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Should You Use A Free Car Repair Estimator? How a Shop Management System Can Broaden Your Horizons

Growing your auto shop is made possible through the right tools and systems. A shop management system can take your business further than free online tools have the ability to.

Open road, horizon

Car repair estimates can make or break so many aspects of your shop. Estimates determine how much work you’re going to sell to each customer and how much you’re going to charge. In other words, car repair estimates are the foundation for your shop’s revenue. But how you estimate work and send those findings and estimates over to customers can determine your shop’s profitability, your customer relationships, and how professional you look to your audience.

A shop management system can take your business further than free online car repair estimator tools have the ability to. More specifically, a shop management system will give your shop:

  1. The ability to gain experience
  2. A methodical system for analysis
  3. Digital tools and integrations
  4. Less room for error
  5. The ability to track declined jobs
  6. Better compliance standards
  7. A workflow to build estimates with speed and accuracy
  8. A direct tie to all shop systems
  9. The capacity to set and reach profit goals

Take a step back and look at the systems and tools your shop uses on a day-to-day basis. Are they helping your team grow and your business expand? If they are, continue to take strides that are beneficial for your business’ growth. If they are not, consider using a shop management system.

Free auto repair cost estimator tools are a shortcut. They might seem like they help you in the moment, but over the course of your career, they can limit your ability to grow. By broadening your horizons and exploring new and better solutions, you can uncover new opportunities, methods, and strategies to grow your business.

While the idea of trying new things to innovate and grow may seem like common sense, we don’t blame anyone for becoming stuck in their ways, or relying on a solution longer than may be beneficial. In fact, it’s a common tendency to fall back on familiar solutions to the point where we may avoid the solutions that help us grow. To overcome this tendency,  it’s important to understand it.

How the Einstellung Effect Prevents Innovation

You’re probably thinking to yourself one of two things right now: “What is the Einstellung effect?” and “What does this have to do with a shop management system?” Well, the Einstellung effect is our natural tendency to rely on prior experience and previous solutions to problems to the point where it prevents us from finding new, better, and more innovative solutions.

The Einstellung effect isn’t just present for shop owners; it’s a tendency that prevents innovation in all fields. Here are the findings of one particular study: “Having found one solution, expert chess players reported that they were looking for a better one. But their eye movements showed that they continued to look at features of the problem related to the solution they had already thought of.”

You may have heard (or used) the proverbial phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And yes, there is a time and place to embrace a solution that works rather than trying to make it better. But in the context of business growth, relying on the same solutions without any improvements or updates can prevent you from reaching new levels of growth.

If you want to grow your team, make more profit every year, and help more drivers, you’re going to have to overcome your natural tendency to stick to what you know and change the things that are preventing you from achieving those goals.

Yes, your current methods may work for you now, but they’re not going to work for the shop owner you want to become.

What a Free Car Repair Estimator Won’t Tell You

While free auto repair estimate tools help drivers gain a sense of what the repairs could cost, the estimator is basing that simply off of the information that was entered into the tool. And you know better than anyone that even if you type in every little detail into a free car repair estimator tool, it still won’t be able to account for any potential underlying issues. Let’s say you type in “Tire rotation on a 2013 Ford Escape.” Sure, the price range will populate, but that won’t account for a worn out suspension, or any other underlying issues.

If you scroll down on most of the auto repair cost estimators, you’ll see a “Repair Cost Estimator Legal Disclaimer” that will likely include the following statements:

  • Estimated price is customized for your vehicle make, model, year, and trim, but does not include diagnostic charges, taxes, disposal or environmental fees, oil or other fluid costs, or other ancillary parts that may be needed for the repair.
  • Vehicle repair costs may vary from vehicle to vehicle.
  • Actual repair costs will vary based upon labor rates, time required for repairs, actual parts used, your vehicle’s condition, and any other circumstances pertinent to your particular repair job.
  • This estimate is to be used for informational purposes only and is only intended to serve as a general guide.
  • Always consult a certified automotive technician before making important auto repair and service decisions.

The last two disclaimers are big ones. As you can tell by the language, estimators are for customers, and they’re only rough guidelines. Anytime a customer receives an estimate from an auto repair shop, they want to know exactly what it is they’re about to spend on the repairs. Using a free auto repair estimator tool will not include the taxes, fees, and any specific vehicle information that might sway the price, or any potential underlying issues that might increase your customer’s total.

The best way to earn your customers’ trust is by giving them accurate car repair estimates that clearly show the details and the reasoning that is not included on free online estimators.

Should Auto Shops Ditch Free Auto Repair Estimator Tools?  

If you’re a new shop owner, or if you’re thinking about opening up a shop, you might not yet have the systems in place that let your team collaborate on estimates, send them to customers via email or text, receive digital authorization, and push that estimate to the repair stage of the process. And if you don’t have a shop management system in place, chances are you’ve relied on free car repair estimator tools to help kick start the repair process.

The upside to online auto repair cost estimators? They’re free, fast, and easy to access. But while car repair estimate tools might seem like they save your shop time and money, they could lead to more mistakes and inefficiencies that end up costing you time and money down the road. And the reality is that free car repair estimator tools don’t have the same capabilities that paid software does.

Free repair estimator car tools can be a crutch or a bad habit. If you get into the habit of only using free online estimators, you are limiting yourself from growing and learning as well as leveraging better tools.

