Diagnosis Fees: What are our rights?

I have been experiencing an increasingly annoying electrical fault in my (used) car’s audio system. To my knowledge it’s likely a loose or damaged wire/fuse. I contacted a dealer for my model (as I knew they’d have the tools to fix it) and was told the Diagnosis Fee is $154/hr.

This is a lot of money to lay out without knowing how long it will take them to find the problem and how much it will cost to get it fixed when they do. How do these types of fees fit into consumer law?

Bonus points if anyone can suggest a more affordable alternative in Perth.


It’s reasonable for a service provider to charge their hourly rate to diagnose a problem, though I’d expect a qualified person to be doing the diagnosis, not the apprentice, or not the full rate. Knowing some people in the auto industry, its a double edged sword - customers will complain if it costs $300 to find the problem and another $500 to fix it, but if it costs $25 to fix a bad connection they’ll complain about that too. Time is money … knowing how complex electrical systems are, I’d be happy for the $25 but you’d be surprised :wink:


Just on that point - a dealer is the last place I’d go.

Look around for a medium sized outfit and check with them their access to diagnostic tools. Might pay to talk to a couple.

I could tell a funny story about a dealer and a >$3000 bill to fix a fresh air vent actuator :wink:


My main questions are more of things like

  • Do I have any right to an approximate cost/range of costs upfront? What if I pay $300 in diagnosis fees just to find out a $1k component needs replacing?
  • As a service, is there any requirement for the amount of time for diagnosis to be ‘reasonable’? Or is there no technical limit on how long they can bill me for?

I think any consumer can legitimately set a limit on what level of time/effort can be expended. In shopping around, my level of comfort that I’m dealing with a reasonable person who will communicate is definitely a factor in determining whether they get the job. If they respond ‘dunno mate’ then I walk (might have to literally walk of course…). I like to hear that they have the diagnostic tools to dump computer error codes,history and test components that support some kind of test function - I know one man shows that have spent thousands on good quality diagnostic tools because (especially in a small town) your name is mud if you waste customer money stumbling around when sometimes a diagnosis takes 5 minutes … not always, but sometimes. There are exceptions to everything, but I’d suggest the more expensive the replacement part, the more chance you have that a diagnosis will be quicker, particularly if it’s ‘throwing a code’. The wire with the worn through insulation or dry joint in an impossible to see/reach/access part of the car might be cheap to fix once found … but finding it …

Not electrical, but I was told when I went to pick up a vehicle that it took 5 hours longer than estimated. Seems the ‘specialist’ they had for that make had left the company and they had problems working out how to do it. I asked them if they remembered the conversation between myself, the service manager and said ‘specialist’, which they did, and whether I should pay for their learning experience after an expectation had been set. Let’s just say that like that time when the past, the present and the future walked into a bar - it was tense, but ‘we came to an arrangement’ which I don’t think either party was entirely happy about so that probably made it ‘fair’ :slight_smile:

The limit you set. The value of the car? I think it’s something you need to clearly agree on before the work starts. Don’t rely on the other party being the same kind of ‘reasonable’ that you are. You don’t want a $2500 diagnostic bill for an EB Falcon …


When looking for a problem rather than the symptom one can never tell how long something might take. Computer codes can make it minute or two, if there is one for the problem. Otherwise how long is a piece of string?

Sometimes that happens. I expect you could have meant a $1.00 component, or if you did mean $1K ($1,000) and you would not spend that amount, you found out what the problem was.

Sometimes you do not get the answers you want, but do you expect someone to diagnose your vehicle for free? Those that claim to do it recoup their diagnostic time in the repair bill.

A good tech should find a problem within a few minutes with a code, or otherwise an hour or two, but many problems are not ‘field replaceable’ and all they can do is change suspect modules. A problem in your audio system could be anything from a frayed wire to a bad connector to a cold solder joint inside, or a bad IC or component. How long does it take to trace each possibility?

An analogy is watching Windows reboot every time you try something to fix something. Maybe it was the answer, and maybe not, but your time was still required to tick ‘OK’, if that makes a point.

You could set a maximum amount. Some might find the problem quickly if it was an easy one. Some repairers might (chuckles) find the problem 1 minute prior to the limit of your cheque, if you know what I mean. Others might not find it and stop as you directed. It is not a given that any of what you paid for the diagnosis will cover any of the repair unless the work for diagnosis is part of the repair (eg taking the unit apart, etc)


There’s nothing in the law that sets a maximum fee for this type of service to my knowledge, @Peterchu but generally you’re encouraged to get a few written quotes to compare and ensure you’re getting a fair price. Make sure you let them know to inform you of any additional costs too. Depending on the nature of the system and problem, hopefully you can find someone willing to do the job for a fair price.

Good luck, let us know how you go.


Indeed cars/bikes are easy - problem diagnosis doesn’t always get the show back on the road, like when they finally blamed the hyphen in the code for having to toast ‘Mariner’ 4 minutes and change into the mission :wink:


After spending my working life in the electronics industry, the most common thing I heard was people with problems with electronic products claiming that they thought that the problem was just a loose wire, which the problem very rarely was.

Perhaps they were just expressing their hope that the problem was something easily and cheaply fixed, but whilst a loose wire would be easy to cheaply fix, identifying it can be a long, frustrating and expensive nightmare, and it was rarely the cause of the problem.

