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Understanding Car Maintenance Labour Costs

When you're budgeting for another car purchase, it is a good idea to plan for the costs of car maintenance.

In a recent article by Bob Redringer of, "when pricing out the labour charges on vehicle repairs, the two most common methods used are straight time and flat-rate time." And he explained the difference between straight time and flat-rate time when doing maintenance/repair work on vehicles.

Straight Time: "Straight time labour charges are based on the actual time the technician has spent working on your vehicle."

Flat-Rate Time: "Flat-rate time labour charges are based on an average time it should take a technician to complete a particular job, regardless of how much time it actually takes to complete the job. The time charged to the customer is based on similar jobs performed by other technicians, and these times are documented by an independent third party."

Preventative maintenance can help ensure that you retain value on your car, which will be helpful if you ever want to trade it in or need to sell it. For car owners who are trying to appropriately budget for car maintenance costs, this information can be quite important.

Your Car Maintenance Labour Costs

car maintenance labour costs
So, what types of maintenance are flat-rate, and what kinds are considered straight time? Redringer says that "for common, repetitive repairs (such as an oil change), flat rate is used and is better." And that makes sense, because if the service was "based on straight time, the charges could be less or they could be higher because each technician would take a different amount of time to complete this job. A technician’s work experience, tool investment and work habits all impact how quickly or slowly a job gets done."

According to Redringer, straight time is usually reserved "for complicated diagnostic work and repairs…as no specified labour repair time can be reasonably assigned to diagnosing these problems. Each job/solution is unique and different, and a fair flat-rate time is almost impossible to set." He continues to say that these diagnostic checks and repairs include "engine noises, electrical system or driveability issues, which are not easily diagnosed. They can require an hour or more of diagnostic work time and even longer to repair."

So, when you are taking your car in for any routine maintenance or repair work, be sure to find out from your mechanic what they charge for repairs. "All repair shops are required by law to provide accurate estimates to within 10 per cent of the final price," Redringer explains, "and customers must authorize any work (or additional repairs/costs) before that work is performed."

Budgeting the Costs

Knowing the difference between routine car maintenance and other types of repair work is important in order to properly budget for these expenses.

Oil Changes
As Redringer mentioned earlier, this service typically involves a flat-rate labour charge. The frequency with which you should have this service done depends on your driving habits as well as what your owners manual recommends to ensure optimal performance. Often, servicers will check your filters and other fluids at this time, and there may be additional costs if they need to be replaced or replenished.

Tire rotation and brake inspections
It is widely recommended that you have your brakes inspected and your tires rotated around every 10,000km. This is a routine service, and the cost is typically calculated as a flat-rate.

For less frequent car maintenance, such as transmission, power steering or cooling system flushes and tune-ups, you may want to ask your mechanic if they charge a flat-rate or straight rate for these services. Redringer notes that "new car dealerships promote common-offer dedicated service programs at flat-rate pricing that cover a wide range of maintenance and light repair items…which are very competitive in price," so check with your local dealership to see if they can offer you a better price.

When you're purchasing a car, it is good to know ahead of time how much it will cost to maintain it so you can avoid any auto-related snags in your finances. The site can be a helpful tool when determining the maintenance costs of different car makes and models.

Vehicle Warranties and Service Contracts

New cars are covered by a manufacturer warranty. And, based on the manufacturer, the terms and lengths of the warranties vary. But when it comes to a used vehicle, unless it is a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle, it will only carry the remainder of the manufacturer-supplied warranty. What does that mean? Let's use a 3-year/36,000-km warranty as an example: if the used vehicle in question is only two years old but has 40,000 kilometers on it, it will no longer have the manufacturer warranty.

However, most dealers and third parties offer extended service contracts for used vehicles, and this may be a good idea for buyers who are looking to limit their maintenance budget to routine vehicle care.

Maintaining Auto Financing

If you need to replace your car because the price of repairs is costing you more than what it's worth, but you're dealing with credit issues, you should know that Canada Auto Loan connects car buyers with car dealers who have lenders that will do everything possible to get them approved for auto financing.

Once you complete the fast, easy and secure online application, we will match you with a dealer in your local area that has the best chance of getting you back on the road, while helping you rebuild your credit in the process. Start today.