It’s like if you never took the training wheels off your bicycle. You'll never be able to do the Tour de France if you never move on from training wheels; they’ll weigh you down. The same goes for using a free online car repair estimator instead of making the switch to a shop management system.

In the Einstellung effect study, they found that as soon as they removed the option for the chess player’s to use their old solution, the players were able to quickly find new solutions that worked even better. Same goes for learning to ride a bike. What’s the best way to move on from training wheels? You take them off.

If you find that you’re struggling to move on from free car repair estimator tools, find a way to remove it completely. One option is to replace it with a shop management system and never look back.

Paid Software vs. Free Estimates

If you’re relying on free estimate tools for your customer’s estimates, you might run into some issues, like maybe the online estimator tool isn’t updated with the most recent info on your customer’s vehicle, or if your local tax laws changed, the estimate won’t reflect that.

Free estimate tools aren’t as reliable as paid shop management software. They simply can’t tie into the rest of your shop’s system and processes. Shop management software not only provides estimates to your customers, but can also further explain vehicle repairs via DVI.

Automobile Repair Estimates Online vs. Shop Management Systems

Free Car Repair Estimators Shop Management Systems

Doesn’t update automatically
Isn’t always accurate
Unable to build connections with customers
Easy to use
Auto-populates vehicle stats
Knows the customer’s vehicle history

Although the con would usually be “not free,” a shop management system will actually pay for itself by turning a larger profit (ROI), making it well-worth the investment.

Next time you’re tempted to use that car repair estimate online tool, take a look at a demo or trial of that shop management software you’ve been eyeing for some time. By the looks of it, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and it is worth the investment to broaden your horizons.

9 Ways You Will Grow with a Shop Management System

Of course experience is a big part of why estimates are better coming from the pros, but there’s more to it. For instance, your customers are probably using free online estimate tools themselves. And if you’re using the same tools, the only thing you’re really adding is your experience. You might know what repairs to look for on the estimate better than the customer, but that experience can never develop past the point of being good at using a free car repair estimator.

Here are nine ways that shop management systems will open the door to innovation, new opportunities, and growth:

  1. You will gain new experience

New shop owners or future-shop owners, you might have been a tech yourself at one point in time, so you have the experience of fixing cars. What you may be missing, though,  is the experience of running a shop. A system empowers you to connect each of your bookkeeping systems, track, log, and generate all of your shop’s growth, and provides you with detailed reports you can use to expand your shop’s profit.

A shop management system will provide you with a variety of tools that will be the launching point for learning those business skills while building on the repair experience you and your team already have under your belts.

It’s important to note that it’s less about the experience they already have, and more about the ability to gain new experiences. Even the pros can do a better job with access to labor guides, DVIs, and a CARFAX report. Although your experience may speed up the process, vehicles are always evolving, so having the opportunity to access new reports, vehicle information, and the latest and greatest parts is crucial.

  1. You will gain customer trust with a transparent estimate process  

Technology is incredibly reliable nowadays and some of it has even outsmart humans—or at least replaced tedious tasks that we used to have to do manually. So when it comes to the thorough analysis that is required to know when and how to adjust your estimates to increase profit margins, a shop management system will help you take the training wheels off and take your shop further than free automotive repair estimator tools can.

An example of a methodical system of analysis would be your shop’s thorough digital vehicle inspection process. With Tekmetric’s digital vehicle inspections, you can easily perform a DVI on every single vehicle that enters your shop. The entire inspection process is streamlined in a way that makes it quick, thorough, and painless on your technicians.

What are the DVI features?  

  • A findings section
  • Photos and videos
  • Can be shared through email or text
  • Can be conducted seamlessly on a phone, tablet, or computer
  • Keeps track of all declined jobs
  • Integrates with other digital systems that are already implemented in your shop

Getting the chance to do thorough inspections in your shop will enable your team to provide customers with an accurate estimate. When you’re using an online auto repair estimator tool, you can only enter the vehicle’s year, make, and model, so there’s no way the information that populates is as accurate as what your service writers calculated in your shop management system. It’s far more efficient to input and store your customer’s vehicle information within your system rather than entering it in a free car repair estimator tool that isn’t designed for shop owners in the first place.

Say a customer used the estimator tool and you used the same tool, but because you found more problems than they thought they had (and maybe you decided to charge the high end of the estimate on some repairs because there was a root cause issue), the customer might balk and say, “Well, when I looked this up online, it was far less expensive.”  And with the photos and videos you took through the DVI, you can now have an honest conversation where you can say, “Yeah, you were right about the cost for the initial repair, but I also found a few other issues. Here are some pictures/videos that show why the estimate is on the high end. However, two of these jobs are marked yellow, so you can decide to hold off on the repairs for now and can focus on the repairs that are absolutely necessary to get your car running without issues.” This scenario just isn’t as accessible with a free car repair estimator tool.

  1. You will gain a wealth of digital tools and integrations

With free digital estimator tools, you get what you pay for. A free auto repair cost estimator tool will simply give you an average price based off of whatever is already in its database. Not to mention, it will generalize the issue at hand by focusing on only the information that is typed into the search bar. Rather than diving into specifics, free car repair estimator tools will typically present cost estimates in broad ranges.

By using digital tools and integrations, your shop can ensure that your customer’s history, vehicle information, and inventory is tracked, saved securely, and is ready-to-access at the click of a button.

