Consumer Protection

How to Protect Yourself: Auto Repair Fraud

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office


Every vehicle-owning consumer, at one time or another, will face the need to get his or her car fixed. Auto repair rip-offs consistently rank as one of the most common categories of consumer complaints throughout the nation. To avoid these pitfalls and keep your car in working order, consider the following:

Find an auto repair shop before you need one.

Read your owner’s manual and keep up with the recommended maintenance. This is the best way to maintain your vehicle and avoid preventable repairs. Additionally, seek out a quality repair shop before a repair is necessary. This will avoid the panic and pressure of a last minute choice. Ask friends, family members or coworkers to recommend repair shops they trust.

Be certain the repair shop honors any existing warranty on your car.

If not, you may be paying for parts or labor covered by your manufacturer's or extended warranty.

Be certain the shop is qualified to complete the necessary repair.

Ask if the shop has experience working on the same type of vehicle as yours and whether its mechanics have done this type of repair before. Look for evidence of qualified mechanics, such as trade school diplomas or Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications, a national standard of technician competence. In Florida, each repair shop must register with the State of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Ask to see the shop’s registration and verify it with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA. Additionally, consider checking with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have been filed against the shop.

Understand your rights under the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act.

The Act applies to dealers of new and used cars, trucks and motorcycles; garages; service stations; self-employed persons; truck stops; and paint, body, brake, muffler, transmission, mobile repair and glass shops. Under the Act, if repair work on a vehicle will exceed $100, the shop must provide the consumer with the option of either requesting a written estimate, requiring notification if the repair exceed an amount specified by the consumer or waiving the need for a written estimate. Repair shops may never force you to waive your right to an estimate. The repair shop must contact you before exceeding the estimate by $10 or 10 percent, whichever is greater, but not to exceed $50. You may cancel repairs if they exceed the estimate and the repair shop must reassemble your vehicle, unless it is unsafe to drive. After you cancel the repairs, the repair shop may charge you for costs such as teardown and reassembly of your vehicle, provided you were notified of these possible costs in the estimate.

Shop around for the best deal.

Compare the estimates of multiple shops. Get itemized estimates to ensure that all services are included in the comparisons. Be certain the estimate specifically identifies the condition to be repaired, the parts needed and the anticipated labor charge. Ask whether the prices quoted for parts are for new, used or rebuilt parts.

After the work is completed, the repair shop must provide documentation of what was done.

You should be able to obtain a legible copy of the repair invoice showing the repair work done to correct the problem, an itemized description of parts and labor charges, as well as any warranties or guarantees on parts or work. Review this document carefully. Ask questions if you do not understand anything contained in the estimate or repair invoice. It is unlawful for the repair shop to refuse to return a vehicle to you because you refused to pay for unauthorized repairs or for repair charges in excess of the final estimate in violation of Chapter 559, Florida Statutes.

File a complaint.

If you think you have been a victim of automobile repair fraud, file a complaint against the shop with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services online at www.800helpfla.com or by phone at 1-800-HELP-FLA. Additionally, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by phone at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. You may also wish to file a complaint against the repair shop with the Better Business Bureau online at www.bbb.org.