Unfair Shop Supply and Waste Disposal Charges

recommended maintenance notice

Recommended Maintenance Notice

Shop supplies and waste disposal charges are not new to the auto repair business. But after my recent visit to a General Motors dealership for a recall it reminded me just how out of control these extra charges can become.

I went into a Cadillac dealership to get the SRX recall performed on my 2009 model year crossover. Although I am a certified mechanic I still need to take my vehicle into a dealership auto repair shop for any recalls that are required by the manufacturer.

Keep in mind I do not announce that I am a certified master technician with 26 years experience to the service adviser at the time of write up. So I was not surprised when the service writer approached me with a list of things “the mechanic” thought should be done while the vehicle was in for the recall.

I wrote about this in more detail on last week’s post about my Cadillac recall experience. But what I didn’t mention about the nearly $400 of recommended repairs was the shop supply and waste disposal charges that were included in the estimate of things the mechanic wanted to do.

Recommended auto repairs estimate

There were a total of three recommended services that the dealership wanted to bring to my attention. In my professional opinion none of these services were actually required and the dealership spokesperson didn’t say they had to be done, they were just recommended.

Each recommendation was broken out separately on the estimate which included parts, labor and shop supply and or waste disposal fees. To make this clear, there was not a single charge for shop disposal, there were three separate charges for shop supply and waste disposal.

throttle body cleaner

Throttle body cleaner

This meant a grand total of over $30 for supply and disposal. After looking closely at the estimate it was clear to me that the dealership was taking these fees and turning them into a healthy profit center. In my case the recommended auto repairs did not result in significant disposal of any kind.

And as far as shop supplies go, for the throttle body service there was a parts charge of $10 for cleaning solvent. So I asked my service adviser what shop supply and disposal activities were included in the $30 charge. He stated that this would cover things like rags and the cleaning of those rags.

This may be a valid point that rags are required to perform a throttle body service. Let me be clear that I also believe in proper disposal of automotive waste of all kinds. But what I don’t see is why this charge is not included in the parts and labor estimate. I also did not believe that they were going to use $30 worth of rags to perform the operations.

Car repair in the old days

Back in the day when somebody brought their vehicle in for auto repairs, shop supplies where considered a courtesy and usually included in the estimate of repair. Back in the day waste disposal was not covered by as many environmental regulations and was not as costly, but they still needed to pay somebody to get rid of things like waste oil.

This part of doing business was just included in the prices that were quoted to the auto repair consumers. Now all too often they are broken out into a separate line item and in my case where applied to each individual recommended repair. When I pushed the service adviser to explain further about how these charges are calculated he stated that they are a percentage of parts and labor automatically added by the dealerships auto repair estimating software.

Ask questions about shop supply and waste disposal

As I was sitting in the waiting area with about 10 other people the service adviser came out and tried to up sell the same exact services to the other customers that were waiting for their cars. In one case a nice lady was there to have an alternator light diagnosed.

cadillac alternator

Cadillac alternator

When the service advisor came out to discuss the repair and give her an estimate he stated that the alternator did need to be replaced. As the lady looked over her estimate she noticed a separate charge for shop supplies and waste disposal.

When she asked the service advisor about this charge he stated that things needed to be thrown away properly and that some chemicals may be needed to perform the repair properly on her Cadillac.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what it takes to replace an alternator on a 2007 Cadillac DTS, but I can tell you that the chances that any chemicals are needed for the operation are slim to none. I can also tell you that there is nothing to throw away when this repair is performed. In fact the alternator is returned to the parts supplier to be reconditioned and then sold as a re-manufactured unit to another customer.

You have the right to question and negotiate these extra repair charges with the service adviser and or the dealership. If you are being charged for shop supply and waste disposal you have the right to know what they throwing away and what kind of supplies they are going to use. You can also ask for these charges to be removed from your estimate and go somewhere else if they do not comply.

The above article just covers my opinion about the subject of shop supplies and waste disposal fees that are in some cases automatically created by a computer program. In my opinion they have no place in the estimate and are just the cost of doing business. If you would like to see more of my opinions the next link will take you back to the homepage for this auto repair information blog.