Digital tool features your shop can count on during the estimate process:  

  • Provide transparency with a built-in DVI
  • Build jobs faster with customer canned jobs
  • Leverage labor and parts markup matrices
  • Configure all labor rates, fees, parts, and taxes in one place
  • Store and access unique customer profiles
  • Access all declined jobs so you can remind customers
  • Manage your shop inventory

Tekmetric Integrations that enhance your shop’s estimate and invoicing processes:

  1. You will run into fewer mistakes and errors.  

With a free repair estimator car tool, there’s no guideline for inspections, so there’s a greater chance you’ll miss a problem with the car, which may not only garner bad reviews but can also be dangerous for drivers. And because free estimates aren’t tied to any other system, there’s a greater likelihood you do work that the customer has not approved, or you run into miscommunication.

Like we explained with DVIs above, digital authorization makes it crystal clear when a customer approves jobs, reducing the chances of chargebacks.

Misentering information like VIN numbers, dollar amounts, up-charges, etc. becomes less of a risk if these factors are inherently part of your system, not something you look up on a free repair estimator car tool and then have to transfer over to a piece of paper or a spreadsheet. Even getting a customer’s name and number right is easier when you're entering it into a shop management system.

By using a shop management system, a tech has the ability to dot all the “i's'' and cross all the “t’s” in a seamless way that would leave less room for error and more time for them to get started on the repairs.

  1. You can build trust and sell more work by tracking declined jobs.

Think of all of your customers. Now think of the various repairs you’ve done on each of their vehicles. For all approved work, there are jobs that simply do not get approved, especially if they aren’t necessary or aren’t a repair that the driver was expecting to pay for.

With shop management software, you have the ability to save all declined jobs so that you can remind clients the next time they visit or give them a call and prompt them to come back. If you do this right, it’s a great way to pick up business when times are slow. A simple reminder in terms of repairs can do wonders for your ARO, not to mention build trust with customers because they’ll notice how you didn’t forget to remind them the next time they’re in the shop.

With automotive repair estimator tools, you can only look up one repair at a time and there’s no way to keep track of what the customer approved or declined without digging through paper records, using a notes program, or relying on another system. Tekmetric makes it easy to access all previous work, current work, and upcoming work and see what jobs each and every customer has declined.

  1. You can guarantee compliance with laws and regulations.

The last thing any business owners want to deal with is a fine or a penalty for accidentally breaking a law or not properly following a regulation. And when it comes to auto repair shop estimates, there are quite a few important regulations that come into play. Shop management software will help safeguard your business because reliable software solutions know to stay on top consumer protection laws and will ensure your shop’s estimates adhere to regulations.

Aside from looking unprofessional, if you were to find an estimate for your customer on a free car repair estimator, print it out, and have them sign it, you run the risk of breaking your state’s regulations.

Estimate regulations vary from state-to-state, but here are a few of the most common:

  • Several states require mechanics to provide consumers with a cost estimate prior to beginning any car repair work.
  • Several states require the final cost to not exceed the estimate over a certain percentage.
  • Several states require digital authorization.
  • Several states require maintaining a record of all repairs performed and parts provided.
  • If a technician makes unauthorized repairs to a customer’s vehicle and demands payment, the customer has the ability to sue the tech. Note: this isn’t always the case though, especially if the tech made a “good faith” effort to solve a solution, fixed something else related to the original issue along the way, and the additional fix was a possible solution to the original problem.

Source: The above rules and regulations were found on FindLaw.com and Write it Right.

If you operate in a state that requires you follow any of these regulations, your shop will need a management system that ensures adherence.

  1. You will be able to build estimates with speed and accuracy.  

Labor is the backbone of the auto repair world. It’s how we get the job done, and it’s half of how we make our money. A large portion of your shop’s profitability is dictated by setting profitable labor rates.

By switching over to a shop management system, you have the added benefit of a built-in labor guide, which in turn will eliminate the risk of errors on estimates.

How to populate Tekmetric’s integrated Labor Guide:  

  1. Create an RO in the Job Board
  2. Enter the customer’s information
  3. Enter the vehicle’s information
  4. Add in additional information: labor rate, vehicle’s mileage, customer notes, etc.
  5. Once the RO is created, you’ll click “Estimate,” and can start building the jobs.
  6. After clicking “Build Estimate,” you’ll see a “Search Labor Guide” icon.

How to navigate Tekmetric’s integrated Labor Guide:

  1. Once you’ve clicked “Search Labor Guide”, you’ll see specific jobs (for example, Replace Adapter Gasket, Replace Air Filter, Replace Flex Hose, etc.) Note: if you don’t want to scroll down to find a particular job, you can always type it into the search bar.
  2. Select the job you are building the estimate for and the labor operations associated with the job, and any associated parts will populate.  
  3. Once the service advisor has selected the appropriate labor times from the labor guide, they can click “Create Job.”  

Staying on top of every average time for every individual job can be hard to remember—not to mention, the factors that can affect labor times. For instance, the age of the vehicle, the unintentional time added, the geographical location, the technician’s experience level, and the needs of the specific customer can all add to the labor time listed on a labor guide.

Think of how time consuming figuring out your shop’s labor rate would be if you had to do all calculations manually. But if you have Tekmetric, your service advisors will have a reliable guide that is up-to-date with the latest labor times in the auto repair industry.

