Why does a hookup to the "diagnostic machine" cost so much?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

When my '95 Mazda 626 is acting up and I take it to my local garage (which is part of a national chain), they sometimes tell me it has to be put on the "diagnostic machine." Just putting it on the machine (and getting the results) costs me $70, not including the cost of actually fixing whatever is wrong. Why so much? I can't imagine that it takes very long to do this. -- Glenn

RAY: Well, you'd be surprised, Glenn. It can take an hour or longer to diagnose a car on the scanner, as we call it.

TOM: Especially when my brother pauses between tests to play solitaire on the machine.

RAY: It takes time to hook up the scanner. And then the mechanic has to go back and forth between the scanner and his own computer, look up codes and compare the results he gets to the specifications for your car.

TOM: And I'd say that generally takes anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour. Plus, the shop has to charge something to offset the cost of the scanner itself, which can be several thousand dollars, plus the cost of yearly updates. Not to mention the solitaire modules.

RAY: So I don't think $70 is at all out of line, Glenn. In fact, we charge $65 at our shop, and after answering this question, I think I might bump it up five bucks.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter