Why Pay for Diagnostics?

Unless you’re visiting a mom and pop auto repair shop, you run the risk of getting ripped off. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be overcharged on parts or labor (though you likely are), it simply means that you’re being charged an incredibly high amount for simple diagnostic services that can be done from the comfort of your own garage or for free elsewhere.

To start, let’s look at why you SHOULD pay for diagnostics. The most obvious reason is simply ignorance. If you know next to nothing about cars, attempting to diagnose a potentially dangerous or expensive problem by yourself could end up costing you more money in the long run, so simply leaving it up to the professionals to properly diagnose why your check engine light is on might be the way to go. The prices vary depending on where you go, but to continue with the check engine example, a simple diagnostic test can cost you upwards of $100.

A lot of these places are banking on the fact that you A) Don’t have any experience with cars, and B) Are panicked enough by that little light to take the car in right away without exploring other options. One such option is Auto Zone, which will provide a free check engine diagnostic simply by plugging in a little device that determines why the light came on. For example, a couple of months ago I sought out the services of a local auto repair shop chain, and they quoted me $50-100 to diagnose my vehicle. After a few minutes of research, it was recommended that I head to Auto Zone. I was out in five minutes with a newly diagnosed faulty temperature sensor. Easy peasy.


Of course, diagnosing a check engine light is much easier than diagnosing a much more serious problem. Most people tend to not know something is wrong with their car until there’s a sudden change. Squeaking brakes, shaking, and other weird noises and movement can all be caused by different things, so getting a proper diagnosis is essential to maintaining a healthy car. But a check engine light is very different from the aforementioned noises and other frightening potential problems.

As was said above, sometimes taking the car in to find out the problem is the way to go, especially if the car is acting strangely. A little bit of common sense, however, can help avoid unnecessary diagnostic fees. For example, do your brakes squeak when you apply them? You probably need new brake pads, and you definitely don’t need to spend a ton of money to have someone else figure this out. Simply look in your manual or online for some guidance and check the brakes out yourself. Any noise coming from the brakes is likely a brake pad problem, so simply purchase a new set from an auto parts store (make sure you get the right kind) and install them yourself.

Other problems, such as the aforementioned “shaky vehicle” are a little tougher to diagnose on your own, so it is recommended you take your vehicle into a professional to receive a proper diagnose. This is ideal if you don’t have the time to diagnose it, but are comfortable enough and have the resources to perform the repairs on your own. Sure, you’ll likely have to pay for diagnostics, but this is a bit cheaper than paying for parts and labor, especially when you can easily fix the problem yourself. Most cars have maintenance manuals available for purchase for $20-40 depending on the vehicle. These are the same manuals used in professional auto body shops, so a little bit of patience and a do-it-yourself attitude can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

In the end, if you’re really unsure of the problem or simply don’t want to take the risk of ruining your car with your lack of automotive maintenance knowledge, you should take your car into a professional to have them diagnose the problem. Sure, it sucks paying a bunch of money to someone to simply tell you what the problem is, but it’s likely a heck of a lot cheaper than paying for a new car when your engine falls out or your transmission blows up.

Posted on December 11, 2012 at 9:00 AM