  1. You will have a direct tie to all shop systems.  

Let’s bring back the repair process overview here, but this time add in how your shop’s management software and the systems in place can enhance your customers’ experiences.

The estimate is just one part of the repair process, but it kicks off each of the stages, similar to a domino effect. Let’s paint a picture—in words—of what it’s like navigating the Job Board:

Column 1: Estimates

  1. The customer brings their vehicle into your shop.
  2. The service advisor creates an RO signaling the tech that a DVI is needed.  
  3. The technician conducts the DVI and adds their findings, as well as pictures and videos of any of the problem areas.
  4. Once the DVI is completed and saved, the technicians have the option to share the inspection report with the customer, giving customers a better idea of what needs immediate attention and what can wait. The service advisor sends a copy of the DVI to the customer outlining what repairs their car needs.
  5. The service advisor prepares an RO estimate based off of the tech’s findings and sends it off to the customer for authorization.
  6. The customer receives the estimate via text, email, or in person, and reviews it.
  7. If the customer declines one job, multiple jobs, or all jobs, it will remain in the “Estimates” column.

Column 2: Work-in-Progress

  1. The work that the customer approved on the estimate will automatically move over to the “Work-in-Progress” column.  
  2. As the technician works on the repairs, the service advisor can update and/or check on the status, whether it’s “In-Progress,” “Need to Order Parts,” “On Hold,” “Waiting on Customer,” “Waiting on Parts,” “Waiting on Sublet,” or “Work Not Started.”  
  3. At any time, the service advisor can simply glance at the Job Board—without having to click on the individual ROs—to see how far along a technician is in their job.
  4. After glancing at the Job Board, the service advisor can update the customer about where their repairs are at. If you use the Tekmessage integration, you can send a text right from Tekmetric without ever leaving the Job Board. For example, you could text the customer, “Your vehicle repairs are 75% completed,” or “3 out of 4 of your vehicle’s repair jobs are completed.”

Column 3: Completed

  1. Once the technician has completed the RO, the service advisor will update the status to “Complete Work”, which moves the RO to the “Completed” column.
  2. From there, it is now time to collect payment. All the service advisor has to do is select “Payment” when they’re in the completed RO. In the payment tab, the service advisor can collect payment in a variety of ways, including cash, check, and credit or debit card. The service advisor can click the green “View & Share Invoice” button to send the customer an invoice. If your shop has Tekmerchant text-to-pay set up, the service advisor can send the invoice directly to the customer’s phone, and the customer can pay via text.
  3. Once an invoice is sent and payment is collected, the service advisor can update the status to “Post as Paid,” which will move it to the “Paid” section. However, if payment is not received, the service advisor can update the status to “Post to A/R,” which will send that ticket to the appropriate person at your shop (i.e. the accounts receivable clerk).

If you are using a free auto repair estimator tool, you aren’t able to easily link every part of the repair process together. Having the ability to know exactly when the estimate was sent off, when it was viewed (down to the minute), and when it was approved will make your service advisors and technicians happy your shop chose to branch out from the free auto repair estimator tools that was holding them back.  

  1. You will gain the capacity to set and reach profit goals.

Chances are if you’re using a free auto repair estimator tool, you aren’t quite sure what your pricing should be just yet. But in order to grow your shop, it’s important for you to determine the right pricing for your shop and not base it off of what the shop down the street is charging.

Each of your markup matrices are based on several factors: the clientele, the area, the margins, labor rates, taxes, and any additional fees (i.e. an environmental fee for disposals). When a service writer is using the tech’s findings to draft an accurate estimate, it can go one of two ways, both of which are more accurate than the free car repair estimator tools:

  1. The service writer knows exactly what additional fees and markups to apply to the estimate off the top of their head, or
  2. your shop uses a shop management tool that automatically populates each of those fees for you.

The free car repair estimator tool won’t be able to populate these for you. Free repair estimator car tools show you the average total of parts and labor, but when a service advisor is putting together a real estimate, they should have some idea of what the markup is going to be and why.

The free auto repair estimator tools provide broad estimates and are designed for consumers, not auto repair shops. How do you decide exactly what to charge a customer on an estimate when you’re given a range as broad as $700 to $1,200? You might shoot from the hip and pick a higher number if you’re feeling like the shop needs more money, and a lower number if you’re feeling like your shop is having a good week. But there’s no strategy in that, and definitely no guarantee that your assumptions are correct.  

Being a business owner means being more mindful of your business numbers. A shop management system encourages you to think in terms of Gross Profit, Parts Profit, Labor Profit, Average Repair Order, and Car Count, whereas the free auto repair cost estimator hinders that from happening due to the simple fact that they are designed for consumers.

In addition to the Labor Guide mentioned above, it’s important to touch on another aspect to your auto shop’s pricing: parts markups. Having an auto parts markup matrix will eliminate second-guessing by preventing inconsistencies from occurring in the first place.

How to build parts matrices with Tekmetric:

  1. Click on “Shop Settings.”
  2. Navigate to the “Markups” tab.
  3. Click on “New Parts Matrix” at the top of the screen.
  4. Choose whether you’d like to use a “Simple” or “Compound” calculation from the drop-down menu on the bottom left.
  5. Begin configuring your parts matrix by inputting start and end costs. Add additional ranges as needed.
  6. Set a gross profit goal for each range by selecting “Gross Profit” and entering your desired percentage. You can also select “Multiplier” or “Markup” if you wish.
  7. Name your parts matrix and click “Save Matrix.”
  8. From there, you can continuously edit or update your parts matrix as needed.

