Could a simple battery change really cost over 400 bucks?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2010

Dear Tom and Ray:

The BMW dealer told me that it is going to cost 445 dollars to replace the battery on my 2006 330i BMW. I was told that it cost this much because they have to reprogram the car's computer to tell it that there's a new battery. Is this true, or are they ripping me off? That's an awful lot of money to pay for a new battery. The battery by itself costs 225 dollars. What are your thoughts? -- Ollie


TOM: My first thought is, I'm going into the BMW-battery-replacement business!

RAY: I don't believe that the computer has to be reprogrammed on this car, Ollie. It does on the higher-end BMWs, but not on the 3 Series.

TOM: In your car, Ollie, any reprogramming would be done by YOU. You'd have to reprogram the radio presets and the seat settings and stuff like that, unless the shop does what we do.

RAY: At our shop, we have a "settings saver" device that we plug into the car's data port before we change a battery. It's essentially a 12-volt battery, and it provides enough power during the battery change to preserve all of your radio stations and driver preferences. I'm sure your dealership has one of these, too.

TOM: I suspect that what they're charging you extra for is diagnosis. Before we replace a battery, we test the whole charging system to make sure the alternator is working properly and nothing is draining the battery. Otherwise, we could put in a brand-new battery, and the new battery could die the next day.

RAY: Checking the charging system correctly takes about an hour and a half of labor, which, at your BMW dealership, probably is about 220 bucks! So there you go, Ollie. Unfortunately, for this car, I think that's the right price.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One