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Old 03-23-2002, 10:28 AM
scott schuett
Posts: n/a
Question Inflated labor charges???

I am trying to have some work done on my 1983 380 SEL and I am questioning the estimated hours of labor that the local repair shop (MB specialists) are giving me:

*** 1 hour to put a fuel pump check valve on. (this seems like a 20 min. job)

***5 to 5.5 hrs to have the rear brake lines replaced. (this seems like 3 to 3.5 hours should cover it)

I am also looking to replace all of the high pressure fuel lines, and the one fitted line (pump to line). the car already had the tank to pump line replaced. How many labor hours involved??

Maybe I am underestimating the time involved in these repairs? Any opinions?


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Old 03-23-2002, 12:21 PM
Mike Murrell's Avatar
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Posts: 2,141
There are published labor guides that shops generally follow.

There's more to fixing a car than just paying a mechanic. Among other things:

- The owner needs to get paid.
- The service writers/admin./parts folks need to get paid.
- There's the lease on the building
- Insurance of all varieties, especially the litigation type
- Tools of the common and not so common variety
- Education
- And the list goes on

Bottom line - if the book time is 2 hrs. and the tech. does it in 20 mins., you pay 2 hrs.

Mike Murrell
1991 300-SEL - Model 126
M103 - SOHC

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Old 03-23-2002, 12:26 PM
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Granted that you can't competently work on your car, labor is kinda like college book stores and insurance. You get bent over the table and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.
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Old 03-23-2002, 12:58 PM
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I see where Mike is coming from in regards to the labor RATE, we are talking about the TIME though, which Mike mentioned.
Yes, there are Labor Time Guides, they are really set up more for warranty work, but we do at least refer to them. We need labor time guides for older cars too, because MB does warranty parts for 1 year unlimited mileage in most case, sometimes more, such as a new/reman engine, where I think it's like 3 years plus a mileage restriction. If the engine, or some other 1 year warranty part fails, we need the time guide, because that's all MB is paying us. Now, not everything is covered. it's pretty complete, but even on a new car, not everything is covered, we usual charge "open" time for that, BUT we need to prove it by using a time punch system to prove that if we charge MB 1.5 hours to do a job, that this is how much time we spent on it. YES we hope to get jobs that are in the time guide as paying MORE time than we have into the job, as we can get paid for MORE hours than we were actually working. As long as the job was perfomed correctly, we can sleep well at night and not feel anyone was cheated.
With an older car like this, to do something like replacing a brake line (assuming the main steel line, not a rubber hose (those are fairly easy usually) I'm pretty sure it's one of those parts that may not be in the time guide. You also have to take into account the time guides were published with a relatively new car, not really corroded or worn out. If I get into a situation like this (an older car with lots of rusty parts, not saying yours is) then the timeguide, even if the job is in there, can pretty much be thrown out the window. MB didn't take into account breaking bolts, stripped out hydraulic fittings and the like when publishing these things.
On the brake pads, we have set times we charge for items like this, to allow the service advisor to quote prices easier, it's a time we in the shop aggree to charge. If again you get into an unusual problem due to wear or rust, it may have to be upped, but we would let the advisor know before getting in too deep. On rear brake pads (pads only) we charge .8 for a set of front or rear pads. Rear rotors add alot to the price, especially if the rear parking brake linings are shot, then you may also be looking at parking brake cables, etc. I am interested in knowing just what was replaced and I can comment further on what you specifically were charged. I would hesitate to criticize the amount of time you were charged without having the whole story.
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Old 03-23-2002, 07:22 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Baton Rouge
Posts: 485
Being that I am a technician/service writer/manager, I have dealt with this issue many times and everyone that has asked methis question has got this answer. ( One day Leonardo Divinccie (whatever) was in a restraunt eating dinner , a lady approached and asked if he would do a sketch of her daughter. He replied he would , after he was done she asked how much she owed him , when he gave her the bill she was shocked . Her reply was ( it only took you 10 minutes ) he replied ( no it took my whole life)
Now , there are some places that due overcharge , but by the time you add up the education , 30-50 grand in tools and all the overhead it is very expensive to run and operate a shop safely and efficiently. You get what you pay for is what it comes down to. Go bye JOE BLOWS TEXACO with your 80,000 dollar Mercedes and have him diagnose your parktronic problem and you will find out what I am talking about. Most (a) technicians make 20-$30.00 an hour , but they are hard to come across if you are an owner. For every tech that comes into this field 3 leave , I co-operate and support schools in our area that offer automotive tech programs for the fact that we need employees for tomorrow. Thats my 2 cents,
euro 287
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Old 03-23-2002, 10:36 PM
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Full Disclosure increases 'Percieved Value'