How to apply a parts matrix to individual ROs:

  1. Open a repair order and navigate to the “Estimate” tab.  
  2. Scroll down to where you see the listed “Jobs.”
  3. Add a new job.
  4. Click “Add Part” and then select the appropriate option from the drop-down menu (between “Add part manually,” or “Add part from Inventory.” You can also add a part from your vendor of choice).
  5. Start entering the part details, then select the calculator icon under the “Retail” heading.  
  6. Select “Apply parts matrix” from the drop-down menu and pick the parts matrix you’d like to apply from the pop-up.

Using a shop management system will help you set and reach profit goals. If you’re using a free automotive repair estimator system, you won’t know exactly what your shop needs to charge in order to grow your business and make your shop goals a reality.  

Remember, You Get What You Pay For

In terms of a free solution, an online car repair estimator could work, but you’re getting the bare minimum. As a business owner, it’s worth investing in your business. And implementing tools that come with a shop management software will give you the ability to set your own goals and keep track of them. You’ll be able to see how your team member’s are performing, where your shop’s profits are at, and whether you have enough cash on hand to open up that new location you’ve been wanting to open for a while now. Whatever your auto shop goals are, auto repair shop software will help you get there.

How to Make Your Shop’s Auto Repair Estimates Stand Out Beyond Free Auto Repair Estimator Tools

When it comes to auto repair shops—or any business for that matter—customers will start making judgements before they even step foot in the door. In addition to your shop’s website, online reviews, the lobby, and the care and attentiveness of your front staff, estimates make some of the first impressions of how professional and thorough your shop is. It’s the starting point for all repairs and will show the customer what work needs to get done to their vehicle, as well as how transparent your shop is when it comes to showing them why.

There’s a reason why there are laws that require auto shops to provide estimates to their customers. When customers receive an estimate, they feel like a valued customer; it reassures them that their vehicle will be in good hands. Inversely, it holds the shop and your customers accountable. An estimate is a promise that your shop will get the work done, but is also a promise that the customer will pay for the completed work.

Learning how to enhance the estimate experience will help set your shop up for success, so the next time a customer chooses your shop for their repairs, they’ll think to themselves, “Wow, this place is really attentive and professional.”

Learn Your Trade. Think Like a Business Owner.

Anyone can fill out forms, but being an auto expert means you can properly assess each job as it comes in. Both techs and service advisors need to have the ability to look at car issues and point out what’s wrong.

Good technicians and service advisors have been around enough vehicles to know what they’re looking for, which instantly makes them more reliable than your average driver using online estimating tools. But just because you’re an expert doesn’t mean you won’t run into issues you haven’t encountered yet.

Source: Statista

There are millions of vehicles on the road, and each make, model, and year means an entirely different build from the next make, model, and year you come across. To put it in perspective, in 2020 there were 276 million vehicles registered in the U.S., and that number has only grown.

Auto repair customers seek technicians with the right skills to provide lasting repairs on their vehicles, which is why continuing your education and research to stay current with the latest automotive advances, or learning specific vehicle’s electronic equipment and the skills that go along with diagnosing and repairing them is a must. If you want to grow into a shop that can handle a broader range of vehicles and compete with dealerships, you’ve got to forge a path to learn and expand.

Using a shop management system is a skill that customers notice. When they see how fast your shop can navigate from process to process to show them exactly what is wrong with their vehicle, they’ll know you have the knowledge they can count on.

“The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.” - Confucius

And another way to sharpen your skill set is to use advanced tools , like shop management systems.

Help customers prioritize repairs

Although offering customers different options isn’t always possible, it is highly recommended that you find ways to continuously adapt to customer needs and expectations. Having multiple solutions for a variety of situations is especially helpful for customers who are on a budget, or are looking to get the best bang for their buck.

It’s also worth pointing out that customers who use auto repair estimator tools online are likely comparing other prices and reviews they come across online. People like to weigh out all options before committing.

A way you can clearly present the options to customers is through Tekmetric’s color-coding system. Tekmetric’s DVIs use a “green, yellow, red” color system that will help your customer’s better understand and prioritize repair work. Green means “checked and okay,” yellow means “may require attention soon,” and red means “requires immediate attention.”

This color coding system can work wonders in the context of maintenance. If customers think that your shop is just trying to sell them more work, a “yellow” tells them, “Look, you don’t have to buy this right now, but it’s something to keep an eye on and plan for in the future.”

Now, let’s compare this to the free online car repair estimator tools: there’s no way your shop will have the ability to prioritize the repairs based on the information they auto-populate. Of course, you could try to present options to your customers manually by searching several different free car repair estimator tools, jotting down their findings, and putting it all on one estimate. But that would mean using pen and paper or having to type it out, which not only takes more time but also sacrifices professionalism.

Be an open book.

We’re all fallible, so some mistakes are inevitable. Although you have specific protocols in place in the event a mistake occurs, it’s still important to share with your customers that estimates are exactly that: estimates. During the repair process, an additional issue could be found which could up the project costs; however, communicating that with your customers in real-time will show them you’re on their side and looking out for their best interests.

