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Charging Correctly for Diagnostic Time

One topic that comes up in conversation with regard to auto repairs is the sometimes thorny issue of whether to charge the customer for diagnostic time, and how to communicate the need for this better.

My opinion on this is simple: if the customer asks you why you charge for diagnostic time, you need to remind them that the end goal of the whole process is to fix the car and save them money. They could easily patronize a garage that doesn’t charge for diagnosis but instead throws expensive parts at problems. The result is that the end bill is high and, often, the customer is frustrated that the problem hasn’t been resolved.

How should you effectively communicate this to your customer? My advice is to make sure that you have total transparency with them from the beginning. Explain that to get a better idea of the problem with the vehicle, you must first undertake diagnostic tests; gaining further information is a vital step in enabling you to repair the vehicle. Let the customer know that there will be a diagnostic charge, but you’re going to work with him or her throughout the whole process to try and resolve any issues.

The next stage may be to do a code read or to get a set of dynamics, and for you to do those tests you’ve had to invest in the right tools and equipment; there is, ultimately, a cost to this. Don’t forget, if they took their car to the dealer they would certainly be charged for a diagnosis, so why should you be any different?

At Autologic, one of the methods that we recommend is to break down every stage of the process on the invoice, so that you’re showing the customer what you’ve done and why you’ve charged for it. For example, there’s no problem with you including a line on the invoice stating: ‘Diagnosis – 30 minutes’ (or whatever time you spent on diagnostics) with a charge attributed to this.

Most sensible workshops will seek permission to undertake a one hour diagnosis (at the going hourly rate at your locality) and after that hour is up they’ll then get back in contact with the customer to explain what they’ve done, what they’ve found and to offer a further advisory. This might be, ‘we’re getting somewhere with this but we’re going to need more diagnostic time, are you happy to go ahead with this?’ or ‘we’ve found the problem, do you want to approve the repair work?’.

In the case of those workshops that subscribe to our Assist service, it may be that they’ve had to get in contact with our team of Master Techs to help them further with the problem. Again, you’ve paid for this expertise, so you need to tell the customer that you’ve had to ‘outsource’ an element of your service, but it’s enabling you to cut down the overall time of the repair and to get from fault to fix much faster.

If your diagnosis is conclusive and you’ve been given permission to undertake the repair work by the customer, we’d also advise that you don’t then discount or remove the cost of the diagnosis. You must place a value on that work. Telling them what you’ve done, and detailing this on the invoice, shows real value to the customer and alleviates the ‘Didn’t you just plug in that computer thingy’ conversation.

The automotive industry should learn lessons from medical professions. If you visit a doctor or a dentist privately you’ll have to pay for all of the investigative work before they’ll try and fix the issue for you, so why should that be any different for your car?

Although the methods we’ve suggested do involve some extra work for the garage and an element of reeducation for the customer, if you’re transparent and honest then it’ll stand you in good stead. Good technicians need to be paid well; it’s important that your customers are aware of that fact.

In summary:

  • Be transparent with your customer.
  • Explain that the end goal is to fix the problem and save them money and charging for diagnostics saves charging for unnecessary parts.
  • Charge for each process just like the dealer does.
  • Charge for ‘outsourcing’ expert advice; you pay for Assist Technical Support. List this as a ‘premium service’.
  • Your doctor or dentist charges for investigation work, so why don't you?
  • Good technicians need to be paid well.