Harold'd Helpful Hints: Repair shop costs and etiquette: How to work out a disagreement by Carlsbad Small Engine and Ask the Mower Guy

ASKTHEMOWERGUY carlsbadsmallengine ECHO BLOWER nm politic and lawn mower repair repair equipment small town business

So this week I thought about communication, costs and a very important question that everyone should ask themselves when considering getting equipment repaired. Is it really worth fixing? Is it worth arguing over when done or is it time to just let it go? It will almost always cost more than you think.

I know it’s been a great trimmer, the best chainsaw ever, started every time you wanted to mow  and you wouldn't trade this mower for anything. So you bring it to the shop and tell the guy at the counter, get her fixed and tune her up. Perfect customer service, great location, convenient hours and a good reputation. Great decision to get it repaired. So from when you drop it off you love these guys.  A little later  you develop the exact opposite opinion of the shop. What happened?


Well the communication on all sides was probably poor. Today, let me try and explain the other side of the equation, the business’s of the shop


They want to make you happy and have invested a lot of money to assist you. It is not in their interests to upset you over a bill, but they have to cover all that expectation that you set for communication, timing, availability and convenience.

 They are a small business, competing on the retail side with giants like the box stores, and every Tom, Dick or Harry who does repairs out of his garage under the table.

 Here is the rub.  You have this mower,  They want to fix mowers,  The issue is expectations.  They can fix anything anytime on demand just isn't realistic.   True,   the expectation that your mower, the one that has not been made in 5 years, services since it came out of the box will still has parts available, anyone within a 100 miles has ever worked on it before especially the mechanic in the shop, and it will be done in a couple days, every time, is perfect reasonable to you. But to the shop, here is the deal: that’s not a reasonable expectation. Let me tell you why so you don’t get disappointed and why the costs might be more than you might expect.

 The guy at the counter will cheerfully take the deposit, usually around $40 bucks and tags the equipment. Let me explain the deposit.   It’s a guarantee to start with that they have their costs covered.  Here is why they need a deposit.


Lots of people want things fixed, and a lot won’t pay for it when its done. That’s it. The $40 deposit is to pay for the nice fellow at the counter, the lights overhead, building, lots, tools and the mechanic in back, not to mention the book keeper, kid who washes it off when it’s done or helps you load or unload, trucks trailers, lifts, you get the picture.

 That’s not it, there is more.  Consider also the costs for the time it takes to fill out all the paperwork and that pleasant conversation on just about anything for an additional 10 minutes. Usually the deposit is set to the shop minimum charge, or about ½ hour’s labor.   If it can be fixed in that ½ hour it is but general if it’s a minor repair that just about covers it, if not that’s what it takes to get a good feeling for what’s wrong. That’s an important statement in that a lawn mower has no hook ups for diagnostic equipment, can’t tell you what’s wrong, only an experience mechanic can old school diagnose the issue, and that takes time, which costs money.

 The next issue is terminology. Go to a shop and almost everyone says just tune it up. A broken mower, trimmer, blower, hedger, pump or compressor will not be fixed by a tune up. A tune up is an attempt to make a running item tune better. If it’s broke, it needs a repair. A tune up will not make it not run better.  

A tune up makes sure that if running, equipment continues to run well unless it is broken. Oil changes won’t fix a varnished carburetor, Seafoam additive wont repair the cable, that has been sitting for 6 months rusting out in the back yard or a bent crank from the curb you hit. Sorry but that’s the truth. First it must be fixed and then it will only run as good as it did before the repair was done. Next you do the tune up. Its not the same thing and its two separate costs.

Also, if you specifically ask for something to be fixed, the mechanic will fix just that. There is no garauntee he will try to even start it if that was not part of your request. Telling the shop do this or that and nothing else will get you exactly that. Don’t expect anything else to be done unless you ask and please don’t get upset when it does not work. You did not want anything else done.