With free car repair estimator tools, you would have to go back online, look up the new estimate, guess what they’re willing to pay out of the given price range, call the customer, justify it, and so on.

With Tekmetric, you can pull up the labor guide with the click of a button, quickly update your customer, send a picture of the new findings, get your customer’s digital authorization on the new jobs, and be on your merry way to completing the repairs. And bonus: if you have the Tekmessage feature, you can even follow up and answer questions via text without ever having to leave the Tekmetric dashboard.

Tek-Tip: If your shop uses Tekmessage, set the phone number to match your shop’s existing phone number—the one you have been advertising on your website and Google My Business profile—to make it easier than ever for new customers to reach you and for service writers to add new customers' information to Tekmetric.

If your shop uses the shop’s number, all your customers have to do is type in your shop’s number to text, which will then notify the service advisors via Tekmetric in a clean, messenger-type format (similar to Facebook).  

Save time by systemizing inspections.

Setting different types of inspections in your shop will help build the estimate. Let’s say a customer comes in and doesn’t know if there is a problem with their vehicle but just wants to ensure it’s in good condition; this would call for a whole-car preventative maintenance inspection. Conversely, if a customer enters the shop and says their car’s transmission is acting up everytime they shift gears, they would specifically need a transmission inspection, and you may still want to provide a general inspection for good measure.

In Tekmetric, you can create different types of inspections, and you have the convenience of customizing the titles, groups, and tasks under each inspection. Organizing your shop’s inspections into groups will systemize your shop’s process and help guide technicians through checking different areas of vehicles.

Tek-tip: create an inspection group for “scheduled maintenance” to remind technicians to check the odometer and recommend maintenance at different mile marks (3,000 mile service; 5,000 mile service; 6,000 mile service; etc.)

If your shop usually does a standard 40-point inspection on all standard repair orders, service advisors have the option to select that one. Or let’s say a customer with a diesel truck stops by the shop, in that case your service advisors can assign the “diesel vehicle inspection” to the assigned tech.

Setting up specific inspections will help your team hone in on the issues at hand while not wasting any time rewriting an inspection task list that they’ve done before.

Every inspection your shop sets up will help techs get to the root of the problem, and will help  service advisors propose and sell more work.

Always include a proposed timeline.

A free car repair estimator online may tell you the price range, but they don’t include an accurate time frame in terms of repairs. In order to give your customer’s a good estimate on when they can expect to pick up their car, you need historical data. With shop management software, you can include a timeline because all historical data for your shop is securely tracked and saved. Not to mention, with a system like Tekmetric, the percentage of the RO’s completion progress is pulled from the Tech Board and logged and tracked on the Job Board for easy viewing.  

If your shop includes a proposed time for pick up right after they approve repair work, the customer will immediately know how on top of repairs your shop is. Their vehicle is important to them. Knowing when they’ll be reunited with it will give them a sense of comfort. Not to mention, it will give your shop an edge against competitors who do not provide an estimated timeline.

Including a proposed timeline isn’t required in standard estimates, but is a highly underutilized  customer service technique in the auto repair industry; that is, if it’s accurate. If you had given a guesstimate based off of a free auto repair estimator tool, you run the risk of being off and not having a way to update your customers. If you give them a time that is earlier than you actually complete the work, customers can become antsy and aggravated.

Vehicle Maintenance Timeline:

Before the work...
1. Estimate is prepared
2. Customer authorizes repairs
3. If applicable, authorize with the customer’s vehicle insurance  
4. The service writer orders the parts, if they aren’t already in the shop’s inventory
5. The technician receives the parts ordered

During the work...
1. The vehicle’s repairs are scheduled with the shop and customer
2. The vehicle’s repairs take place on selected date
3. If applicable, the service writer will notify the customer of additional findings and receive authorization
4. If applicable, the service writer will order additional parts needed

Upon completion…
1. The vehicle’s repairs are completed and the tech does a final inspection to ensure all is A-OK before collecting payment and returning the vehicle to the customer

What is a common thread between all of these tasks? Communication. Throughout the entire repair process, having the ability to track where the work is and communicate that with your customers at any given time is a boon to customer service.

Make the Authorization Process Convenient.

A simple way you can implement a convenient authorization process at your shop is by providing multiple ways to get a firm ”yes” on proposed work. The easier you make it for customers to approve work,  the faster your technicians can get to work.

With Tekmetric, you have quite a few authorization options:

1) customers have the option to sign their digital signature on your service advisor’s tablet,

2) you can check off that the customer has authorized the work while you are on the phone with them, or

3) they can approve the work via text message by simply checking off “approve”.

Types of Authorization Methods in Tekmetric:

  • Digital signature
  • Paper signature
  • Verbal: in person
  • Verbal: over the phone
  • Text message
  • Email

Another added bonus to Tekmetric is that all authorizations, and the way ROs were approved, will be tracked, logged on the backend, and generated into reports. Shop owners, this means that if you ever need to figure out which repairs were authorized at which time and with what method, you can simply look at the Authorization History Audit Trail and find your answer.

The ability to store and access your shop’s authorization history will help protect your shop from any customer discrepancies. In Tekmetric, you can access this by clicking on the customer’s RO you want to access, selecting “Summary”, then scrolling down to “Auth History.”

Having the ability to accommodate each of your customer’s authorization methods will help your shop build customer loyalty and improve your shop’s efficiency.

