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From Jim Walczak,
Your Guide to 4-Wheel Drive / Offroading.

The cost of 4-wheel drives/SUVs and their related repairs are expensive. Although the tips provided in this article will not eliminate such expenses, they will help lower vehicle repair costs.
We have all seen commercials on TV touting the "great vehicle service" provided by dealer service departments. They know your 4-wheel drive/SUV better than anyone else, they use original replacement parts, etc. etc ... But at what cost is such great service available? Well, usually at about $75-$95 per hour.
In many instances, 4-wheel drive/SUV repairs can be completed for substantially lower hourly rates. Many independent garages employ ASE certified and licensed mechanics. These garages generally charge about $40-$50 per hour.
To identify a good independent garage, be on the lookout for the names of garages that are recommended over and over by other 4-wheel drive/SUV enthusiasts. zSB(3,3)
Next, visit a few of the garages, talk with the owner, and ask about the hourly rate charged for vehicle repairs. Inquire if the rate charged for the repairs is a "straight hourly rate" or a "book rate."
A straight hourly rate involves the amount of time that it actually takes a mechanic to do a vehicle repair. On the other hand, a book rate involves the customer being charged an amount of time the book specifies a repair should take.
For example, installing new front and rear brake pads on a 4-wheel drive/SUV could take one hour. Using a straight rate of $50 per hour, the repair would cost $50 for labor, plus the cost of the brake pads. The book rate might specify that it "should" take the mechanic 1.5 hours to do the work. Thus, the customer would be charged $75 for the labor, plus the cost of the brake pads.
When using the book rate method, even if the brake job takes the mechanic only 55 minutes to complete, the customer is still charged for 1.5 hours of time. The book rate method of doing vehicle repairs generally benefits the garage and not the customer.
If the garage owner seems to squirm when you ask about the billing method used for vehicle repairs, it is best to move on to other garages. Mechanic ASE certification, licensure, and the garage owner's response to billing practices will go a long way in your identifying the garage that has earned your business.
In most instances, garages "mark-up" the price of parts used for vehicle repairs. Garages purchase parts at a wholesale prices and then mark-up the parts used for repairs. Although it is becoming rarer and rarer today, some garages will allow a customer to purchase the parts that will be used to repair their vehicle. Such garages will quote the customer on just the cost of labor to install the parts.
It can be to a customer's advantage to get a quote on both the parts and labor prior to having their vehicles repaired. If the customer is so inclined, he or she can check on the cost of parts at retail parts stores such as Auto Zone, or Advanced Auto. In many instances, even better prices on parts can be obtained by getting on the Internet and searching under 4-wheel drive/SUV parts.
When it comes to 4-wheel drive/SUV repairs, taking the time to ask some questions can really help to lower vehicle repair costs. Identifying a garage that specializes in repairing 4-wheel drives/SUVs and a mechanic who is at the top of his profession makes all the difference in the world! Kyle Busch is the author of Drive the Best for the Price: How to Buy a Used Automobile, Sport-Utility Vehicle, or Minivan and Save Money.
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