Researchers at Northwestern University found that women are often, but not always, charged more than men for auto repairs. But they’re more effective at negotiating a better deal.

According to the study, “women are quoted higher prices than men when callers signal that they are uninformed about market prices.” On the other hand, the researchers also found that “gender differences disappear when callers mention an expected price for the repair.”

Thus, savvy shoppers who make it clear that they’re aware of an appropriate charge for a given service get quoted a better price, regardless of gender. But the playing field becomes uneven when either men or women appear unaware of the expected cost. In those cases, it may be that repair shop employees — about 85 percent of whom are men — assume that women are less informed about the going rate and so quote higher prices.

The study, Repairing the Damage: The Effect of Price Expectations on Auto-Repair Price Quotes, was conducted by Meghan Busse, associate professor of management and strategy, and her team from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management during the summer and fall of 2012.

In the first part of the study, the researchers had men and women call repair shops in several parts of the country to request a quote for replacing a radiator on a six-cylinder 2003 Toyota Camry LE. The shops chosen were a mix of independent operations and those affiliated with national or regional chains. Based on existing data, the callers knew the average price for such a repair on this make and model was $365.

Some callers stated that amount up front, while others professed no knowledge of an expected price. Those who stated a price, whether men or women, received quotes that were $25 to $35 lower than callers who just asked for the shop’s standard charge. However, among those who did not state a price up front, women got quotes that were $13 higher than those received by men.

The second part of the study looked at the effectiveness of attempting to negotiate lower prices. For this experiment, callers who received a higher quote than $365 were asked to see if the shop could be induced to match that reference price. The researchers found that women were able to get price concessions 35 percent of the time, compared to 25 percent for men.

The study concludes: “There is a double benefit to revealing a market-based price expectation: doing so not only leads on average to a lower initial price quote, it also leads to a higher probability of obtaining a match, should the initial quote exceed the market-based expected price. Together these suggest that a woman in this context has a distinct advantage in revealing good price knowledge early on.”

Male or female, it pays to make sure the repair shop knows you’ve done your homework.

Just the Facts:

  • A recent study found that women are often, but not always, charged more than men for auto repairs.
  • Both men and women get lower repair quotes when they make it clear that they know the going rate for a repair.
  • According to the study, women are more effective at negotiating a better price.

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