If you're the typical car owner, you may not know much about the mechanics of your vehicle. When it's time for repairs, however, you should know how to locate a reliable shop and a qualified mechanic.
If you have a problem with your car while it's still under warranty, follow the manufacturer's requirements, which may include having repairs made at an authorized, franchised dealership, to keep your warranty in effect.
If your car is no longer under warranty and you're looking for a qualified, independent repair shop — one of the best ways to select a repair shop is through word-of-mouth recommendation. Ask your family, friends and associates what repair shops they like and why.
If possible, start shopping for a repair facility before you need one; you can make better decisions when you are not rushed or in a panic.
When choosing a repair shop, look for a neat, well-organized service floor, modern equipment and clearly posted and easily explained policies regarding labor rates, guarantees, and methods of payment. The staff should be courteous and helpful and the service manager should be willing and able to answer your questions.
Check with your Better Business Bureau about the shop's reliability. Look for shops that display certification - like an Automotive Service Excellence Seal or AAA- approved auto repair status. ASE certification indicates that some or all of the technicians have met basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas. Make sure the certificates are recently obtained. Remember, however, that certification alone is not an absolute guarantee of good or honest work.
If you can, it's a good idea to test the repair shop with a minor maintenance job, such as a tune-up. If you're happy with the work and service you receive, you've probably found the shop that's right for you.
State or local law may require the repair shop to be licensed or registered, and you should ask to see current licenses. Also, ask your State Attorney General's office or local consumer protection agency about the repair shop's complaint record.
Always get and keep a signed written cost estimate for the work to be performed. Make sure the estimate specifically identifies the condition to be repaired, the parts needed and the anticipated labor charge.
Make sure the estimate states that the shop will contact you for approval before performing any work exceeding a specified amount of time and money. Your state may require this; check with your state Attorney General's office to determine your rights.
Some shops charge a flat rate for labor on auto repairs. This published rate is based on an independent or manufacturer's estimate of the time required to complete repairs. Other shops charge on the basis of the actual time the technician worked on the repair. Before having any work performed, ask which cost method the shop uses.
Even though you bring in your car with a specific problem, additonal repairs may be recommended. If you are uncertain whether the work needs to be done, you may want to consult your owner's manual or get a second opinion.
On expensive or complicated repairs, or if you have questions about suggested repair work, get a second opinion or estimate.
Shop around among comparable shops for the best deal.
Ask if there will be a diagnostic charge if you decide to have the work performed elsewhere. Many repair shops charge for diagnostic time.
After repairs are finished, get a completed repair order describing the work done. This should list each repair, all parts supplied, the cost of each part, labor charges and the vehicle's odometer reading when the vehicle entered the shop and when the repair order was prepared. Your state may require that the shop provide this; check with your state Attorney General's office or local consumer protection agency.
Get back all replaced parts. Your state may require this; check with your state Attorney General's office or local consumer protection agency.
Be prepared to take action if something goes wrong. Keep records of all transactions. Write down your experiences, dates, times, expenses and the names of people you dealt with. Keep copies of all written materials you receive, such as bills and estimates.
If there is a dispute over a repair or charge, first try to settle the problem with the shop manager or owner. Some businesses have programs for handling disputes. You may then want to seek help from your state Attorney General's office or local consumer protection agency. These groups also can tell you if low-cost alternative dispute resolution programs are available in your community. In addition, you may want to consider filing a claim with a local small claims court, where you do not need a lawyer to represent you.
Many states have laws regulating how a repair shop operates, spelling out each party's obligations. You may wish to contact your state Attorney General's office or consumer protection agency for specific information about your rights and options for recourse.
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