How Can Apple Automotive Charge Only $1,500 for a Head Gasket Replacement?
This is a question I get asked all the time by prospective new customers after they have been quoted twice that much,
the highest quote I have heard was $4,200!
Here are 4 answers:
I am a mobile technician, all my tools and equipment are paid for,
I have no employees to deal with so I do not pay workers comp, insurance, benefits, etc.
I do not do unnecessary work or replace parts that are not needed.
Most other shops will do two other procedures that I do not do and may suggest that I am cutting corners.
To read about these two things, see below.
Lower Shop Labor Rate
Most shops and dealers are in the neighborhood of $120+ per hour.
The labor estimating guide states that most Subaru (non-turbo) head gaskets require
10 hours of labor. This puts the labor charge at or near $1,200. My labor rate is $75.00 per hour.
Facing a $2,000 repair bill for an older car in this economy usually makes the owner question if they should even keep their car.
I would like to see every Subaru owner keep their car, and of course keep them as customers,
so I take less profit now on this common repair to have you as a lifelong customer.
Most other shops will do two other procedures that I do not automatically do and may claim that I am cutting corners.
#1. Replacing Head Bolts This adds about $200 to the bill.
About head bolts: There has been a lot of confusion over head bolts over the years with the manufactures using “stretch,” “plastic region,” or “torque-to-yield” bolts.
Shops may claim you absolutely have to use new bolts for them to warranty the job. I would agree if the head bolts on Subaru were torque-to-yield (TTY) bolts.
I have sat in on a class of head gasket facts and the subject of bolts came up. Identification of a TTY bolt is not so cut and dry. There are two main ways of knowing. #1. If the manufacture says they are and requires their dealers to replace them and #2. By the look of them. The shank of the bolt is usually thinner than the threaded part. Subaru does not use a TTY bolt.
My further research found that the Subaru engineers say it is ok to torque head bolts 4 times. They are torqued twice from the factory, leaving two more times to re-use the same bolts.
I do replace them if there is surface rust or fatigued threads. I also chase all threaded head-bolt holes with a long reach tap.
In addition, head bolts will routinely alter the pitch of the aluminum threads in the block. The bolts should thread all the way in easily by hand!
I also have a qualified opinion on the head bolt procedure and torque values that Subaru uses which is a main factor in their on-going gasket failure. I will not put this into print as I do a fair amount of gasket do-overs from other shops and do not want to give them the advantage of my hard-sought knowledge.
Experience: While working at Toyota in the late ‘90’s I was involved in their 3.0 liter head gasket recall. I did two trucks a day (4 hours each) for over a year.
This was over 300 head gasket jobs for one man in one dealer. Toyota never required or insisted on replacing their head bolts and we never saw a failure from head bolts.
These were the same type of bolts as Subaru engines—normal, non—TTY bolts. I also have been doing Subarus only for years and have had no gasket failures.
#2. Machining The Heads. This will add $250-350 to the bill. Back in the day it was left up to the technician to decide if a head needed surfacing. Again, during the Toyota recall I personally never surfaced heads and neither did any other technicians unless there was just cause.
I have worked in several shops since the ‘80s and have always measured and inspected the sealing surface to see if a head needs surfacing.
It has only been in the last few years that most shops surface every head, every time; just in case. They say it is to “cover their butts,” translation, “cover my rent.”
My current price is $1,500. This includes all new gaskets, seals, water pump, timing belt and components, resealing the oil pump, new oil, and new coolant.
Surfacing, if needed is $150 for the set.