Now, Let’s Break Down Estimates

The difference between a free online estimate and the estimate a professional auto repair shop prepares for a customer lies in the level of detail provided. Techs, the work you do is built off of estimates. Service writers, the work you sell is built off of estimates. And shop owners, the workflow you manage and oversee is built off of estimates.

There’s a reason why estimates are the first section on Tekmetric’s job board. Building an estimate is a crucial step to all auto repair work because it’s the first step in the auto repair process.

A general overview of estimates. What’s Included:

  1. The parts to be used and specific prices
  2. Labor charges
  3. Miscellaneous charges (i.e. shop supplies)
  4. Flat fees (those not broken down into parts and labor)
  5. A summary of the total estimate

Finding a streamlined way to cover all of these details will help you provide more estimates per day, which means more ROs at your shop. If you were to draft each estimate by hand or by using a free online tool, you’ll run into more issues, which then leads to more time wasted. Building estimates can be cumbersome, so our goal is to help you turn estimates into dollars.  

At Tekmetric, we are as transparent as possible, so let’s dissect the estimate, as well as help your shop figure out a way to streamline estimates through our Tek-tools.

How Tekmetric Turns Estimates into Dollars

What the estimate needs: How Tekmetric helps:
Your Auto Shop’s Information: address, logo, and contact information. Tekmetric’s estimates have a clean, easy-to-read, format that will clearly show your shop’s information. The clean format makes all estimates look professional.
Your customer’s Information: name, number, address, and vehicle information. All of your customers’ information and vehicle information can be stored so that when they return, you can greet them and proactively pick up where you last left off. In addition to the customer information, if you simply input their vehicle’s VIN number, license, or just the year and make, the vehicle history report and stats will automatically come up.
The estimate number and the estimate’s date. In Tekmetric, the date and the estimate’s expiration date will automatically be presented on the estimate, saving your shop time and energy from tedious tasks.
Calculations All calculations, like the total, discounts, and tax charges will automatically be calculated into the estimate.
Discounts, limited time offers, or special coupons Aside from discounts automatically being calculated to the total, your shop can also customize what discounts, coupons, and special offers are included on the estimate.
Additional details and notes Any specific notes can be added to the bottom of each estimate. Whether that’s a note for the customers about the work that’s being done, or something that the tech recommends they get done in the future.

How to Provide the Most Accurate Car Repair Estimates In Your Shop

Just as you expect high-quality service on an expense coming out of your pocket, customers expect the same from your auto shop. Think of how often you’ve gone back to a specific restaurant because you had a positive, memorable experience there—maybe the atmosphere and customer service there made you feel comfortable because they took the time to greet you, ask about your food allergens, or simply recommended their favorite dishes. And if you’re a frequent visitor, you might also appreciate that they remember what it is you like, don’t like, and so on.

The same applies in the auto repair industry. Once customers find their go-to auto shop, they’ll come back for more. Even better, they’ll refer your shop to their neighbors, friends, colleagues, etc. An average customer experience, or slightly above average customer experience, won’t trigger word-of-mouth. But a customer experience that exceeded their expectations will.

A customer who has had an exceedingly better time at your auto shop compared to the last one they went to will not only return, but will also spread the word about the exceptional service they received. One of the most crucial parts of the customer experience in the auto repair industry is building and sending off an accurate estimate. And in order to get to that level of professionalism, you’ll have to invest in shop software tools.  

What your shop’s customers should always receive on their estimate:

  • A detailed assessment of the vehicle’s issues, as well as any work that will need to be completed to resolve the issues
  • All costs for the materials and parts needed to complete the repairs
  • All costs for labor, which should always be estimated to include labor hours

Ways you can make your estimates and customer service exceptional:

  • Incorporate a color-coding system
  • Add in a variety of inspections
  • Keep accurate track of all shop’s data—from your customer’s info to their vehicle’s info

Luckily, modernizing your shop is easier now more than ever. And adapting to the digital world at your shop is possible on all fronts.

Ready-To-Go Tools for Building Estimates:

With shop management software,  you can build consistent estimates and save time and energy that can be put towards building another aspect of your business.

Free online auto repair estimators are just a quick and easily-accessible tool designed for consumers. It can’t link together the customer’s history, their vehicle’s history, communication preferences, and so on. Investing in shop systems will tie it all together. Shop management software like Tekmetric provides an entire system that seamlessly links all parts of the repair process from beginning to end.

Service advisors, stay in the loop in real-time:

  • Manually writing estimates can be time-consuming. Instead of doing unnecessary tedious tasks, you can use Tekmetric’s custom templates or easily build them from scratch. Tekmetric will help you easily determine the labor, parts, fees, discounts, taxes, and divy up the work among the technicians.
  • Get to know your customer’s even before they set foot in the shop. With our CARFAX integration and customer profiles, you’ll be able to view their vehicle history, any preferences (i.e. their preferred method of communication), and any work they chose to hold off on last time they were in the shop, which is incredibly important when it comes to preventative maintenance and upselling work.
  • Stay in touch with technicians throughout the entire process, in real-time. Any findings that the techs enter into Tekmetric are easily viewable on the service advisors end. Let’s say a tech is completing the inspection and entering findings on their smartphone. As soon as that info is posted into Tekmetric, the service advisor can view it on their tablet or any device of their choice. Having the ability to communicate with one another from anywhere in the shop, and stay on top of work updates from anywhere there’s internet access, creates a seamless repair process from beginning to end.

