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Big companies running big fleets usually hire their own mechanics and buy parts wholesale either from dealerships or parts houses. With shrinking sales and profit margins, many operators save thousands of dollars by doing it themselves or hiring part-time mechanics. This saves more money than paying labor rates at a dealership or auto repair shop.
The auto repair business is known for its high mark-ups on parts and labor. For example, a repair shop might charge a labor rate of $55 to $75 per hour while paying the actual mechanic an amount closer to $25 to $30 per hour. Likewise, parts are typically marked up a minimum of 25% while some items such as windshield wiper blades can be boosted up to 50%, says Sonny Sanchez, the manager of an auto repair facility in Bakersfield, Calif.
Many auto parts supply houses will welcome your fleet business. Companies such as Carquest offer direct billing and free delivery as a convenience. Dealerships also offer the same wholesale prices and free delivery to fleet owners as they do to local repair shops. Whether you do the work or hire a part-time mechanic for a nominal hourly wage, the savings to be realized can be a lot.
Operator Mike Denning and his wife, Marlo, own Elegant Limousines of Palm Coast in Florida. Denning points out a Lincoln Town Car, for example, that needs an air-conditioner compressor replaced can easily cost $500 to $600 retail and involve a lot of downtime. If done correctly on his own, Denning's cost runs about $150 and "it is on the road again before lunch time."
What can YOU do?
This depends on your knowledge of autos and your comfort level with doing the work. In the case of Chris "Digger" Curtis, owner of Premier Limousine of Dayton, Ohio, he does everything himself except for major engine work, transmissions, A/C, and oil changes. He pays for oil changes simply because he doesn't have a convenient way to dispose of used oil. Curtis maintains brakes and some things specific to limousines, such as sound systems, fog machines, and lasers lights.
Jon Hook of Stars Luxury Limousine Services based in Northern Ontario, Canada recently repaired a leaky power steering hose. This repair could easily be $75 in a repair shop, but a repair kit costs only about $6. Hook also does his own body work, saving a lot of money on the cost of an auto body repair facility. Working in his shop, Hook has done exhaust repairs and replaced pipes. He also has replaced rear suspension airbags.
Airbags can be bought online from companies such as Strutmaster.com for less than $100 while your local dealership might sell one for double the price. Hook estimates that by doing his own work, he saves at least several thousand dollars a year on his fleet of three vehicles. Like Curtis, Hook knows enough to send major engine work to a pro. Denning inspects his vehicles two to three times a month and uses a checklist to look for potential problems.