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Is Convenience Worth Paying a Little Extra?



 by Patricia Lynn Henley   Posted on September 20 2013



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It's near the end of a long day, it's hot, you're tired and the car won't start because the battery is dead. What to do?

If you're like a gradually increasing number of CostHelper readers, you'll pay your roadside assistance service to install a new battery right then and there. That's what a reader from Lilbum, GA did when feeling "too tired, hot and lazy" to opt for a jump-start by the AAA tow truck operator followed by a drive to an auto parts store for a less-expensive battery installation. The other choice was to pay AAA for immediate installation of a new battery.

"(T)he tech put it in on the spot," the Georgia reader reports. "It was done in 15 minutes, and the tech was extremely nice. Right, he's making a commission on selling this thing, so of course he was nice. But regardless, I'm a convenience person, so you want easy-breezy, then you're going to fork over the cash."

What was the difference in cost? It was $116 for an on-the-spot installation, versus an estimated range of $50-$120 for a typical car battery at an auto parts or big-box store, usually with installation included. And for a premium battery with a longer warranty and better cold-weather performance, or one for a luxury vehicle, the price can be $90-$200 or more.

From 2010 to the present day in 2013, 20 CostHelper readers reported paying $97-$139 (average $118) for immediate installation of a new car battery by a AAA tow truck operator; another 11 paid $90-$307 (average $212) for a battery installed by a car dealership; 22 readers noted costs of $60-$180 (average $120) for installation by a repair shop, auto parts store, big-box retailer or other source; and 14 readers paid $52-$130 (average $86) for a car battery with do-it-yourself installation.

It's true, there's not much difference between the average cost of $118 for immediate installation by the tow truck operator and $120 for delayed installation at another location, so it seems like a pretty good deal to have it done right away.

However, there is a gap between the lowest prices paid -- $97 for the tow truck, versus $60 elsewhere. Opting for a jump-start and buying a battery elsewhere might save $20, $30 or as much as $60.

For dedicated do-it-yourselfers, the choice might be easy. Once the tow truck jump-starts their vehicle, they have the skills to take care of everything themselves, and can shop around for the best deal on a car battery.

For the rest of us, there are several factors to consider.

  • What quality or brand of battery do you want? It's unlikely the tow truck operator has an extensive selection, although it's reasonable to assume the battery provided will be at least average.
  • How many nearby options are there, if you opt for a jump-start and buying the battery of your choice at the location of your choice? Are you stranded in a remote area or on a busy urban street?
  • How much time do you have? Having the tow truck operator install a new battery might take 15 to 20 minutes. Having the operator jump-start the vehicle and then locating and driving to an auto parts store might take an hour or more -- and there could be a wait before the battery can be installed.

It's a lot to consider. All I know is, I can relate to the Georgia reader who opted for convenience rather than savings.

If I was hot and tired, my car battery was dead, and I knew it might cost $20-$60 extra to have my car running again in 15 to 20 minutes? I'd opt for immediate installation of a new battery by the tow truck operator, no questions asked.

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