22 thoughts on “Unfair Shop Supply and Waste Disposal Charges

  1. Gerald

    So I had my brakes done the other day. They charged me $30.00 in Shop Supplies. I racked my brains and can’t think of where they could ever come up with using $30.00 in shop supplies. So it’s just a normal charge that’s the same for everybody? Ok, then let’s say they go through 10 repairs a day (Some more some less), then we’re talking about an extra $300 a day, $1500 a week (5days) and $6000 a month! I’m pretty sure you can buy a lot of rags and WD-40 with that amount. All I’m really saying is that it’s the cost of doing business. They charged me $60 an hour for labor, why not charge me $90 and I wouldn’t have cared, but don’t pee on my head and tell me it’s raining. I used to distribute meat throughout San Diego and I would drive to Los Angeles to pick it up. Could I have charged my customers an extra charge for fuel? I don’t think so.

    Oh and to all of you that say that we don’t know how it is to run a business, well I do. Competition was such that I couldn’t compete and wound up going bankrupt. There’s no way I could have tacked on the fuel cost to that. So, I guess that, if you need to charge for shop supplies because you can’t stay in business without it, then maybe you shouldn’t be in business.

  2. Mike Bohenek

    Those “shop supplies” charges are ALL bogus and a COMPLETE rip off. My 19 year old daughter was charged $12.12, because coolant leaked on to the garage floor.

  3. James Caffrey

    The problem with this charge is it is largely bogus. I agree there is a cost of doing business (e.g. rags, fluid disposal). However, that is it a cost not a profit center. These charges are grossly overstated and are in no way proportionate to the labor charge and or total bill. If you can’t make it on the standard labor charge and mark-up on parts, perhaps you don’t belong in the business. I just got charged $39 for shop supplies during a clutch replacement. I can buy a lot of rags and Dot-3 for $39. It also seems that this is primarily a corporate shop practice not one you typically see from independents. The easy answer is for the customers to vote with their feet.

  4. Tom

    I am completely against a shop fee charge. I was just charged $35.00 by Pep Boys for Strut Replacement. Here is how I see it. If you would go to a restaurant and order their early bird special for $9.95, you would expect to pay this amount plus tax. Now when you get the bill you see a $10.00 fee for operations cost tacked onto your bill. Everyone has expenses in operations. the restaurant has regulatory cost also, health inspections, Hep shots for it’s employees, requirement to have facilities for restrooms along with supplies, provide free water to customers, probably a higher water and waste bill than Auto Centers, disposal of grease, cleaning of facility to sanitary standards, cost of refrigeration and heating equipment to meet the required regulations. And it you order to go, or ask for a doggie bag, you should also be hit with an additional cost for the supplies that cannot be reused. So the next time you pay a shop fee, remember them and where they work. When they come to your place of business, recoup the money back for all associated cost. No matter what business you may operate.

  5. Mark Post author

    dc: I work for a Government fleet so I get paid hourly. Not a big fan of the flat rate system. If you get time read through the comments. I’m not against shop supplies. I’m against charging shop supplies as a percentage of every ticket. If a shop replaces an alternator only and returns it for a core they have used very little shop supplies in the operation. If they charge 8% automatically it seems unfair? I do appreciate your point of view as I have been a service manager and it’s not fun being caught between the customer, mechanic and business owner.

  6. dc

    Mr. Mastertech,

    Shop Supplies are an industry standard fee charged to customers to take care of standard expenses that are often needed (and sometimes not) for repairs and maintenance of vehicles. A shop COULD charge each item independently but I don’t think the customers would appreciate a 10 page invoice on some fairly common repairs. As a Service Manager I can assure you that my Shop Supply account is in the NEGATIVE nearly every month. Maybe the answer is to just eliminate SS and add that expense calculation to the Labor charge?

    You rally against Shop Supplies like you’re some sort of “FOR THE PEOPLE” savior…. but my guess is that you are a Flat Rate Tech who has no problem billing a customer 5.0 hours for a Water pump job that took you only 2.0 hours to complete. Correct? If you’re so worried about the people and being overcharged, how on earth could you charge someone 5 hours for a job that only took you 2 hours to complete????