With Tekmetric, you can view jobs that are in-progress, current, or completed. Everything that you can see on your Job Board is what is occurring in real time. What are the benefits of working in real time?

- Inspect what you expect
- Efficient workflow
- Seamless tracking
- Address issues as they happen

Technicians, eliminate tedious tasks and focus on ROs:

  • Get your inspections and repairs done faster. Tekmetric keeps all information stored and secured software, which means 1) it isn’t going anywhere, and 2) you don’t have to worry about shuffling through a stack of papers to find those notes you took during that customer’s last inspection. It’s all a click away.
  • Rather than having to explain an issue over the phone, you can simply take a picture and mark where they should be looking. Taking a picture with the problem areas highlighted will show the customer exactly what repairs need to be done and why.
  • Receive notifications when a status has changed. This is extremely helpful when it comes to knowing when work is authorized, when parts are ordered, when they’ve arrived, and any new work that has been assigned to you.

Shop owners, track your shop’s performance:

While service advisors and technicians are building estimates and completing jobs, shop owners can track the ARO from beginning to end, which is another added benefit of Tekmetric: having the ability to view your shop’s performance—whether daily, weekly, or monthly—at the click of a button.  

Modernize and Adapt to Changing Times

There are about 235,000 auto repair shops in the United States. And each day, those numbers are growing. Make your shop stand out by embracing change.

Modernizing your auto repair shop is inevitable if you want your shop to grow and expand. That’s why almost every office in the nation—no matter the industry—has some form of paid software. The kind of digital tools you implement at your shop can radically enhance your customer’s experience, streamline workflow, and empower you as a business owner.

Never Stop Learning.

Whether you’re a technician, service advisor, or shop owner, you have acquired a certain level of skills under your belt that free auto repair estimator tools can not adequately nurture and expand upon.

Maybe you’ve attended an auto mechanic program that likely took you an overall 810 hours over the course of 7 to 8 months to complete—just to learn the basic knowledge. But that doesn’t account for the entry level jobs that helped you gain more hands-on training, eventually leading to more technical duties and promotions.

And we won’t even go into the auto repair certification aspect because you get the jist at this point: certain tools are going to help your shop grow, and free customer-facing ones are going to hold your shop back.

Other Ways You Can Broaden Your Horizons:

Online Resources For Car Pros to Continue to Grow Their Knowledge:

: helpful repair and diagnostic advice.
Auto Service Professional
(print or digital): topics in the auto industry, and diagnostic and repair tips.
Engine Professional
(print or digital): articles covering all aspects of engine diagnosis, failure analysis, and repair.
MOTOR Magazine
(print or digital): columns and articles covering all aspects of auto maintenance and repair.
Ratchet + Wrench
(print or digital) is a leading media brand servicing auto care experts with columns, spotlights, insights, and news coverage.
Society of Automotive Engineers
(SAE): covers the latest auto repair trends when it comes to technology.
Tekmetric Blog
: offers insights in the auto repair digital world, shop spotlights, and latest news and updates.
Transmission Digest
: provides articles and insights on transmission diagnosis and repair.
In the Garage with CarParts.com
: articles designed to boost your auto repair knowledge.

Upcoming 2022 Conferences for Car Pros to Continue to Grow Their Knowledge:

and Transformers feature speakers and companies at the forefront of innovation in the auto repair industry.
Conference Index has an Automotive Conferences indexed listing of upcoming meetings, seminars, congresses, workshops, programs, trainings, summits, and weekly, annual or monthly symposiums.
has an Auto and Automotive Conferences list separated by date and location. Find a conference near you by customizing your search view.
Reuters Events
has a 2022 schedule for all automotive  conferences, exhibitions, and virtual events.
Ratchet + Wrench
has a three-day business-building event exclusively for auto repair shop owners, operators and managers.
The Auto Care Association has a list of 2022 conferences that you can attend in-person or virtually.

Coaching Groups for Car Pros to Continue to Grow Their Knowledge:

Auto Shop Coaching
through AutoFix.
Elite Worldwide has a variety of coaching peer groups.
Coaching programs
through Repair Shop Coach.
Repair Shop Growth Solutions
through the Automotive Training Institute.
DRIVE offers step-by-step coaching and informative workshops.

A Pro Knows Best

You’ve put in a lot of hard work getting to know the vehicles that come through the shop. You’ve studied, researched, and adapted with the ever changing automotive industry. The fact that you’re taking the time to read this blog also shows that you aren’t done learning yet.

Your customers are more likely to approve work if they can see what's wrong. Send estimates to clients along with images of the necessary repair work. Tekmetric gives your customers the freedom to approve work on their own time, and you can always follow up to walk through their repair options and ensure they understand their estimate. If you want your clients to approve repairs, you have to build trust.

Using your own senses and abilities to understand and fix the vehicle’s problems will help you expand and grow as a business owner. Having higher level skills that can be gained from Tekmetric, like knowing how to grow profit margins and expand your base of loyal customers, will empower you to continue taking your business to new heights.

Broaden Your Horizons With Tekmetric

Current, aspiring, and future shop owners: investing in your shop will help your business grow. Continue to help your techs and service advisors thrive by giving them the gift of shop management tools; that will help the process flow smoothly from drafting the estimate, to collecting payment.  

Grow Your Estimates