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I need a new front drivers side window regulator in a 2000 Buick LeSabre. At a repair shop they said the part alone would cost $250, but after some research online it looked like prices ranged from around $30 to around $180.

Is there an obvious reason for this price difference?

  • 1
    Maybe one has a motor and one doesn't, that would be my first guess. Regulators in general are cheap it's the motors that cost money. – Ben Jul 21 '16 at 19:56
  • Since you found them online, post a link to the ones you found, sometimes the devil is in the details of the item descriptions. – tlhIngan Jul 22 '16 at 5:28
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There are reasons you'll find the price disparity between what you'll find online or at the parts store versus what a shop will charge you for the same part. (I'll give you an anecdote after I answer this.)

Most non-dealer shops buy there parts as cheap as they can get them. They may have a deal with a parts store to get a discount on parts if they buy their parts exclusively from a certain parts store. They then mark up the part for two reasons. First, obviously, to make money. If they mark the price up by 100% (yes, happens all the time), they make the money. Secondly, when marking up the part, they are ensuring should you bring the "fix" back, they are covered by the return. This gives the shop a little bit of leeway to cover any mistakes or bad parts. I guess they call it "return work" or something to that effect.

For the anecdote:

I was helping diagnose a friend's Windstar (many moons ago, van had a quadzillion miles on it). She had taken the van to a shop to have it looked at and were going to charge her $1800 for the fix. This included two of the three pieces which go into intake manifold, plus a bunch of miscellaneous parts. I went online and did some research as to what might be going on and discovered there was a technical bulletin on the vehicle which said there are eight bolts in the base part of the manifold which have some sort of grommet which seals the lower intake manifold where the bolt sticks through. The grommets on the original bolts put there by Ford would deteriorate and cause a vacuum leak into the intake, causing all kinds of idle issues and lean conditions, etc. The kit to fix this was something like $120. I also looked up the other parts online to discover they were doing just as you said, charging about double the amount for each part. When I went back to the shop to pick up the van and take it home, I asked the mechanic and the service writer the two big questions: 1) Did you realize there was a TSB on this exact problem and the course of action wasn't going to fix it? and 2) Why the huge markup on the parts? To the first they had no answer. To the second was just what I told you above, that they needed to charge the amount to cover return work and the like. In other words, they were just scalping their customers.

Nearly every parts place I have ever dealt with has some type of return policy for parts. If something is broken upon receipt or installation (not due to installer failure) doesn't work, you take it back and get a refund or a replacement. IOW, there's already a warranty on the part. I wouldn't buy one which didn't.

Like I said, the shop is just scalping their customers. I wouldn't go back there.

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Actually maybe I will attempt to answer this. This is my theory, note I am a consumer, not a seller / mechanic. I've just seen a similar pattern with my own vehicle (2001, Honda).

I think a few factors come into play here:

  • OEM vs non-OEM parts: Equivalent parts manufactured by third-parties tend to be less expensive (for example, and also here).
  • Price spread as car ages. I have found that as a vehicle gets older, for parts that were unique to that vehicle:
    • Original manufacturer list prices tend to stay the same, so e.g. purchasing a part for a 2000 vehicle from the dealer in 2016 still costs the same amount.
    • Wholesale OEM seller prices are less than dealer mark up, and do decrease somewhat over time, but not nearly as much (example).
    • Some sellers have parts sitting in warehouses and at this point are just trying to liquidate that stock. You'll find hugely discounted prices that decrease rapidly over time.
    • Independent sellers of new parts (e.g. sellers on eBay, etc.) for older vehicles tend to set fairly arbitrary but usually lower prices based on their own desire to get rid of the part / perception of its value.
    • Used parts vary wildly. Plus, if a vehicle's been sitting at a salvage yard for 10 years at some point they just want to get rid of it.

So, I know this is kind of random thought-dump form but hopefully it sheds some light. Looking forward to other answers.

Personally, for no concrete reason, I generally go with wholesale new OEM parts for critical engine components, salvage yards for body and electrical, and dealer prices for really cheap parts that aren't worth the effort to find elsewhere.

For the window regulator, I don't know, those GE / ACDelco ($150-ish) replacements should be pretty reliable, but if you're doing the work yourself (no labor cost overhead) I'd definitely pop the $35 one in first. If it lasts a long time then you just saved yourself a bunch of money, and if doesn't you didn't lose much (and you can just replace it with another $35 one too).

Even when I'm getting work done at a shop or dealer, for the expensive parts I always either buy the parts online first or tell them to tell me what parts they'd order then I tell them to hold off on the work and I go get the parts instead. Lately I've just taken to doing the diagnosis myself and only going to a shop if a) I don't have the tools to do the work or b) I can't find the problem.

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