Selecting a Reliable Mechanic
Ideally, you will find an auto repair shop before you need one. Check for a shop that is convenient to your home and office, and ask friends and family for a recommendation. Use these tips to help choose a shop or mechanic:
- Make sure the repair shop has experience working on your type of car, and look for certifications such as the Automotive Service Excellence, or "ASE," seal, or the American Automobile Association approval. For body work, all auto body repair shops should be registered with the Massachusetts Division of Standards, which requires them to post a $10,000 bond for your protection. (M.G.L, c. 100A)
- Get a written estimate for repairs and storage charges. If your Massachusetts automobile insurance is covering the costs of repairing your vehicle, the automobile insurance must also cover the "reasonable" costs of storage. Check to see how much your insurance company will pay to store your car, and compare that with how much the shop will charge you.
- Get a second opinion if you are wary of unnecessary repairs. Some mechanics may offer low prices for a basic brake job or oil change, and then "discover" several defects while they are servicing your vehicle. If you question the mechanic's diagnosis, get a second opinion from another mechanic before you agree to have the work done. This may take extra time, but you could wind up saving a lot of money.
- Check out the old and replacement parts. You have the right to your old parts back if you request them. If the repair shop must return the old parts to the parts' manufacturer or another entity under a warranty arrangement, then you have the right to inspect the parts before they are returned. Do they look worn or otherwise in need of a replacement? Confirm any of your doubts with another mechanic. You also may want to ask in advance to see the boxes for the new parts. Be sure that you do not receive a an aftermarket, second-rate or used part if you are being charged for a new one or one with a brand name.
- Know your warranties. Ask if the repair shop offers a repair warranty on parts and labor, or if the parts come with a warranty. Under Massachusetts law, you have the right to have shoddy work repaired at no charge.
Know Your Rights
The Attorney General's Auto Sales and Repair Regulations give you some basic auto repair rights.
These regulations apply to all auto repair shops, auto body shops, and retail stores that offer automotive services. Gasoline service stations, which provide only minor repair services (such as changing or repairing tires; replacing fan belts and oil filters; installing lightbulbs, batteries, windshield wiper blades, and other minor accessories) are exempt from some requirements.
Your auto repair rights include the:
- Right not to be mislead...
A repair shop cannot lead you to believe that repairs are necessary when that is not the case. It also cannot charge you for repairs that have not been made. 940 CMR 5.05 (1)
- Right to know...
Before getting your oral or written permission to begin the repairs, you have the right to know some basic information. 940 CMR 5.05 (4)
Unless the repair shop posts this information where it can be seen easily, they must inform you:
- about charges for storage;
- about your right to the return of replaced, old parts; and
- about charges for estimates or diagnosis.
- Right to a written estimate before the repairs are made...
Before beginning any work, a repair shop must give you a written estimate listing the specific repairs to be made. The estimate must list the specific parts, labor, and cost of the repairs, unless the charges are posted where they may readily be seen. This written estimate must be signed by you. 940 CMR 5.05 (3)
The repair shop does not need to provide you with this written estimate if:
- they are unable to diagnose the specific problem when the vehicle is delivered to the repair shop, and they obtain your authorization for needed repairs after determining the required work; or
- you bring the vehicle to a repair shop before or after its usual business hours; or
- the repair services are performed off the premises of the repair shop, at your request; or
- you sign a written waiver prior to the repair work which reads:
I understand that I have the right to know before authorizing any repairs what the repairs to my car will be and what their cost will be. You need not obtain approval from me for repairs or inform me prior to performing repairs what the repairs are or their cost, if the total amount for the repairs does not exceed $______.
- Right to an agreed upon price within $10...
If it becomes apparent that your car needs repairs other than those that you have authorized, or if the price for performing the authorized repairs will exceed the original estimate by more than $10, a repair shop must notify you and obtain your permission before continuing the work. 940 CMR 5.05 (7)
- Right to same day repairs...
unless you agree to a longer period. If the repair shop can show that the delay was caused by circumstances beyond its control, same-day repairs are not required. 940 CMR 5.05(6)
- Right to an itemized bill...
listing the charges for all parts and labor. If the repair shop bills on a flat-rate charge that is posted in the shop, then it does not have to itemize parts and labor on the bill. 940 CMR 5.05 (9)
- Right to have shoddy repair work repaired at no charge...
A repair shop must fix any repairs it has made on your car that were not repaired in accordance with trade standards. 940 CMR 5.05 (8)
Assert Your Rights
Once you know and understand your rights, you may be able to resolve disputes with an auto repair shop informally. First, speak with the owner or manager about your concerns, and suggest a solution. If no agreement can be reached, you may need to take steps to assert your rights.
You may want to contact your local consumer group for assistance. Your local consumer group can provide you with mediation services. Mediation allows both parties to reach a mutually acceptable resolution with the help of a facilitator. Mediation is voluntary, requiring both parties consent. Alternatively, you may want to seek help from the Better Business Bureau.
If you are unable to resolve your dispute through mediation, you may decide to take legal action against the auto repair shop by taking the shop to court. To assert your rights under the Auto Repair regulations, as a first step you or your attorney will need to send the shop a 30-Day Demand letter. Contact Consumer Affairs for a sample letter.