I am not the greatest estimator around, and only quote prices on smaller, personal jobs [fortunately I haven't lost my shirt!]. Profit was meager from them, however the experience and lessons learned kind of made up for the "just breaking even" aspect
Seems to me, though, when I hear the words "Free Estimates", it's referring to Residential Service work, and to a customer that both has little or no idea what needs to be done and wants 10 days worth of labor for 1/2 days price.
I personally do not do any Residential Service work - only the occasional Friend or Relative that is in immediate danger
gets my attention, so I am unsure of all this stuff.
When it comes to Commercial Service, I have never heard the term "Free Estimates".
Even when I do PC / LAN workstations Service and troubleshooting, there is no "Free Estimates". This is work I do solely by myself.
The only ones that get free services are the friends and family that bring their complete system to me for troubleshooting. These usually result in a complete hard disk format, because the OS is completely hung!
[AKA - Blue Screen O' Death
Just my thoughts - let the flames begin!!!