You have touched on one of the hardest subjects that a forum like this can discuss.

Because the members consist of owners, technicians, and owner/tech-whatevers, everyone will have a different opinion.

The shop owners and technicians who have previously responded have perfectly valid reasons for their opinions.

My computer repair shop charges $60.00 per hour for a technician to go to the owner's site to perform whatever is needed on a time and materials basis. Naturally, when working at the client's location, the customer is always brought up to date before the technician leaves, even if temporarily to get additional parts. If the work is not complete by the customer's closing time, at the customer's option, the technician will stay to complete the job. The tech is paid $15.00 to $20.00 per hour, but as in the responses above, overhead tacks on quite a bit more.

My shop is very reasonable when compared to COMPUSA or one of the other biggies, who charge $85.00+ at their shop. And you get to talk to a technician at the front counter only if you insist. Talk about polite indifference--it is built-in there.

If you bring your equipment to our shop, you can speak with the technician/s or the owner if you wish. Our shop rates are $45.00 per hour. We also consult with our customers in person at our shop, or by phone at no charge.

It is easy to relate the Mercedes dealer versus independent shops to the scenario above. You will definitely get more bang for your buck when dealing with an independent, if (and only if) the independent is a businessman who realizes the value of his reputation and customer base.

I have used the local Mercedes dealer and three independents so far, and have been disappointed with each. I wish I could visit some of the professionals who frequent this forum.

gillybenztech mentions MB's policy for 'warranty work' versus 'non-warranty' work:
"If the engine, or some other 1 year warranty part fails, we need the time guide, because that's all MB is paying us. Now, not everything is covered. it's pretty complete, but even on a new car, not everything is covered, we usual charge "open" time for that, BUT we need to prove it by using a time punch system to prove that if we charge MB 1.5 hours to do a job, that this is how much time we spent on it. YES we hope to get jobs that are in the time guide as paying MORE time than we have into the job, as we can get paid for MORE hours than we were actually working. As long as the job was perfomed correctly, we can sleep well at night and not feel anyone was cheated."

That being said, he ends with comments concerning additional time dealing with rusted parts and other conditions that to me, should ALWAYS be assumed when working with older cars.

I would like to ask if it is ever an independent shop's standard procedure to estimate a specific job based on a 'time guide', then use a 'time punch' system for the entire automobile's time in the shop, breaking down the time spent on each particular repair by 'guesstimate' for each task, so the owner would not feel like he was being taken advantage of?

If the shop used less time than the time guide dictated, an owner should not complain so long as he understood that those standards were being used and he was fortunate to have an expert technician doing the work. It would not hurt for the technician to consult with the owner after completion, thereby adding to the 'percieved value' factor in the job.

That way, as gillybenztech states, "As long as the job was performed correctly, we can sleep well at night and not feel anyone was cheated." would include the owner as well.

I am more than grateful for this forum because of the wealth of knowledge and assistance available here.

I consider it a welcome place out of the storm, where a guy with low compression or leaky injectors can find advice and sympathy from his compadres.

So, that out of the way, what do you guys think of changing out air conditioner compressor oil every other season?