    Is it because its Standard Business Practice in the auto industry (and many other industries) to charge that way?

    Yeah… thought so…

  7. joe van syoc

    I dont have a problem with charging for supplies and disposal so much as I take issue with these charges being tacked onto the bill as a percentage at the end, which means more often than not they are not included in the estimate. As for my shop, the charge is a flat $5 and I expect that to cover everything from misc nuts, bolts, cotter keys, grease paper towels etc. So far the revenues from that charge pretty much equal what I spend in supplies, so it is not a money maker. The other point I would make about shop supplies charges relates to the way your state charges sales tax, I my state, I pay sales tax on all supplies I buy, and they are exempt from the tax when I bill the customer. This may account for why you see a seperate charge on the bill, rather than those items simply built into the shop prices

  8. Matt

    Total BS! I just got home from a ford dealer after basically being pushed out the door as it was closing time. I inspected my bill later, which was for a ESOF 4×4 solenoid and 3 vacuum hoses. The bill seemed a bit high. On the second page, there it was, $151.00 for shop supplies. This may have set the bend over and take it record on a ridiculous fee for shop supplies. God almighty, I am going back Monday and asking for an itemized shop supply bill. I wont leave until they knock at least $100 off. That still leaves them with too much of my money.

  9. Concerned Citizen

    The cots of rags and solvent is a cost of doing business, just as the electricity is, and property taxes, and the coffee they put into the coffee pot. Shop fees should be built into the price, just like the other items are. In addition, the fees are often outrageously high for a couple of rags. Like documentation fees, this is just another way for the dealership to take more of your hard earned money. It’s a scam, and it’s why I maintain and repair my cars myself whenever possible. These guys make me sick every time I walk in there.

  10. Rob

    Hi i have a solution for everyone who is getting “ripped off”. go learn to fix cars and fix your own car, then you will realize its not like snapping legos together and supply’s are not cheep. its trying to fit your 3″ wide arm in a 2 1/2″ hole. lets just use a Hyundai accent oil pan as an example. i am in NY. so step one: put a floor mat and seat cover in (there not free). step 2: go grab the torches to drop the exhaust that runs under the oil pan (gas isn’t cheep). step 3: drain oil (use maybe 2 rags) step 4: drop oil pan and clean surfaces (maybe 3 more rags, half a can solvent or brakeclean, 2 cookie wheels). step 5: put the new gasket and pan on (few dabs of rtv to hold it in place). now to hang the exhaust back up (those bolts you torched are probably no good).

    Now you have to go wash up before backing the car out (soap, dry with rag), now you backed the car out and there is some oil on the ground that needs to be cleaned up (degrease, mop-head) So all said and done shop fees: 6 rags, gas and 2 tank rental fees, half a can of brakeclean, 2 cookie wheels, tube of rtv, bolts, soap, degrease, mop-head. who’s getting ripped off? would it be better if it was like NY where we have no shop fees by law? that’s why upstate labor rate is around $105 per hr. and the mechanics don’t make much of it. i make $22/hr as a master tech with L1.

  11. Tom

    Yes, there are many overcharges in this industry I would have to imagine BUT, to those who don’t understand what all is involved in running a small, customer service oriented automotive shop. My business is in the Los Angeles area, myself and one employee. Shop towel service – every two weeks – shop towel (rags) inventory qty. 200, roll towel machine in bathroom, inventory two rolls, cloth fender covers- inventory, two. Every two weeks I get a bill for $78.00 bucks. $156.00 a month – hell, in 3 months time I could own a washer and dryer in the shop. Carb. Spray (can of degreaser) 6 bucks a pop. Power bill – 200 bucks a month. Phone bill, 2 lines plus internet – 200 bucks a month, we accept credit cards, I bet almost NO ONE realizes that to accept credit cards that they charge the business as well.

