital inspection is a form of communication with customers in which the mechanic, using an iPad, takes pictures of the customer vehicle and each part that is in need of repair. Once the physical inspection has been performed by the mechanic, the Service Advisor edits the pictures with arrows and circles. The Service advisor also adds notes and explanations to the visuals.”
Changing the stereotype
Don’t let anyone assume you are uninformed. Women can overcome pricing discrimination by being informed on both what you need and what it should cost. There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re going into the situation with the upper hand: know your car, shop around for prices and ask every question you have.
What you should be asking
While the stereotype for women may be that they are timid and too polite to question what’s going on with your car, that doesn’t have to be you. It’s also not to say that all mechanics are out to make a quick buck off women. Though it’s always best to be prepared for those who will take advantage of you. Here are some questions to ask your mechanic to make sure you’re getting the best work and the best price.
What are your parts and labor warranties?
AAA offers a 12 month or 12,000 miles warranty. You should always aim for a warranty around this length. Some shops only offer a 90-day warranty, which is very low. Shop around for a mechanic with reasonable parts and labor warranties to cover all of your bases.
Is that your best price?
Sometimes it is the best price they can offer, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. In fact, a shop is more likely to agree to discounts when a woman asks. Use this to your advantage and don’t be afraid to ask about pricing.
What auto associate do you belong to?
The Automotive Service Association and AAA both require that shops who are a part of their ecosystem adhere to their strict guidelines and ethics. The extra regulations may help you feel at ease about the service you are receiving.
Do you provide written estimates?
In the spirit of avoiding any pricing surprises, request a detailed written estimate to make sure you are aware of everything that’s going on with your car. This estimate should include what needs to be repaired, the estimated labor hours, and how much it should cost. Look at this closely to make sure they aren’t quoting you for anything you don’t need.
Can you show me?
It’s okay to want to see for yourself, especially when new charges are on the table. If anything unexpected comes up, you are well within your rights to ask to see evidence that the work actually needs to be done. It’s crucial that you always ask any questions you have to make sure you have all the information. Expert 2, Owner and Operator of an auto repair shop for over 20 years, said that some mechanics may hesitate to let you back to the “employees only” section because of insurance. She said, “this is entirely inaccurate. Every inch of that building is insured against everything but asteroids.”
Make sure the questions you ask are not vague, they should always be direct and well-informed. Vague or open-ended questions could give a dishonest mechanic the chance to charge you more or add on things you don’t need.
|Questions NOT to ask:|
|I don’t know what that is, how much will it cost?|
|Does my car need a tune-up?|
|Is the problem really that bad?|
|Do I need new tires?|
|Should I pay upfront?|
Maintenance you can do at home
Thankfully, not everything required for your car needs to be done at the shop. There are quite a few things you can do on your own and will only cost you the price of the supplies. Taking some of your car’s maintenance in your own hands not only familiarizes you with your car and its parts, but also may give you a boost of confidence. Before you do anything, you should always consult your owner’s manual for any special instructions.
|Changing the air filter||Changing your air filter is one of the easiest fixes. The air filter is located under the hood of your car. Open the air filter housing and remove the old filter, make sure nothing falls into the filter box. Then replace it with a new filter.|
|Checking your oil||To start, park on level ground and always wait until your engine has cooled completely down. Find your dipstick, make sure it is clean and insert it fully and then remove it. Every dipstick will indicate where the recommended oil level is. You can also use this opportunity to check the oil color: anything darker than a deep amber indicates you’ll need to change your oil soon.|
|Changing a flat tire||First, find your spare tire and jack in your trunk. Remove the hubcap and use your lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts before you put the car on the jack. You will position your jack on a strong part of your car’s frame, your owner’s manual will detail exactly where. Then you will remove the lug nuts, take off the tire and replace it with a new one. Then you will add the lug nuts, tighten until each is secure. Finally, lower your car from the jack.|
|Fill wiper fluid||Refilling your windshield wiper fluid is extremely simple. Open your hood and locate your wiper fluid container, most are engraved with a windshield. Then, using a funnel, pour the fluid until the fill line.|
|Check tire pressure/fill tires||You can find the recommended tire pressure (PSI) listed on your tire-use an air pump at the gas station (or a bike pump if you don’t mind a little manual labor) and fill accordingly. If your tire(s) continues to lose air, you may have a bigger problem. If the leak is small, you may only require a patch. More severe cases may require a new tire.|
|Replace headlights||To replace your headlights, open your hood and locate the bulb holder. Next, remove the wire harnessing from the holder by pressing the plastic level on the top of the plug and pulling. Then you will remove the old bulb and replace it with a new one, make sure no rubber gasket shows. Finally, plug the wiring back and test!|
|Replace windshield wipers||There is a small tab on the underside of your wipers, press it and it releases the wiper from the wiper arm. Then you line the new wiper with the wiper arm and click it into place. The hook of the arm should always face the plastic clip on the wiper.|
Do your research
Your car’s owner manual is always a great place to start with any issue. It will detail things like your recommended maintenance schedule, how many miles between oil changes and tire rotations. Arming yourself with knowledge is one of the best things you can do to make sure you are never taken advantage of.
