We don't get involved with costs because there's way too many variables involved. Labor rates vary all over. If I'd show you the list of expenses dealers have that I showed to my students, you would wonder how they could afford to stay in business by only charging $100.00 per hour.
Most shops charge customers and pay mechanics on the "flat rate" system but the job you need is not included in that guide because it is a custom job. Flat rate means a job has a specific time it is supposed to take on your car model and engine size; for example, 2.8 hours to replace a water pump. You would be charged 2.8 times their hourly labor charge regardless of how long it actually took to do the repairs. The mechanic gets paid for 2.8 hours but if he's very experienced and has invested in a lot of very expensive tools and advanced training, he might get it done in 2.0 hours and can move on to the next job sooner. If he's inexperienced, it might take him 4.0 hours but he still gets paid for only 2.8 hours. The incentive is to work efficiently, not fast. The checks and balances is if he makes a mistake, you don't pay again for the same repair and he doesn't get paid to fix his mistake.
For warranty purposes the times published are always a little less because there's no need to quibble over which parts will get approved for replacement, there's no rust yet to make the job more difficult, and any needed service information is right at hand. Also, if a brake line was being replaced under warranty, the manufacturer would supply the more expensive exact replacement, and the labor time would include time to remove anything necessary to put the car back to exactly like when it was new.
With a custom job like yours, there is no way to anticipate every possible thing that can go wrong or get in the way. Brake lines are attached with very soft metal nuts that are supposed to spin on the metal lines. After ten years they're going to be rusted tight and snap off or round off. That's no problem when that line is being replaced, but what that nut screwed into might round off or snap off too, then you have more parts to replace. Sometimes taking extra time and working slowly prevents that additional damage so fewer parts are needed. Some mechanics prefer to work as fast as possible to save you money on labor but that means tearing off everything and replacing it with new parts. That's usually the less expensive route because bulk brake line isn't very expensive, but then all some people see is that more parts got replaced than what the shop down the street said was needed. Now you have a customer who was saved some money by their conscientious mechanic but who feels ripped off because the other shop would have sold them fewer parts. This kind of thing happens all the time in this industry.
Besides saving you money on labor, those difficult-to-save parts are just as old and rusty as those that are leaking, so the mechanic knows he's not doing you any favors in the long run by not replacing them now.
I had to replace a rear brake line on my '88 Grand Caravan about five years ago. Took about an hour crawling around in the dirt driveway, but everything was right out in the open. Couple years later had to do another one that was just as easy. I'm sure it won't be long before another one pops a leak but since I'm my own mechanic, I'll just wait. Most car owners who have to pay a mechanic are better off having all the lines replaced at once so they don't have to worry for another ten years, at least about brake lines.
Some mechanics will also coat new brake lines with rustproofing material if they have some handy. That can get you another five to ten years before they rust out again. That just takes a minute or two extra and is something they would not charge extra for. I was paid typically 1.3 to 1.5 hours to do a "new vehicle prep" which means screwing on the radio antenna, checking lug nuts, removing protective covers, etc. But I also took the time to spray a special grease on all the nuts and bolts that would otherwise be rusted tight by the time we needed to loosen them. I had a lot of ten-year-old cars come in with those things looking like new yet. Things like that take extra time but it pays off for customers and mechanics later.
Another variable is the type of brake line they're going to use. Bulk brake line is the least expensive but fittings must be installed, then a "double flare" or a metric "iso flare" is made on both ends. With experience, each flare takes a minimum of five minutes, assuming it turns out right the first time. The advantage is the piece is cut to exactly the right length so it will look almost like the original one.
It's faster to install pre-made universal replacement lines. These are made in standard lengths of typically 24", 30", 36", etc. So you have to pick the one that's long enough to reach, then bend it to use up the excess length. Less time because the fittings and flares are already done, but those cost more. They'll perform perfectly fine but they'll usually not look like the factory lines.
Bleeding the air out is another variable they can't foresee. Brake fluid is rapidly forced through under high pressure on the assembly line, and all the bleeder screws are shiny and rust-free. Your mechanic is going to have to work on the rusty bleeder screws to get them to open up. If he hurries, he's going to snap one off. That is going to require replacing more, potentially expensive, parts, and more time. It's better to work slowly with bleeder screws. They have three or four different tricks to free them up. If one trick works, they can move on to the next wheel. If it doesn't work, they have to start over by trying something else. There's no way to plan for things like that.
Up here in Wisconsin, the road salt capital of the world, shops are required to provide an estimate, if you request it, that they can't exceed without your permission. The problem with something like this is they have to stop in the middle of the job if they run out of money for time or parts. If they can't reach you for approval of additional costs, the car will have to just sit there or be pushed outside until you show up. To avoid that, some service advisers will quote a repair estimate considerably higher than what they think the job will really take. That gives them some flexibility and the possibility of surprising you with a final bill that's lower than the estimate, (who doesn't like that), but they also risk losing the job to the shop down the street that quoted you a lower amount.
The only thing that can be said with certainty is no two shops or mechanics are going to hand you the same bill for the same work on this type of job. The best you can do is to ask for a rough suggestion or get an estimate that can't be exceeded without them informing you first. They'll probably ask you how long you plan on keeping the car too. That will help them to decide when to replace that other line that might not be leaking, ... Yet, or whether to just do enough to make the car safe for now.
Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 AT 2:35 AM