    Last month we rang up about $11,000.00 on credit cards. Bank took $470.00 out of my account, plus $28.00 dollars every month to lease the damned credit card terminal. You really need your car “tonight”, and I just don’t have that one hose in stock. I leave my business to go pick one up at a local parts house which takes me 30 minutes round trip. At 100 bucks an hour, that’s 50 bucks I cannot charge for, can I? Because you’d go postal if I charged you $65.00 for a $15.00 hose. SO once again, I take in the shorts. That new alternator I installed on your car last month that failed – sure, it’s warranted – for you, that is. I get to replace it for free, and go through the hassle of returning it to the parts house, but I still get to do all this for free. Remember, this is a two man shop. We’re still in business after 22 years, I’m just as broke as when I started 22 years ago, but I DO sleep well at night. This business is no piece of cake. And we WON’T EVEN talk about all the EPA regulations.

  12. Andre D.

    All you auto shop owners who have replied, you have valid points. But recently I had my car’s A/C serviced. No repairs were required, just a recharge. The bill was $184 including a charge of $65.89 for 1.1 lbs of refrigerant. Now, I could buy a do-it-yourself kit for $25 which I assume includes some profit for the manufacturer, the distributor and the retailer. And if you buy in bulk its going to be a lot cheaper. So that $40 markup should pay for a lot of shop rags and washers. Oh yeah and they charged me $15 for a “shop supply fee.” and By the way, I should add that this took place at a franchise shop. I’ll agree that the local franchise owner is working his butt off to break even. Maybe fees like this are the only way he can make money after paying off huge franchise fees.

  13. Mike

    To all those who think they are being ripped off! Please open your Auto Service Shop “as soon as possible”. It is an absolute no brainer and makes tons of profit! It’s like a money tree growing in our front yard. Every auto repair owner I know lives in a 5 million dollor house, has a private plane, takes 15 weeks vacation a year. As stated earlier, how do you know you are being ripped off when you know nothing about what it cost to run a business!!!! Can’t fix stupid!

  14. Mark Post author

    Dave: Your comment was right on point and your position hard to disagree with. I would be happy to pay shop supplies and waste disposal charges at your shop!

  15. Dave

    I own a shop. There are many shops that take advantage of their customers and the lack of knowledge many demonstrate. I am sorry for those cases. However, it is very hard to individually charge for things like a couple of shots of WD40 on a hinge or using a third of a tube of dielectric grease during a tune up. I can either charge my customer for an estimated portion, charge them for the whole thing and then give them what I don’t use or charge a set amount based on what is purchased divided by the amount of customers in a given time. I am very conservative in this and have a cap at $25 that is never reached except on very large jobs such as engine replacement or major internal repairs.

    Not all shops are fair with this charge and it would possibly be more fair to charge on an individual amount used but that is very hard, like I said with spray lubricants and cleaners and most customers don’t want a half used can of anything. I have offered when ever there was an issue with the shop supply charges and I would hope any shop would. Every industry charges for everything they use in the manufacture or service of anything. I hope that most shops can actually explain all of the charges you are receiving and if not agree to remove them. Bottom line is don’t let a shop get away with over charging you, a shop supply charge may be in order but if it is 10 times what it actually cost the shop then be educated on the subject enough to complain. I hate to say it but the burden lies on the customer because so many shops are crooked.

  16. Timothy

    It just irritates me to no end when a shop has add on charges. And then there’s advertised prices for oil changes or repair charges and you’ll never walk out paying those prices other than taxes of course. Now I know shops and businesses need to make a profit, but don’t scam it out of the customers. Just give an honest straight forward cost to take care of needed services and I’ll happily pay it. Don’t add charges after the quote, I’ll just turn and walk away.

  17. Rebecca

    Teresa: I completely agree.

    My husband and I opened our automotive shop over a year ago and previously did not charge shop supplies. My husband had previously worked for a long time as a service manager at a dealership and was very jaded afterwards and wanted to do everything possible to not “rip people off” as he had seen happen at the dealership so many times. However, after a year in business we found out the hard way that this was costing us in a big way. We pay for waste disposal, towels, welding wire, grinding discs, chemicals and cleaners, etc. and consider them only a “business expense” instead of including them on our invoices for customers. We tried tracking the cost of some cleaners and fluids (but nothing else) on each individual invoice and found it to be, like you said, impossible.

