Auto repair

An auto repair shop in Santa Ana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / July 5, 2013)

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Women are more likely than men to be taken for a ride, so to speak, when calling around for car repairs.

A new study out of Northwestern University found auto shops quoted higher prices to women who appeared uninformed about work needed to be done. But women were also more successful in negotiating the price down.

Researchers Meghan Busse and Florian Zettelmeyer at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management ran field experiments to gauge the differences in treatment between men and women. Both sexes made calls to repair shops, appearing to be either well-informed on the market price on a radiator replacement for a 2003 Toyota Camry; misinformed with a higher-than-average price ($510 instead of $365); or completely clueless about the expected cost.

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Men in the experiment were quoted the same price whether they pretended to know the average price or had no informed expectation, but women who appeared uninformed were consistently told higher-than-average prices. Both sexes were quoted higher-than-average prices when they told repair shops they thought the price was higher than the actual market price.

“Our findings suggest that auto shops may assume men know the market price of a given repair, so they automatically grant it,” Busse said. “They may not expect women to be knowledgeable in this area, so the perception is they can charge them more.”

When haggling for a lower price, though, 35% of the study’s female participants were able to get their requested price, compared with just 25% of men.

To avoid repair shop deception, drivers should do their own research online or by phone to know exactly what a job should cost, and compare the quoted prices between locations. Busse also said drivers should start each inquiry on firm ground. “Reveal that you know what you’re talking about – that you know the car, you know the repair and you know what a sensible price is – right off the bat,” she said. “And if you get a price above that, ask for a discount.”

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