Mechanics Corner - Jun 11
“Effects of Technology on Repair Cost”
By Mike Godwin
Although I still marvel at most of the advances that have been made in the automotive field, some are simply aggravating. Cost is what grabs my attention. My wife recently lost the keys and the remote key Fob to her Ford 500 sedan. Now lose the keys to a 65 Mustang, and you are out less than five dollars. Granted, no remote, but still under $5 for both an ignition key and a trunk key. Not the case for a more modern key, as the key blank alone is $60 to $80, and then it requires programming so that it will actually start the car. Move onto the Fob with a built-in remote, and pretty soon with only a half hour of shop labor, you are over $200 for a single replacement key.
I swear by anti-lock brakes, and the fact that four-wheel discs are standard on every new Mustang is great. On my ’65, the right foot is the tool that indicates trouble in the system. With the new cars, a yellow or red light illuminates the ABS signal. This advance warning informs the driver that there is a problem in the braking system. In fact, that warning can occur at start-up of the car, and save the operator from moving the car at all. The difference is in the repair cost, as the ABS controller contains not only some very complex electronics, but several delicate metering valves and high-pressure pumps. The result of all these items working properly in unison with an alert driver is a car that will stop straight and true. The feedback system, combined with the equalization of pressure to each wheel, occurs much faster than any right foot action. Of course, from time to time, these items need to be replaced, and the cost usually starts at around $500 and goes up quickly.
Even a simple Oil change has grown in cost. The new modular engines require much lighter oil and six quarts versus five quarts. The cost is up about 50 percent if the owner uses the recommended synthetic oils. Prices seem to hover around $50 and include parts, labor and disposal of the old oil and filter.
I checked the cost of my preferred brand of wheel bearings for the 65’ and each side of the car comes in at just over $20 per side. Those are the tapered roller bearing style and the new Mustangs make use of sealed wheel bearings which start at $150 and go as high as $220 at the local parts house.
Even the basic ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) has fallen victim to the price increases brought on by technology. ATF marked for Ford is readily available for under $3.00 per quart. However, the newer Ford products require a synthetic product that is labeled ATF #5 or ATF Ford compatible. Reach in your wallet and pull out $8.00 per quart. Don’t even think about using the old trick of adding a little ATF to your car’s Power Steering reservoir. The seals in the Power Steering system will soon start leaking fluid like the Exxon Valdez in Perdue Bay.
Headlights go out once in a great while. With a 65’ Mustang, one will pay about $7 for a replacement, and no more than $15 for one that is concours correct. That $15 won’t even cover the State Sales Tax if you lose one of the new HID lamps. Should you be so lucky as to own a car that has integrated the turn signal into that same lamp assembly, be prepared to hand over about $400 for a replacement.
Once upon a time, repairing the A/C unit in your car was a true DIY adventure. All one really needed was a set of gauges and if you were upscale, a Freon gas detector. The gas detector helped you locate the leak. To relive the pressure in the system, one simply vented it to the atmosphere. That of course is no longer the case, as laws that regulate the use of Freon are much stricter now. The old systems used Freon Gas R 12. This gas is no longer even manufactured in America. The new automobile systems use R 134 and require a machine to evacuate the system and capture all of the gas. The machines are very expensive, and to operate the machines and service a modern A/C system, people must be trained and licensed. All of this cost the shop up front, so with every A/C service, the provider is recovering some of the investment. On top of that, the DIY job took about an hour, while a trained technician properly using the machine, typically takes between two and four hours to complete an A/C service.
Even a little fender bender is now a major issue. Not that it is any less major if a fully restored Mustang gets tapped in traffic. The older Mustangs were traditional for the time, and built of several mild steel panels spot welded together. Repairs typically consisted of pulling and hammering the damaged panels back into shape, then applying a filler designed for body work. Let the filler dry, hit with primer, and then a single top coat of paint, and roll it out the door. Today, the new Mustang is made of a combination of high-grade steel panels and a wide variety of composite materials. The steel portion is designed with areas that are designed to crumple at designated points when impact occurs. Even the frame rails on the uni-body cars now have crumple zones. The bumpers are no longer a single piece item bolted in place on a couple of brackets. They are multi-layered with crash sensors and back up sensors built in. Then on top of that, add the cost of replacing the airbags that deployed during the crash, and the cost of repairing a moderately damaged new car quickly exceeds several thousand dollars. None of that cost includes the bail bond fees to get the owner out of jail after assaulting the person that caused the damage.
All of this technology also means that the repair technician needs to be trained at a higher level than ever before. Certifications, and in some cases licensing requirements, drive up the cost of labor. Like any other profession, the more education and experience that is brought to the table, the higher the wages that technician deserves. Top that off with the requirement to pass drug screenings, and the cost of quality labor moves up another notch.
Local tax structures like Business and Operating tax, and required Insurance Policies, coupled with increasing building rents or property tax, all contribute to higher per hour fees charged by the local repair shop. Even Hazardous Material Disposal fees have an impact on shop fees. Above all the cost of doing business, the owner of course would like to experience some profit from the business. Today in our area, the average cost of shop labor hovers in the $80 to $120 per hour area. Some specialty shops require a higher fee or have a minimum labor charge.
Ford the only company to ever have the nerve to name their car, “King of The Road” as they did the Shelby Mustang 500 KR in 1970.