For example my recoil is broke, please fix it. The mechanic fixes the recoil. Customer comes to get it and pulls on it. It works perfectly but the engine does not start. It wont run. You ask why doesn’t this run, well because nothing was done to make it run. In fact the reason the recoil broke was because of something else and all the pulling and pulling to get it started.

 The request was to fix the recoil not the engine. Next time try this. My mower is broken, won’t start. I broke the recoil trying to fix it. Fix it and get my engine running and then tune it up. If it looks like the whole deal will go over $ 150.00 then lets talk about it and give me a call. This sets up the repair, and the costs well. You won’t or shouldn’t have any surprises. Be reasonable however. Don’t set a limit below a $100.00, Very little can be done on any repair for under a $100.00, and don’t forget tax.

 One important point...… Don’t never, ever never, never, ever, ever tell them get it running and tune it up and fix whatever is wrong. That will end badly because the mechanic will fix everything and again the bill will exceed your expectation  The carburetor is now in $50, plus shipping $15, evaluation cost $40, oil, gas, shop supplies, air filter, broken handle bolt replaced, cables secured, fuel filter, and spark plugs, another $27, and flat rate of 1 hour to do it all $78.00 and of course that blade is a little bent lets replace that too.   Now the mower is ready, washed and running like a mower should. $225. Will that be check or credit card.  I guarantee you that will make your upset.  But why?  Its what you asked for.

At this point everyone stops being friends for some reason. The customer got what was asked for and the bill is exactly what the shop charges. The issue is cost and perception of value. Mix in a little poor communication, misplaced expectations and you have yourself a grand argument.

It is not cheap to fix anything anymore.  Fuel over $4.00, meat over $10, cars $40,000, it’s all gone up. For some reason, the expectation is a $350 lawn mower, neglected for 5 years is going to be 30 bucks to repair. Not going to happen. That $3,000 rider will cost almost every time over $200 to tune up and get going minimum. That seems too high to most people, but will give the mechanic a hug with a $600 bill fixing the same stuff, by the same guy on an ATV.  

 Try and understand. An engine is an engine, a mechanic is a mechanic, a shop is a shop. They are all the same thing. Three things affect costs – time, quality, and demand. The same people do the same work. The expectations need to be similar in regards to costs if the quality, time and demand are the same. The lawn mower shop employs the same people as all the dealerships you are used to.


You need to think of the local shop as a small dealership. It has a showroom with sales people, buildings, mechanics, IT people, parts inventory, managers, specialists, forklifts, and delivery trucks. All of that cost money, and the same people working at the local mower shop could work at the local car lot, Harley shop or any other professional repair or service business. They expect to be paid and be paid well enough to work on nasty outdoor power equipment day in and day out for customers who may or may not appreciate the fact that they are there. They could just as easily be working on the Harley, charging twice as much and that would be that. Start to think about the flexibility and capability of the mechanic to jump from mower, to blower, to pump, to compressor, all ranging from a few dollars to thousands instantly and on demand. That mechanic doesn’t work for minimum wage anymore, has expectations as well and quite frankly shouldn’t be taken for granted.


Do not be surprised that the mower dealership, charged you for the convenience and support of being there when you needed them to be open, staffed, and willing to take in evaluate, and repair 1 of any 50,000 random pieces of equipment on demand be it outdoor power equipment, UTV, ATV or industrial stuff.


They will try and help you with your problem – a broken piece of equipment. It will cost however at least shop minimum and if it is to be done fast, by a skilled mechanic to a high standard ahead of all the other waiting customers, it will cost you. Just because it is worth a certain amount today, the parts costs the same as the day it was new, cost to get in quickly or to stock and pushing it into the hands of the best guy, ahead of all his other clients is a premium service. Make sure your ready and communicate those limits I discussed earlier.

