Auto Repair Invoice: Understanding the Fine Print

January 27, 2012

An auto repair invoice is an itemized listing of all of the labor, parts and miscellaneous charges associated with any auto repair job whether routine, or in-depth overhaul. Understanding exactly what an auto repair invoice contains can help you figure out if you are being charged a fair rate, or if a shop is cheating you, and it can also help you shop around for the best prices and deals. Understanding an invoice in practice however, can be quite confusing due to the various methods and ways of calculating charges and labor that most shops use.

Customer and Vehicle Information

The top of your invoice should always have information about you and your vehicle listed, including vehicle's year, make, model, engine, transmission, mileage and the customer's stated concerns or problems.


All parts required for repairs should be listed here and should include a description of the part, quantity used, and price. Some repair shops may even list two prices here--the MSRP and their price--to highlight any savings you might have received and to encourage repeat business.


It is common for many service centers to neglect to list a detailed labor charge here, but knowing just how much labor you've been billed for is critical to knowing if you're being charged a fair price. Most labor is charged in tenths, such as 1 and 1.5 for one hour and one and one half respectively. Hourly rates can vary widely from shop to shop, with rates of $60-$100 an hour from local shops, and up to $80-$140 from a dealership. It is important to request an estimate on labor before letting a shop work on your car, and that the estimate is within 10% of your final bill.

Miscellaneous Charges

Charges for consumable items, shop supplies and disposal fees should be listed here. Cleaners, shop rags, used oil disposal, fluids and hazardous waste disposal are all legitimate charges depending on the work involved, but a complete description of fees here is very important.

Flat Rate Fees

Many routine jobs are billed not by parts and labor costs, but by a flat rate for the job. This is common on routine maintenance jobs such as oil changes, brake replacement and coolant flushes, but a good repair shop will always tell you exactly what has been used to help avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Summary of Charges

At the bottom of your invoice will be a summary of all of the charges you are being billed for. It may seem like common sense, but always make sure the individual fees add up to the same value listed here. It is quite common to simply assume they both match, but a few moments double checking these can sometimes save you a substantial amount.

A repair invoice should be as clear, detailed and easy to understand as possible. If you are having trouble reading or understanding a charge, the shop should be able and willing to explain things to your satisfaction. If not, you may want to look elsewhere for repair work.

Related Questions and Answers

What Projects Have the Highest Costs in Auto Repair Labor?

Auto repair labor is always expensive. There are a number of auto repair projects that can be quite expensive. Rebuilding a totaled car can cost a fortune. Extensive body work can also run into the thousands of dollars. When it comes to the mechanics of a car, transmission work is often at the top of the list when it comes to expenses. Rebuilding a transmission can cost over $3,000 depending on the extent of the damage. A seized engine is also a very expensive repair. If you are in need of extensive and expensive auto repair, be sure to call around and get numerous quotes.

What Auto Maintenance Costs are Higher Due to Parts?

Auto maintenance costs can increase due to the cost of parts. Maintaining your automobile is important. Keeping your vehicle properly maintained can increase its life and ensure that it is safe to drive. One of the more expensive costs of maintaining a vehicle are the tires. Replacing your tires can be costly. Brake work can also run into the hundreds of dollars, depending on what needs to be done. While transmissions do not require a lot of maintenance work, any issues associated with the transmission will be expensive. The best way to avoid costly repair bills, is to do vehicle maintenance in a timely manner.

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