“The best approach on services is simple: read the owner’s manual, and keep track of services done. Most owner’s manuals have a chart that can be filled in to keep track of services, making it relatively easy. Being familiar with the services then, it becomes much easier to say no when things are recommended that the manufacturer doesn’t require.” – Expert 1, Auto Mechanic and ASE-Certified Master Technician
No one starts with a wealth of inherent car insights, so you should never feel bad about taking to the internet for the smallest things. Empower yourself further by comparing prices and shopping around for the best deal.
Know the average repair costs
While both every mechanic and car are different, we’ve listed the average cost and labor time you should expect for regular maintenance.
|Work Done||Average Cost||Approximate time of labor|
|Oil Change (Conventional)||$38||15 – 45 minutes|
|Oil Change (Synthetic)||$70||15 – 45 minutes|
|Tire Rotation/Balancing||$36||1 hr|
|Spark Plugs||$336||1 hr|
|Headlight bulb Replacement||$70||15 minutes|
|Tire Patch||$10 – $20||30 minutes|
|New Brake Pads||$235/per axle||1 hr|
|Timing Belt Replacement||$777||4 – 6 hr|
|Drive Belt Replacement||$172||30 minutes|
|Fuel Pump Replacement||$380||4 – 5 hr|
|New Bumper||$956||One day|
|Check Engine Diagnostic Test||$88 – $111||Under 5 minutes|
Recruit your male friends
Studies show that women are sometimes charged more than men for auto prices. If you don’t feel like you know enough to identify if you’re being taken advantage of, consider asking a male friend or family member to call for a quote or accompany you to the shop. They also may be able to step in and help you get the right price.
What to look out for
When a mechanic pads your bill with things your car does not need, it’s called a wallet flush. You can avoid this by asking for a written estimate upfront and compare it to the recommended maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual.
Used or counterfeit parts
Dishonest shops may install used or counterfeit parts in your car and charge you the cost of new ones. Not only is this scam, but these counterfeit parts run the possibility of giving out, putting you at risk. Avoid this by doing thorough research of the shop you plan to go to.
Even when the parts are new, you still may not be getting the best price. Expert 1 said, “One of the awkward parts of the business is that shops will buy parts from local parts stores, and then mark them up when selling them to a customer. Which means that the exact same serpentine belt, for instance, which you can buy for $20 at a parts store, will cost you $40 (plus labor) if you have a shop buy it and install it for you.” Some shops will install parts you bring in, though some will not. If the shop will, it will save you some money to buy the part directly.
Some mechanics may try to generalize common problems and tell you what you need before they even look at the car. They may recommend fixing or replacing things that your car doesn’t need, these are referred to as needless repairs. To combat this, seek recommendations from friends and relatives and when you’re at the shop, ask to see the repairs that need to be performed.
Identify price discrimination
It’s not enough to know that price discrimination happens, knowing how to identify it what will really save you. In retail and consumer goods, examine male equivalents and see if there is actually a difference in the price. If so, consider buying that one to avoid the pink tax. When it comes to auto repairs, being informed is what will save you the most money in the long run.
Female owned auto repair shops
The bottom line
You shouldn’t feel like every mechanic is trying to overcharge you, because generally they aren’t. Though you simply won’t know unless you know what to look for. Use this resource from the Federal Trade Commission to learn how to associate smells, sounds or the feeling of your car with required repairs. Flaunt your knowledge and make sure anyone who works on your car knows you’re an informed customer.