Why your dealer can't or won't "Just take a look"
Many times people will enter a Volkswagen dealership with a problem on their vehicle. Depending on the type of issue you will likely be met with a request to approve a diagnostic charge to look that the car. What does this diagnostic charge mean, and why can’t they just take a quick look? Inside you will find more info regarding this.
To understand why a Dealer must charge a diagnostic charge we will need to explain a few topics. These will range from understanding how a car is diagnosed to understanding how technicians are paid, to finding out why they are paid that way.
Diagnosing a vehicle.
Let’s say you drive into your local VW dealer with your 2009 GTI. Your car is out of warranty and you have a noise in the front of your vehicle. The service advisor is going to take all the info you can offer on the problem. After this is done he will bring the Repair Order(This has your vehicle info and what the problem is) to the technician to take a look. The technician will take a look at the info, then take the vehicle for a test drive.
At this point since you brought your vehicle to the dealer the technician might have a few ideas in his head as to what the cause of the problem may be. So he takes the car fora test drive to verify the noise. He may do some testing while driving. This may include going over bumps, slow turning, or even sharp turning to shift the weight of the vehicle around.
Then he most likely bring the car back to the shop put it upon the lift and attempt to verify what he suspected on his test drive (if possible). He will then look over the vehicle to verify there are no other issues on the vehicle (this is pretty standard and should happen everywhere).
OK now we the technician has tracked down the problem. He has at least 20-30 minutes invested in your vehicle.
How Technicians are Paid
Sometimes the way technician are paid can make people upset,as they feel like it creates a way they will be taken advantage of. Please be sure to read the rest of the article so you can see all the angles.
Technicians in the US all pretty much all have the same Pay Plan. This is called Flat Rate. Flat Rate most simply put is per job pay. So if the technician is doing an oil change he will be paid .3 (this mean 3 tenths of 1 hour, or 18 minutes). If the technician takes 45 minutes to perform an oil change he will only be paid for 18 minutes. Keep in mind that every technician has their own hourly rate they are paid. This will vary based on experience, skills, speed, diagnostic ability as well as others.
Now let’s go back to the example above. When you bring your vehicle in for a diagnostic test, you are paying for a technician’s time to properly diagnose your vehicle. When you ask for your vehicle to be diagnosed for free you are asking that technician to work for free. It would be like going to Lowes walking up to someone and asking them “Do you mind getting off the clock then helping me for a little while?” We know that most people’s response is that the dealership should pay them to diagnose a vehicle for free, and we will go into this below. Let’s also look at the alternative when you get someone to look at your vehicle for free, for them there is not much incentive to spend a lot of time tracking down the problem. If you don’t pay for diagnostic there is also no accountability as to if the part they told you they think is the problem actually is the issue.
If in the example above the VW Dealership tells you that your vehicle needs a driver’s front wheel bearing to fix your problem. As long as you have paid for them to diagnose the problem, they are accountable if that is not the issue. When you don’t pay for a diagnostic and they give you some quick advice, if your problem isn’t fixed they have no real responsibility as they did not properly diagnose the vehicle.
Why Technicians are paid Flat Rate
At first glance the Flat Rate Pay Plan might seem like it’s full of incentives to rush, cut corners and even be deceitful. The Flat Rate Pay was setup for consumer protection. This offers everyone a guide as to what a particular job should pay. This ensures that shops are charging reasonable labor times for a job. This is something that is smart to ask when shopping for a repair. What your labor time for the job and at what labor rate. IE 5 hour Job at $100 is $500. Be wary of some of the less skilled more generic tire shops. They have low labor rates but many times overcharge on labor times. In the example above a tire ship might charge $80 per hour but they might charge you 6.25 hours labor or more. This is a common game played by those shops and you would be better off paying the higher labor rate at a dealer or specialized shop, as the technicians there are generally much more qualified.
Let’s look at what the alternative might look like if there was no such thing as flat rate. You bring your vehicle to a shop for a repair; the technician working on the vehicle has never worked on your type of vehicle before. Let’s say that shop has another technician who knows your vehicle very well, but he is busy and can’t be the one working on your vehicle. In this case without flat rate the less skilled technician is going to take longer to repair your vehicle, which would mean you as the customer would end up paying more.
There is no doubt that the Flat Rate style pay can create some potential problems, but the alternative would be much worse. With no guideline for labor times every customer would be at the mercy of whoever they bring their car to with no accountability as to what they charge. This is generally the most widely accepted pay type for automotive technicians and seems to balance what makes the most sense for all parties involved.
As for your free diagnostic, keep in mind when you don’t pay for diagnostic on your car. What is the free advice worth, when they haven’t taken the time to be accurate?