Choosing a Car Repair Shop
You need your car, and when you leave it in the shop for repairs, you can't help worrying about the cost and the quality of the work that's going on under the hood.
Your best protection from fraud and faulty repair work is to find a reputable mechanic or repair shop before your car needs to be repaired.
Do your homework to check on a repair shop’s reputation online and with friends and family. When you're researching repair shops, you can also find out whether they have any mechanics that are ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified.
Before you go to the repair shop and the engine check light is on, consider taking it to an auto parts store who may run a computer diagnostic test on your vehicle free of charge. You can then compare this to what you are told by the repair shop.
Under the law, it is illegal to:
- knowingly make a false or misleading statement about the need for parts, replacement or repair service;
- state that work has been done or parts were replaced when that is not true;
- represent that goods are original or new, when in fact they are second-hand or refurbished; and
- advertise goods or services with intent not to sell them as advertised.
Under the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act, you usually do not have to use a dealership for regular maintenance or a manufacturer’s replacement parts to maintain your manufacturer’s warranty. For more information about your warranty rights under federal law, visit this article from the Federal Trade Commission.
Authorizations to Inspect and to Repair
You should get a written authorization to tow, inspect, test drive, diagnose, or disassemble any part of your car for the purposes of providing an estimate of repair costs, prior to the action being taken. This authorization should describe the actions to be taken, the charges, and whether any parts will be removed or the vehicle disassembled. For more information, see the Texas DMV’s site on Smart Repairs.
You may be asked to sign both the authorization to inspect and the authorization to commence repair work at the same time. The authorizations may be on the same piece of paper, but they should require a separate signature. Read each one carefully before signing.
The authorization to commence repairs should also include the date and time that you signed the form. If you decide to have repairs made, make sure the initial work order clearly specifies the work to be done, fees, completion date, terms of payment, and more. For more information, see the Texas DMV’s site on Smart Repairs.
Things You Should Not Do
You should not allow your car to be inspected, disassembled, or lifted up on a rack until you have obtained a copy of the inspection authorization forms with your signature showing the information outlined above.
You should not assume that a friendly verbal agreement will get your car fixed without arguments, lawsuits, or repossessions. Get everything in writing.
You should not allow anyone to speak for you in negotiating car repairs on your vehicle. Deceptive shops will use this as an excuse to add on extra charges, on the grounds that some other person authorized the repairs.
You should not disclose your credit card account number, driver's license number, or any other personal information unless you clearly specify that giving the information is only for loan approval purposes, or unless you have approved the work, the work is finished, and you are ready to pay for it.
You should clearly indicate in writing that giving this information does not constitute an authorization to inspect or repair your vehicle. The authorization to inspect or repair is a completely separate authorization that should also require your signature. Deceptive shops will extract this personal information from you, commence work without your authorization, and then claim that you authorized the work because you provided this information and would not have done so unless you had authorized the repairs.
You should not leave valuables in your car.
Common Car Repair Issues
Watch out for these potential problems:
- The shop waits until the vehicle is up on the lift and partially disassembled before getting your authorization to proceed with the repairs. By then, you are essentially forced to: (a) authorize overpriced repairs or risk getting your car back in a disassembled and unusable condition; or (b) pay a large and unexpected fee to have your vehicle reassembled, only to discover it no longer runs at all;
- The shop shows you dirty oil with metal filings in it as evidence that you need a new transmission. Virtually all used transmissions have dirty oil with some amount of dirt and metal filings. This is normal and is not necessarily a sign that you need a whole new transmission. However, once the transmission is disassembled and reassembled with the same old seals and parts, it usually does not work the same as before;
- The shop starts repair work on your car without first getting your authorization to perform the repair work, and then charges you for repair work that you did not authorize;
- The shop gives you a verbal estimate as to the cost of repairs, then charges a higher price;
- The shop represents that repair services will be completed by a certain day in order to induce the sale, then fails to have the repair services completed by that day;
- The shop fails to disclose reassembly or inspection charges before starting repair work;
- The shop advertises "Free towing" and then requires you to pay for your towing costs;
- The shop says it will provide a free rental car during repairs and then requires you to pay for the rental charges;
- The shop says they will provide repair services pursuant to a warranty then charges you for repair work covered by the warranty;
- The shop starts repair work before obtaining written approval of the loan from the finance company, in those instances where you borrow money to pay for repairs. If the loan company does not approve the loan, and the work is already done, you may still be liable for the payment if you can't show the deception;
- The shop fails to notify you and secure your additional approval, in writing, for any additional work to be done that was not set forth in the original written agreement;
- The shop charges for a computer diagnosis without telling you in advance it was required.
Resolving Disagreements Over the Bill
If the charge is much higher than the estimate, or if the work was done without your authorization and you feel that you have been overcharged, question the bill. Have the shop write out the reasons for the difference in cost, and keep this written explanation together with the work estimate, final bill, and other paperwork. Make sure the mechanic returns your old parts. (The mechanic may return some parts, such as alternators and brake shoes, to the parts supplier for a refund, so you may not be able to get all of them.)
Even if you are unsatisfied with the mechanic's explanation of the difference between the estimate and the final charge, keep in mind that if you refuse to pay a repair bill -- even a bill in dispute -- the mechanic has the legal right to keep your car until you pay. You can then file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office or the Better Business Bureau and/or file a small claims court law suit against the mechanic.
If you suspect that the repair shop has not properly repaired the vehicle or charged you too much and you can't get them to resolve the problem to your satisfaction, your first step should be to take your car to another repair shop. Give the second mechanic a copy of your itemized receipt and order an inspection of the alleged repairs and parts. Get this report in writing. If you notice the same problem with your car is recurring, or find a new problem that should not have arisen, you will be in a better position to negotiate a refund from the first mechanic if you get a second mechanic's opinion of the work done in writing.
If you paid by credit card and are unhappy with the repairs that were performed by the mechanic, then you may dispute the charge with your credit card company. To dispute the charge, you must do so in writing to your credit card company and it must be done within 60 days after you have received the credit card bill. Make sure you send the dispute letter and all relevant information (receipts and documentation supporting your position) to the billing inquiry address and not the payment address. The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has an example of a sample dispute letter that you may use. The credit card company will investigate the issues you have raised and find out the mechanic’s side of the dispute. The credit card company will let you know whether they agree with you or not. For more information on this subject, you can go to the FTC website.