Women at the Auto Repair Shop: Better at Haggling, Yet More Likely to Get Ripped Off

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According to a new study, it’s good and bad to be a woman when dealing with auto mechanics: It’s bad because you’re more likely to get above-market price quotes for the job at hand, but good because you’re more likely than a man to negotiate a better price.

In the study, conducted by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, male and female volunteers called up auto repair shops asking how much it would cost to replace the radiator on a 2003 Toyota Camry. With the help of AutoMD.com, which tracks repair costs and hooks consumers up with auto shops, volunteers knew that the job should cost around $365.

But the callers didn’t always let on that they knew the going rate. Instead, some tossed out the $365 figure over the phone, some mentioned that they thought the job should cost $510, and some said they had no idea what a radiator replacement would run.

As you might guess, it’s a really bad idea to toss out an inflated, above-market price when seeking a quote. Male and female callers who did so both wound up with pricey quotes of over $425, on average.

(MORE: 12 Things You Should Always Haggle Over)

Likewise, when male and female callers mentioned $365 as a fair price, the quotes they received were essentially the same, averaging $393. What’s noteworthy is what happened when callers said they had no idea what the repair job should cost. When men seemed clueless, they got better price quotes ($383), while women who seemingly had no knowledge of an appropriate charge were hit with a higher estimate ($406).

Researchers say that the difference in price quotes could be explained by auto shops thinking that a man may say he’s clueless in order to test the shop’s pricing and honesty, while a woman who says she has no idea what something costs genuinely is clueless—and ripe for overcharging. This comes down to stereotypes and assumptions,” says Meghan Busse, one of the Kellogg School professors involved in the study. “Our findings suggest that auto shops may assume men know the market price for a given repair, so they automatically grant it. However, they may not expect women to be knowledgeable in this area, so the perception is they can charge them more.”

“If you say ‘I have no idea’ and you’re a woman, you really have no idea,” says Florian Zettelmeyer, another Kellogg School professor.

So men are in the driver’s seat, so to speak, when dealing with auto repair shops, right? Not exactly. Callers participating in the study were also instructed to try to negotiate a better price.

(MORE: Survey: Women are Smarter, More Thorough When Buying Cars)

The numbers indicate that women are less comfortable with haggling than men. According to some surveys, men initiate haggling four times more than women, and when it comes to car purchases, women will pay over $1,300 extra in order to avoid negotiating.

But the Kellogg School study shows that women in particular have good reason to ask for a better deal. When callers asked the auto repair shops to lower the price quoted, 35% of women were successful, compared to just 25% of men. Researchers said that the “sizeable difference” couldn’t be explained simply due to women being quoted higher initial prices.

What does account for the difference then? Because most auto shop employees were men, researchers said that chivalry is one explanation. “It may be that men are more likely because of social or cultural conditioning to respond positively to requests made by women,” they wrote.

Expectations about how men and women normally behave also seem to play a role. “If on average women don’t ask [for a lower price], but this woman is asking, that’s quite different from what’s normally expected,” says Zettelmeyer.

(MORE: Revealed: The One Big Secret to Successful Haggling)

When a guy asks for a better price, it’s not much of a surprise to the auto shop. The employee isn’t caught off guard, and he’s more likely to stand his ground on the price quote. It’s more unusual for a woman to request a better deal, however, so the assumption is that a woman who negotiates truly means business. “A woman who actually pushes me?” says Busse. “I believe she is actually going to walk out of the door if I don’t give her a good price.”

10 comments
DaManny
DaManny

Attention all women! Go to youtube and search for : KLOWNY1969 .. And you will find videos about auto repair and what to look out for when bringing your car to a shop ..so dont get ripped off!! Klowny1969 also has videos teaching you how to work on your car and maintain it!!

Onepatriot
Onepatriot

I know there is some carelessness going on at some shops.  My Grandaughter's car started making engine noise one day and  when she took it to the dealership, under her extended warranty, they said it was very low on oil.  She'd taken it to one of those shops that do oil changes and apparently they didn't fill it back up to the proper level.  I know from now on, when I have an oil change, I'll check the oil level myself to make sure they did.  You can't  trust anyone.

BorisIII
BorisIII

And I always thought women where just winning because getting a car fixed is always expensive.  Most guys are pretty clueless with how to fix a car also.  I have a friend who is a mechanic that is going to fix something on my car.  Lots of variables in this study.  Also,  I'm sure guys are more likely to get on the internet and read the instructions of how to fix their car.  Also guessing different parts of the country charge differently.

JackKennedy1
JackKennedy1

The headline is basically saying women are good negotiators but also idiots.

sixtymile
sixtymile

I'd like to pose a different theory for the causal connection (which is always shear speculation from study data anyway). The shop may consider that if the price is too high the caller could choose to do the work himself, which is mostly labor and not highly skilled. The shop is unlikely to lose this dirty job to a do-it-your-selfer woman. Closely related is that men often have at least some do-it-yourself experience with a resulting sense of how much work, and almost always a low-ball (under-market) expectation on price...just saying from my own view.

vgupta123
vgupta123

The difference ($406 vs. $383) seems rather small. Only 5-6%.

auronlu
auronlu

@Onepatriot Sears recently replaced one of my front tires with one size different from the other three. It was close enough not to be noticeable in front, but when rotated to the back, it caused my car to go completely haywire at freeway speeds. At a bizarrely specific speed, the stability control system would kick in trying to compensate for what it read as a skid (one tire moving differently from the other three), draining the hybrid's electric battery extremely fast as it attempted to apply braking, and of course acceleration suddenly became sluglike.

Now I know to look at the tires they're giving me and double-check the numbers to see that they match. But good grief, one can't do that on every part. The amount of faith involved in so much of our world (that car parts are correct, that someone installed your gas correctly, that the pharmacy isn't growing mold in the medicine, etc, etc) is kinda scary.

mahadragon
mahadragon

@JackKennedy1 I don't see it that way. I see women as being more compassionate and less combative. Sometimes it's more important to be diplomatic than to chase after a few extra dollars. It could go a long way in the future.

JackKennedy1
JackKennedy1

Sheer not shear. Misspelling basic words hurts ones cause.