Sorry, jest kiddin'.
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Old 03-24-2002, 01:22 AM
Posts: n/a

I posted earlier on this thread, but your insightful reply, especially about your OVP problem, prompted me to reply again.

Our computer repair shop has the same policy.

In addition to not charging the customer for our on-the-job education, we also do not charge for the time it takes to locate the myriad of computer and laser parts, especially nowadays where we have the internet and are fortunate to be located where we can use a cable modem.

Our markup rate is 30%, no exceptions, except when bidding for contracts, where it is dog-eat-dog, and let the lowest bidder win, then figure out how to stay in business!

Many folks would be surprised to discover 100-250% markups between wholesale and retail, which in a pure retail environment is often eaten up by exorbitant rent (location, location, location).

Computers and parts defy the norm, where prices continue to drop. For instance, in 1996 I built my first Pentium PC, 100mhz.
I was beginning to dabble in graphics, which requires large amounts of memory. I purchased 64mb for an exorbitant $2000. Nowadays, the same memory costs $49. But I digress.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see the response, or lack thereof, that the revelation of your experience triggers with the shop owners here.
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Old 03-24-2002, 08:07 AM
scott schuett
Posts: n/a
Thanks for responding

Thank you all for responding to my question. I did not intend to step on anyones toes concerning shop hours, I found out this is a very sensitive subject. I do realize that a specialized MB tech. is worth a lot of money @ hour and the work itself is physically difficult to perform. I understand overhead costs, and how many years professionals spend learning their trade (myself included).

It seems that when a shop charges $70 to $80 per hour that would be more than enough to make the owner a large profit, and cover his overhead costs (the tech. being part of that overhead). Without having to use "Enron" time charges. (oops, there I go stepping on toes again).

I just have a hard time with this concept of "I will charge you 5 hours for perfoming this job; now if it takes 2.5 hours I will still charge you 5 hours; if it takes more time, well...I will have to charge you for the extra time involved". What a great business!
Why even publish rates PER HOUR? Why not just admit it is purely subjective as to how many "billable" hours we want to attach to your repair?
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Old 03-24-2002, 11:53 AM
pmizell's Avatar
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Great discussion here --

Seems like the trend here is going against the hard and fast, set-in-stone book rates for jobs that obviously don't take as long as published.

As an example I'll use a head gasket job on a 103 engine. I'd say the typical or average labor charge for this task is $750, so that's about 10 hrs book (or more) to remove and replace head.

I myself have now done this job twice. The first time it took me 2 full days to remove and replace. Second time, 6 hours total -- and this is with rudimentary tools and no lift. (note-- this is with me diagnosing the problem and asking a shop what their labor charge is for R&R'ing the head)

-- drain radiator, block; remove shroud, fan clutch, serp belt (15 minutes)
-- remove valve cover and air filter housing (10 minutes)
-- remove distributor, cap, wires, driver, protective cover (15 minutes)
-- remove front cover (4 bolts) and knock off with rubber hammer (5 minutes)
-- set crank to TDC (2-3 minutes)
-- remove chain tensioner plug (tricky if you don't have the correct tools (30 minutes), about 10 minutes with right tools
-- mark cam timing on sprocket (1 min)
-- pull slide rail bolt (5 minutes)
-- remove intake manifold bolts, cold start valve (7 I think), tough to do with a regular 13mm box wrench (45 minutes) 15 minutes with a small ratchet or better tool (small area to work in)
-- remove exhaust manifold (1 hour) just because you need to get underneath car, with lift 20 mins tops
-- bust off head bolts (10 minutes)
-- remove tranny dipstick bolt and 2 others on other side (10 mins)

pull head off

This is just an illustration and my personal experience. I have only done it twice, and I already feel like a pro. I'm sure a tech that has done this job dozens of time could have the head off in an hour and a half or less. YES this is a major job and it ooohs and aaahs the average customer when told what needs to be done -- but this is NOT a 10 hour job and shouldn't be charged as such.

