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March 11, 2010 | By Ian Friedman
Arizona Daily Star

Tucson ranked eighth-best overall in AutoMD. com’s new study analyzing how often consumers get fair quotes for auto repair in the 50 most populated U.S. cities.

Memphis, Tenn., ranked No. 1 overall, while Chicago ranked 50th, at the bottom.

AutoMD.com, a subsidiary of US Auto Parts Network Inc., conducts the survey independently and “does not rely on revenue from repair shops or dealerships,” it said in a news release.

“Mystery shoppers” were sent to conduct a fairness check of a range of dealers, independent shops and franchises. They asked for quotes on a front brake replacement job for a Ford Focus. The shoppers called back two weeks later with an industry-standard price estimate.

The rankings were calculated on three factors, weighted equally:

  • Repair affordability: Tucson ranked ninth for the average price per job, with an average quote of $152 for the repair. Miami was best in that category at $127.
  • Price disparity range: Tucson ranked seventh in market variance in quotes for the same job. Tucson quotes ranged from $100 to $211, a 111 percent variance. Long Beach, Calif., was best with a range of $125 to $200, a 60 percent variance.
  • Shop integrity: Tucson ranked 26th for this measure of the percentage of shops that shifted their original quoted price by more than 5 percent when given an industry-standard price estimate. In Tucson, 75 percent of surveyed shops switched quotes; the best in this category was Memphis, with 25 percent switching.

Phoenix ranked 43rd overall, with an average quoted price of $177; a range of $90 to $340, for a 278 percent price-range disparity; and 75 percent of surveyed shops switching original quotes.

Kim States, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona, considers the survey an accurate representation of Tucson’s auto-repair industry.

She said BBB claims against local automotive-repair shops were resolved 71 percent of the time, which is higher than the local average for other categories of complaints.

“I felt the survey was right on,” agreed Will Marsh, owner of Will’s General Auto Repair at 4647 E. First St. He didn’t have any reason to think his shop was part of the survey, but he’s read the study and said the group behind it has a good reputation.

He said Tucson auto shops are able to maintain lower costs partly because they don’t have to work on cars that have been subjected to harsh weather.

But Marsh said he was embarrassed to read how often Tucson shops shifted their price quotes in the survey.

Consumers should know, he said, that auto repair is mostly standardized with labor guides. “There shouldn’t be more than about a 10 percent variance” in quoted prices for a job, Marsh said.