    Too much goes on in the purchase and use of supplies to track this. This year, I have convinced him to follow suit with most other shops and charge the fee–we have decided to cap it at 15 as a concession to his not wanting to do anyone wrong. Sure, some shops charge way too much and do indeed make a profit, but the reality is, most do not and it is absolutely a necessary expense and one which cannot logistically be tailored to each individual job. Some come in over true cost, some under, but it all averages out. I have researched our local market to decide upon including this charge and I am certain it is the best decision business-wise, and if our customers trust us and want us to remain in business so that we can serve them, it must be done.

  18. Kerry

    As the owner, service manager and occasional wrench turner (26 years experience) for a small custom shop near Phoenix, I can relate and agree to almost each of the above comments. For Lisa who only got a key cut and programmed, I see no reason to charge any type of fee for supplies. Curt, I feel your pain too, since a rag and window cleaner would probably have covered it. However, I do know that nothing comes free. Protective coverings, when purchased in bulk, are less than $1 per car. Fortunately, I’m in a position where I can charge my customers based on what I think the job is going to entail with respect to supplies.

    For example, we do a lot of custom fabrication. Grinding media, drill bits, welding wire, it will have a cost and are factored in to the supply fee. If I know a job is going require a lot of cleaning chemicals and towels(ie, Toyota solid front axle rebuild) the fee is a little higher. I am blessed to not have to charge a fee on most oil changes because the company that picks up my used oil actually pays me to haul it away; they’ll filter it and use in their diesel powered vehicles and oil heaters. At the end of the day, I think a healthy dose of common sense instead of greed would keep both the shop and the customer happy. I’ve worked hard to get my customers. I’ve worked even harder to keep them. Having a customer’s business means I can feed my family today. Having their trust means I can feed my family tomorrow too!

  19. Teresa

    Wow- I love how everyone has an opinion on how they are being ripped off – but none have any actual facts. Most guys spouting this are trying to make themselves look better and usually are just employee’s, techs or wannabe technicians who dont have a clue about the actual costs involved in running a succesful shop. They have never actually owned a decent sized shop or even had to attempt to understand/manage the financial side of things! You all assume that these shops are just out to screw you in order to “make more profit” but reality is most auto repair shops are lucky too make any profit at all – especially in this economy. I can’t speak for dealerships, but I can tell you in the independant world it is dog-eat-dog and actual “profit” is very hard to come by.

    It is soo easy to be upset that you actually have to spend money on your vehicles- especially when it is not planned for or budgeted for- but stop assuming that you are always being screwed! It is ridiculous! Yes there are shops out there that rip people off – but they are very few and far between (just as there are people in every industry that are dishonest!) Get real! If they are ripping you off – the shop supply/waste disposal fee is not how they are doing it!

    If a shop were to do away with those fees (usually a percentage -with a cap of $25-$35 per invoice in our area) in order to cover this cost and still make ends meet, it would have to raise the labor rate for everyone that comes thru the door. On some repairs it may not look like the fee is justified – on others it is waaaay less than was required. The costs cannot be calculated based on each individual job- it is impossible- there is waaay too many variables – so it has to be calculated as an average percentage per invoice -with a cap) In the shop I work in doing away with the fee would mean raising the labor rate for everyone by approx $5.00/hr. What that would do is price that shop right out of the local market, and put them out of business. If it was feasable -most shops would much rather do it this way- however then you all would be complaining about ridiculously high labor rates!

    You have no idea the costs involved in maintaining and running a good shop- fluids are topped off on every vehicle, areas that were worked on were cleaned, floor mats, seat covers, misc components are constantly being used that are not being billed- and if they were you all would freak out that you are being “nickled and dimed” to death! Everything has to be properly processed/contained and disposed of. Shop supply/waste disposal fees are real and I can tell you that these charges at the shop I work at dont come close to covering the actual expenses involved- and its going to get worse. Last I checked environmental regulations/fees taxes and supply costs in general are not going down.

