An honest auto mechanic can sometimes be tough to find. No harder than finding an honest lawyer, some would say, but my regular readers already have that department covered! My wife and I have run into a series of car “issues” lately, and it got me thinking about the different ways an uninformed consumer can be abused by a dishonest mechanic. This month’s article will focus on ways to make the often painful and expensive world of car repairs a little easier for my readers.
There are three golden rules for any consumer when dealing with an auto mechanic:
1) get it in writing
2) get it in writing
3) get it in writing
If you follow these three rules, you will by WAY ahead of the game in case of problems or disputes “down the road” (if you’ll pardon the pun.)
Specifically, you should always get a WRITTEN authorization for towing or inspection of your vehicle PRIOR to the time it is towed or inspected. This authorization should cover several issues, including: the exact cost and description of the towing, inspection or diagnosis to be completed; an explanation of which charges (if any) will be waived if you elect to have the repairs completed; a statement that the car will be satisfactorily reassembled if you elect not to have the repairs done and/or a statement that all inspected parts will be saved and stored for you; and most importantly, a statement that the authorization for towing or inspection is NOT an authorization for repair and that a separate, written work authorization will be required prior to the commencement of any repairs. You should ALWAYS require a separate repair authorization prior to the time you begin repairs. Although you may be asked to sign the inspection authorization at the same time you sign the work authorization, my advice is NOT to do so. I mean, if you’re going to do that, why bother with the inspection authorization at all?
Your work authorization should address certain items as well: a complete description of the repair work to be done (obviously); the stated fee for the work to be done, broken down by parts and labor; a full disclosure of all other costs (storage, shop fees, etc.) as well as a statement that all costs and fees are disclosed in the authorization; a statement as to whether the parts will be new from the manufacturer, new aftermarket parts, used or rebuilt; the specific terms of the warranty for the repair work; the method of payment accepted for the repairs; and an indication that all parts removed and/or replaced will be stored and saved for your inspection (unless they are required for exchange, such as brake pads.)
There are a few common problems to watch out for. For example, you should never let the mechanic disassemble your vehicle or put it up on the rack if you do not have a written authorization for inspection as described above. At that point, you run the risk of authorizing overpriced repairs or getting your vehicle back partially or improperly reassembled. Also, your mechanic may call you for “verbal” approval to amend or change the work authorization. While time and convenience may tempt you to take this shortcut, I would highly recommend that all changes to work authorizations be in writing and signed or initialed by both parties. This is the only way to insure that misunderstandings do not blossom into increased revenue for your friendly local lawyer.
If you do have a problem with a mechanic, or if the final charges exceed the written authorization and you feel you have been cheated, it is probably best to go ahead and pay the bill. If you do this, be sure to write a few words making your protest clear on the bill and on your check if you can. If need be, you can go back and dispute your credit card charges or sue the mechanic in small claims court after you drive away. Keep in mind that a mechanic has a lien on your vehicle to insure payment of his charges. Please do NOT pay with a check and then put a “stop payment” order in place, as this will likely end up with your car being repossessed.
Remember, a nice smile and firm handshake does not always translate into quality service delivered with honesty and integrity. Keeping all agreements and authorizations in writing and being firm about your rights is hard work, but it sure does beat riding a bicycle to work on a rainy day.