In the case of vehicles in this modern computerised era, the door is open to unscrupulous grubs to claim any and all sorts of problems ranging from the engine management module to anything else, and if the vehicle won’t operate and has to be taken to their “workshop”, how can the consumer have any idea of the truth?

I have read several articles about customers who had installed cameras or other devices in their vehicles to catch out rip-off merchants with great success.

At the end of the day, this is a classic case of “Let the buyer beware”.


Let’s start with the fact it’s your car’s audio system. It is not to do with the engine, etc., so it is unlikely that there are any tools required to fix your audio system that only the dealer will have.

Other responses have talked about codes:, the codes come via the OBD2 data connector. It is possible to plug devices into the OBD2 connection, and communicate with the on-board computers and sensors. I don’t believe the audio system is tied in to this system.

Your dealer will either take your car to an auto-electrician, or have one of their staff look to see if they can work out what is going on. Even if the dealership has auto-electricians, I think that you are much better off taking your car to an auto-electrician and paying far less to get it fixed. A good auto-electrician would have experience in such matters, and find and fix the problem much faster.

I would suggest that you go to at least one reputable auto-electrician and ask how much they would charge to fix your problem.


I overlooked the fact that your problem was confined to the audio system.

I would recommend taking it to a specialist car audio repair shop. If you can identify the maker of the system, then see if there is an authorised service agent near you.

Alternatives include trying to get the same audio system from a wrecker or on eBay or Gumtree, or buying a new compatible audio system which may well be superior unless your vehicle is an upmarket model.


The problem is I don’t know if it’s the audio system or just the wiring


Regardless of whether the problem is in the system or the wiring, a specialist car audio repair shop will be your best bet.

As well as fixing both problems, they also regularly fit replacement systems to all types of vehicles so they should be conversant with the wiring.


You could do some testing yourself by checking/changing inline fuses, checking that accessible connections are not loose and similar. As others have said above it is better to set a limit on costs so that the auto electrician/specialist does not go over any cost you would like to bear. Get a few quotes about what some businesses might charge and time frames they expect (this maybe from a phone call or some other contact), again remembering to set a limit if choosing a business to do the work. Dealers tend to be the most expensive choice but sometimes have a great deal of experience with certain faults that are common to a model of vehicle.

If you are able try to find a cheap replacement at a wreckers and see if you get the same issue, this should eliminate or confirm the unit as the cause. If it isn’t the unit you could then sell the spare on Gumtree or similar if you want.

Another option is to go after market and buy a new audio unit and replace the old system. If you buy from some businesses such as JB HiFi they will fit a new unit for a reasonable cost and you will get a warranty and will be covered by Australian Consumer Law for both the new unit and the service to fit the unit.


Once upon a time it was simple to remove and replace an audio system, but in more modern cars it could be anywhere from ridiculously easy to ridiculously difficult.

Could you be more specific about the car make and model and the fault? Some audio systems are embedded with ‘media centre’ controls, adding complications. If the unit eg randomly turns off-on, it could be anything from a broken wire to a media centre problem to in an extreme case the cars control system. Once upon a time audio power was a function of the ‘accessories’ position on the key starter but has increasingly evolved to the car’s media and control systems.

My point is ‘remote armchair advice’ might be better with better details.

That can often be the best (as well as cheapest) solution noting that after market models are not usually 100% compatible replacements for integrated OEM units – think media centre interfaces, steering wheel controls, numbers of speakers, whether it replaces whatever is in the dash in any case and so on – so many pre-purchase questions need to be asked to avoid disappointment.


We replaced the factory audio system in our previous Honda Gen 3 CRV with an Alpine system with reversing camera.

We bought it from and had it installed by a local specialist car audio shop and all the original controls were properly integrated into the unit.

That is why I would recommend a car audio specialist shop as they have very likely done it previously and should be able to advise of any issues in advance.


Around 15 years ago, a technician who had previously operated his own TV and other electronics repair business related the story of a younger technician who also operated his own repair business, but who was not very proficient.

The younger guy used to advertise “free quotes” to attract customers, but would quote over-the top prices for repairs.

In the case of customers who accepted the quotes, he would take the items that he could not fix himself to other more competent repair businesses.

A “free quote” does not necessarily imply a cheap or honest repair charge.


It’s not quite the same, and often not underhanded, but in my experience mechanics often do this especially for specific skillsets like air conditioning and auto electrics to name just two and they’ll often be quite up-front about it if you ask.

In the case where you take a vehicle in for a ‘normal service’ and ‘can you look at the aircon’ a local guy I use and trust here will openly say he takes it to another guy for the aircon and that I could do that myself - its a trade-off of course, time vs money. Others are less forthcoming but open about it if asked.

In both this type of case and your example @Fred123 it offers up another question we customers can ask and be aware of - ‘can you do the whole job in-house?’ Of course they might still be secretive about it, but as long as the cost isn’t blown out it might also be a good thing that the guy owning the problem can reach back to someone else if he gets stuck - comes down to the integrity of the service provider, pity we can’t buy a handheld ‘integrity scanner’ …


Ah thank you. That’s the type of question I’ll make sure to ask. Whether they’ll do everything themselves or whether I may potentially have to deal with a 3rd party if there are issues with the work done.


I suggest it doesn’t matter if they give the work to someone else or not. What matters is whether the job is satisfactorily completed, and at what cost. For warranty, it doesn’t matter if a third party does the work, you still go to the business you took the car to for warranty. They would need to deal with the third party, not you.