    Perhaps all you technicians with opinions on this would like to personally help the customers out by taking a pay cut in order to cover these expenses?

    Now if you are a one man shop with little to no overhead, dont care about cleanliness, good customer service, and not on the governments radar for taxes and fees – maybe you can afford to absorb these costs and still keep your one door open (probably not!)- but stop accusing honest businesses of what you really know nothing about! And stop feeding into the mistrust that is so rampant in this industry!

    As a customer- your choice is that they can either raise their prices and hide these costs from you, of they can be open and honest about their charges and give you the break down of the fee’s- either way you WILL pay for it – or they WONT be open to continue to service or warranty your vehicles repairs. Give them a break – for the shop , it is a lose-lose proposition- because either you are going to bitch about the repair being too expensive- or you are going to bitch about the fee’s. They cant win!

  20. Lisa

    I just left Performance Toyota Dealership in Memphis where I had to repurchase a Smart Key I misplaced. It was hard to swallow the $202.33 for the key, and even harder to swallow the $96 to program it (all pre tax costs), but that was NOT what left me fuming. I was charged a misc. environmental disposal fee of $4.80. I realize that is not near what others have been stuck for, but its a blasted KEY????!!!!! The previous day I had an oil change where they would LEGITIMATELY have to dispose of 5 quarts of oil and the charge was only .80 cents.

    But $4.80 to get a key programmed where there is nothing to dispose of at all????!!!! The guy said, “Well we have to cover the costs of the floor mats and all the paper we throw away, etc. Shouldn’t this be the normal cost of doing business. Did the $96 dollars NOT cover the paper floor mat? Gee Whiz, my car is OUT of warranty, I don’t have to continue to do business with these folks. Next time, I am bringing in my own paper floor mat. What a raping……as if a $100 charge for a 20 minute programming, didn’t do the trick?

    Lisa~

  21. Curt

    I had a driver’s side mirror replaced on my Ford Expedition. Let’s just say I wasn’t at my most graceful driving out of the garage. After the job was finished the maintenance rep showed me the bill at the cashier and I saw the $46.85 supplies/disposal fee. I gritted my teeth and payed the bill. I’m not an ASE Certified Master Technician with 26 years of experience but I did turn wrenches for a few shops when I was a kid and my estimation of what was needed to do this job was one shop rag and the disposal of one mirror.

    The obvious ripoff was on my mind enough that I stopped by the dealership just before closing time and presented the bill to the service manager and asked how that figure was calculated. He told me it is always calculated at 12 percent of the combined parts AND labor. What this tells me is that the supplies/disposal fee really has nothing to do with supplies and disposal but is an arbitrary surcharge added to the bill to increase the dealer’s net profit but is disguised (at least in my case) to look like repayment for a burden the dealer has to shoulder.

    I supposed the most bothersome thing about this whole thing is that deception and “business practice” seem to go hand in hand almost everywhere one looks. Having to look out for your own interests with a healthy amount of suspicion to the vendor you happen to be dealing with seems to be a practical necessity now. The estimate for the repair parts and labor was accurate. If it was possible to accurately estimate that then why not disclose an accurate estimate of the additional fees. Better yet…how about a fee that is appropriate to the fee’s label.

    Finally the service manager asked me what I thought was fair. I estimated that the rag cleaning service would charge no more than 25 cents for that invividual reusable rag to be cleaned and I offered to take the old mirror off his hands and throw it out for him. 2 dollars seemed like a reasonable amount to me just to make sure he was covered. To his credit, the service manager had the cashier refund my credit card all but the 2 dollars I agreed to pay.

    Of course this is all numbers to the dealership. Only a small percentage of charges like this are challenged.

  22. Mark

    I absolutely detest these shop supply fees. They are a total rip off.

    Each auto shop I go to has a different explanation. Only one has fessed up and admitted they are pure profit. The rest all maintain that the percentage is dictated by the state.

    It is bad enough that most folks don’t feel comfortable dickering on the price of the repairs/parts as general knowledge of how cars works seems to be disappearing. To include another amount that is explained as a state dictated fee is shady at best and fraudulent at worst.

    Thanks for your article.

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