Techs and customers both have valid arguments regarding these book times -- but it is jobs like the one I just described that has no basis whatever, for a preset 10hr or more book rate. It is pure profit and shops lather at the mouth I'm sure when they see these come in.

just my .02


'91 300E, 208k miles
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Old 03-24-2002, 12:19 PM
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Let me throw in the M103 water pump replacement.

I think the flat rate is about 8 hours. I think many techs on this forum said they can do it in 2 hours with a $30 tool (13 mm flex with a long extension).

So why the 8 hour flat rate? Are techs supposed to have the $30 tool?

Labor rate is one thing (I think $100/hr is fair) but over-stated flat rate is another. It is not fair to have over-stated falt rate to compensate for the published labor rate, IMHO.
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Old 03-24-2002, 02:08 PM
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It took me a whole day to replace the waterpump (evening throught the next day) from my M103. The next time I had to do it, it took me less than an hour. It wasn't easy, but I did it.
Michael LaFleur

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Old 03-24-2002, 02:54 PM
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Here is a great example of the flat hour rate at work, especially on an older car.

When I had my steering box rebuilt, I went to the local Tech to inquire about the cost of a bench job, wherein I pull the box and let him rebuild it. The cost was 3.5 hours plus the kit. The Tech then told me to bring the car in, he'd pull the box and rebuild for $300 flat ( a very thin profit margin by "book").

Well, the Tech ended up spending an extra four hours on getting one allen cap screw out that had been stripped out by the PO's mechanic. This cap screw had to come out to remove the steering box.

Didn't cost me one dime over $300. You can bet though that when I came back by the shop I had a case of the Tech's favorite beverage, by golly he'd earned it. Because of service like this, he does get the jobs I can't or just don't have the time to do, which aren't too many. He also gets a lot a referals from me - darn near as many as I give out for MercedesShop .
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Old 03-24-2002, 02:58 PM
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Water pump on most 103 engines only pay 5.3 hrs, unless it is a 190e2.6 then it goes up to 7.3 hrs. This job usually takes me not long. Now here it comes again experience counts , I have done hundreds but regardless it pays what it pays. Now on 103 if we do the head we do the lower timing cover also( reseal) this whole job pays 16.4 hours. How many times have I had to pull the radiator to drill out the bolt for the fan clutch ( no extra charge). It will be rounded from the guy before me . Yes we charge by book but alot of the times I dont charge extra for rounded bolts etc. If you do this job 5 days a week you know exactly what I am talking about . I wont say how long it takes me to do the water pump or the head but I will say you have to make up for what you loose , I dont get many gripes from my customers about labor times cause most of theme know their time is money also. Besides if it is fixed right they dont mind paying, now if it is not right ,well you chance on losing that customer. We do help out customers who are loyal and have been with us as long as 15 years. Without them we dont have a paycheck so we make sure they are always happy and always right.
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Old 03-24-2002, 03:07 PM
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Yes the water pump is very easy to replace while you are doing the head gasket.
euro 287
Mercedes Technician 7 Years (retired to Hyundai)
2000 Dodge Durango
98 Mazda truck
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Old 03-24-2002, 05:09 PM
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Also, I know that someone at the shop has to find the part, order the part, etc, etc. Then there are administrative overhead.

Do not forget the mechanic (shop) gets a healthy cut in the parts ordered if they order the parts. I heard typically between 15% - 30%.

Maybe someone can offer a flat rate lookup service. Like Carfax, you know. $5 - $10 per lookup so we won't let some of the rotten dealership cheat the customers.

Euro 287: Thank you for all your insights on this topic. So if someone has a 190E 2.6, they would have to cough up (7.3 hr) x ($100/hr) + $150 (for the water pump and seals) = $880 at a typical dealership for a water pump R&R! That is what makes MB expensive to own, the high flat rate. I still cannot image any car wold require 7.3 hrs to have the water pump replaced. If it does take that long, then it is badly design to begin with, like a MB.

Last edited by loubapache; 03-24-2002 at 05:27 PM.
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