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.”