 So now after all the talk and discussions,  you get a bill that is higher than you expected please don’t tell the shop keeper- you just to keep it. That does nothing as they have enough equipment and really don’t want yours. The own it already with a mechanics lien and furthermore the contract probably states additional fees, collection costs etc. if you don’t pay up.  That statement will cost your triple.

 They are going to keep it most likely no matter what if you don't pay up, sell it and turn over the difference to collections that in turn are going to double or triple to costs involved thereby maximizing the fine print on the service agreement for their profit. That approach will end badly and be very expensive as the store keeper has all the cards.

Saying your never coming back won’t help either because who wants a customer who won’t pay their bills, is a hassle to work with, or why work with someone who’s never coming back anyways. Believe it or not just like a customer chooses where to shop, shops choose their customers and if you’re a pain in the you know what, they will simply let you go.

There is better way and without all the back and forth discussion that end with upset people , equipment forfeiture or argument. Accept the fact that the shop presented their bill in good faith, wants you back and may not realize there is an issue. There could even have been and I am sure you could never have imagined this, a mistake made.


The best approach is talk to the senior guy there and discuss it. Make your point but be nice, don;’t get angry. The deal isn’t over or made yet. If you push, they will push back and there will not be good open discussions. Most likely they will work with you if you are willing to work with them a little.


Here is what to focus on that will get you the best results and experience at any shops:

  1. When you get to the shop ask the question honestly to yourself : is it worth $40 to know it’s a piece of junk or if I should keep it. If it’s not worth it to you to know , then ask for $10 trade in and off load the thing on the spot and buy a new one. Bottom line is your not getting it back under almost any scenario for under $90 including tax . You know this,so why pretend.
  1. If there is misunderstandings then focus the discussion and work at the labor costs. Labor costs is much lower than the shop rate. They can back it down to cover their cost and most likely will to keep a good customer happy. Stress you don’t want them to lose any money but you need to work the price down some because there has been a mutual misunderstanding. Make a reasonable offer and work to an agreeable number. Be nice, and they will be mostly as well. 
  1. Remember it’s a piece of equipment, an inanimate object. It’s not your child, dog or a rare piece of antiquity. It’s an object used to cut grass. There is no reason on earth to get mad over an engine with a blade attached to it.  If you insult the mechanic, he will get mad as he does have a invested interest in the mower. He fixed it and did it well in his mind. Acknowledge that first, and then proceed with trying to get a reduction or justification for the expense.  Keep it out of the personal. 
  1. Don’t argue with the hired help. They don’t have the authority to fix the issue, and most likely won’t do anything. Ask how to get to the manager or owner, and excuse yourself. Make a call, set up an appointment and discuss the issue you have. Make sure that some time has passed to cool off. It really will seem pretty silly arguing over $30. 
  1. Offer to pay the bill but get a discount on a future purchase. Go for a percent off like 15% instead of a dollar amount. Wait for a big purchase and get your money back. No hard feelings and you get what you wanted. 

 Good luck and I hope this helps a little

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The Video Lesson
Spark plugs come in many shapes and sizes The most common are the W14LM-u for non OHV, and the Q16PRU-11.  W22 Plugs are used for trimmers and two cycles.  The insulated shank is shorter.
The issue is that plugs work in heat ranges and are different lengths for most applications these are the generic cross over for almost any application and work well


I hope that helps. Be sure to visit the carlsbadsmallengine.com web site or the store Carlsbad Small Engine in Carlsbad, NM for all your parts needs, repairs or just to ask a question

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  • Nate on

    fellow (startup) shop owner here. just read through your article about shop charges and customer expectations. I cannot stress the sympathy that I feel. After having had many strings of client claiming “I thought i was only gonna cost 50 bucks to fix!” – “your good at this it should only take half an hour” or my personal favorite" I told you to repair X, why is my problem not fixed!" at my wits end with clients and their half baked cheap prices and home brewed diagnostics. if you could offer any suggestions as to how better to corral clients into a system that’s easier to manage. I would be all ears.

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