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August 26, 2012

Car Talk

Shop's charge for battery installation is legit

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:
Our 1986 Honda Accord needed a battery. My wife took the car to a local auto shop. She bought a five-year battery that cost $91.95. They also charged $42.96 to check and install the battery. My questions: (1) Do shops usually charge for installation? (2) If so, isn't $42.96 a lot to charge? What is reasonable? I'm sure my wife got ripped off. — Frank

Ray: Well, she might have gotten ripped off, Frank, but not on the battery. Those prices sound about right.

Tom: It's not a lot of work, but it'll take a mechanic 20 minutes to half an hour to swap out a battery correctly. You have to remove the cables and clean them off, and then reattach them.

Ray: Then you have to put the machine on it to check the charging system and make sure the alternator and voltage regulator are doing their jobs, so the new battery doesn't get undercharged or overcharged (like you think you did).

Tom: And when you test the charging system, it'll also tell you whether the new battery is fully charged. If a battery sits on the shelf for six months before it gets sold, it may be partially depleted. If that's the case, they'll charge it for you.

Ray: Finally, most shops will use a temporary power supply to maintain power to the car's computer while the battery is being swapped out. That's not absolutely essential, but it does preserve stuff like your radio presets, seat settings and the computer's memory for emissions parameters (which are necessary for a vehicle inspection). You can get all that stuff back, but it's an inconvenience.

Tom: Put that all together, and considering the average shop charges about $90 an hour these days, that's about $45 worth of labor, which is about what you paid.

Ray: And by the way, I love your optimism, Frank: Putting a five-year battery in an '86 Accord!

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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