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#307 Auto repair rights

mp3 #307 Car Repairs - What are Your Rights? (mp3 file)

If you, like many other car owners, don't know the difference between a fan belt, flywheel, and filter ... Or between sparkplugs and cylinders ... You may find yourself feeling rather helpless at the repair shop. Although California has strong laws protecting you from auto repair fraud, you will still unfortunately need to be wary when it comes time to have those repairs made.

1. Research the automobile market carefully before buying a car. Motor trend magazine's annual used car review and consumer reports can tell you what cars are in the shop most frequently and which cost the most to repair. These magazines can also tell you if parts for a particular car, such as a foreign make, are hard to get.

2. Learn how to perform minor repairs yourself. Your local community college or adult school may offer a course on basic car maintenance and repair. Self-servicing saves money on labor, and you can purchase the necessary parts from a discount auto store. In addition, you will be better able to judge the validity of any diagnosis that a repair shop makes about what work needs to be done. Reading the car's manual carefully will give you additional tips on caring for your car. Good preventive maintenance saves you from having to make some major repairs in the long run.

3. Some shops perform diagnostic tests on cars, with the help of computers. You pay for the testing but under no obligation to have any repairs made. Some shops which provide these tests do not do the repair work themselves.

There will be times, however, when you will need a good repair facility. If so, you can do the following to locate one:

1. Check if the shop is registered with the California bureau of automotive repair. The automotive repair dealer's sign must be posted in every California auto repair shop.

2. Ask friends for recommendations.

3. The small, independent repair shop generally needs a good reputation to stay in business for a long time.

4. Keep in mind that gas stations may not have the facilities to perform complex repairs.

5. Specialty shops such as muffler replacement do volume work in their particular area and may charge lower prices.

6. Avoid places whose advertisements seem to promise too much for far too low a price. Many times they are a disguise for a more expensive investment.

7. An established shop depends on repeat business. Notice whether the employees are considerate. For instance, do they try to schedule work when you want it done?

8. Try talking directly to the mechanic, if possible, to clarify exactly what work you want done. Check if he listens carefully.

9. A good repair shop guarantees its work. A common guarantee might last for 4,000 miles or three months, whichever comes first. The guarantee should come with your invoice.

10. Check for an industry certified mechanic. The industry affiliated national institute for automotive service excellence offers tests on a voluntary basis. Anyone successfully completing these tests is considered competent in engine, brake, transmission, or other specialty repairs.

11. A shop has to give you a written estimate ahead of time and you can use this estimate to compare costs between several shops. For instance, a service department of a new car dealership may charge twice as much as an independent garage for the same job.

12. Most automotive repair shops estimate charges for repairs based on a flat rate manual. This manual tells the shop how many hours a particular job will take. However, many repairs are completed in less than the flat-rate manual indicates. If the auto repair shop you are dealing with charges an hourly rate, be sure you are charged only for the actual number of hours worked, rather than for the time indicated in the flat rate manual.

13. If possible, you should avoid having repair work done on Monday or Friday when the shops are busiest.

14. Be concise in explaining a problem. Define or have the mechanic define what is meant by such general terms as "tune-up." Give only the symptoms of a problem, not opinions. For example, explain that you hear a "ping" when accelerating.

Many of the more common repair shop frauds are now legislated against. If you know your rights, you can be protected from an unscrupulous auto mechanic.

Case 1: You bring your car in to get the brakes checked. The mechanic tells you the job will cost $10 and will be completed in two hours. The mechanic then calls you at home and explains that the job will cost an additional $35 because he has put in new brake linings.

The mechanic has acted illegally. Under the California automotive repair act, the mechanic must give you a written estimate of the work to be done. The mechanic can proceed with the work only when you have authorized the estimate. When the mechanic found the car required additional repairs, he needed to get your consent first. When the job is finished, all work, parts, and labor must be listed on your final invoice. To get your car back, you are only obligated to pay the amount on your estimate.

You also have the right to ask in advance for the return of all replaced parts. This request should be put on the estimate. In other words, you are entitled to get back the old parts to see how badly they are worn. The mechanic can keep warranty parts, parts sold on an exchange basis, and parts that are too big to return, although you can ask to look at them.

What if you had your car towed into the repair shop during non-business hours? The mechanic can take your authorization over the phone, but such an oral authorization must be recorded by the dealer on a written estimate accompanied by the name of the person authorizing the repairs, the date and time of the call, and the telephone number called. This same information must accompany any oral authorizations for work to be performed which were not included on the original written estimate.

Whenever possible, make your authorization in person so that there is no question about what services you will receive.

Case 2: Perhaps neither you nor the mechanic is sure what the loud "clicking" sound in your car is. After the mechanic takes out the engine, you learn that you need new piston rings costing $300. $300 is more than you can afford to pay -- but your story isn't over yet; the mechanic won't reassemble the engine until you hand over $80 for labor.

The mechanic legally can't do this. You must be given a written estimate ahead of time for the cost of disassembly, diagnosis, and reassembly if you decide, not to go ahead with the repairs.

Here are a few fraudulent tactics you should watch out for when you take in your car:

1. A mechanic puts your car on the lift and turns the wheels all the way to one side. Then while vigorously shaking one wheel, the mechanic explains that so much movement indicates you need new ball joints. The mechanic may be breaking the law. Before selling you new ball joints, he is required to compare the amount of measured wheel movement in the shop with the amount suggested by the manufacturer. The two measurements must be explained to you and recorded on the invoice.

2. If the mechanic claims you need new shock absorbers, be careful. One way to check the condition of your shocks is to push down on the front fender while the car isn't, moving. If the car bounces up and then stops, your shocks are probably all right. Should the car continue to bounce, you may need two shocks. All four shock absorbers rarely fail at once - they go out gradually.

3. Another trick is squirting oil on a generator and claiming that your battery will be drained if the generator is not replaced. The generator, and the starter for that matter, don't contain enough oil to show leakage. If you have a problem, the California department of consumer affairs, bureau of automotive repair (BAR), enforces the California automotive repair act. All automobile repair shops in California must be registered, and if the shop violates the law, the bar can suspend or revoke the shop's registration.

If you can't resolve a problem directly with a repair shop, the bureau can mediate disputes between you and the repair dealer. If you legitimately challenge the dealer over the agreed upon repairs and price, the bureau can suggest the dealer refund any money you paid in excess of the written estimate or money you have paid for unauthorized repairs. If you feel the dealer is not honoring the guarantee, the bureau can investigate for possible misrepresentation. If this is confirmed, the bureau can tell the dealer to do the job correctly. If the dealer doesn't cooperate, the bureau can take action against the dealer's registration.

The bureau cannot:

-Levy fines

-Require a new or used car dealer or manufacturer to honor a warranty

-Require a repair facility to do a job to the satisfaction of a customer

-Regulate prices

To register a complaint, you can walk into or telephone a bar district office. The toll-free number of BAR headquarters in Sacramento is 800-952-5210. If your complaint is mailed, address it to bureau headquarters in Sacramento and attach copies of the invoice and estimate.

Headquarters in Sacramento are at:

10240 Systems Parkway, Zip Code 95827

District offices are located in Anaheim, Bakersfield, Culver City, Downey, South El Monte, Fresno, Hayward, Long Beach, Oceanside, Pacoima, Pleasant Hill, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Upland, and Ventura.

The following pamphlets are available free by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the bureau of automotive repair, 10240 Systems Parkway, Sacramento, California 95827. The titles of the pamphlets are:

"Your guide to auto repair"

"Keeping cool"

"Your car's ball joints - how do they measure up?"

"Auto repair from the driver's seat," and,

"Gearing up for automotive transmission repair"

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