TAMPA – When it comes to cars, we get revved up about breaking down. Here are my suggestions for making sure a car repair doesn't put you on a collision course with a mechanic.
Mechanics must register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Florida. Their registration number must also be included in all advertising.
If you find a mechanic who is not registered, it should raise a red flag. Legitimate repair shops will prominently display their state registration and their rates.
(LINK: State law: http://tinyurl.com/qxussog)
In Florida, state law mandates a written estimate for any vehicle repair that exceeds $100. Details, such as the work to be performed and the parts to be used are vital.
It is also imperative, though not required by law, that consumers lay out any warranties or guarantees in that estimate. The estimate serves as a contract, so provisions that are not spelled out in writing are likely not binding.
Brokering a detailed estimate up front might take a little time and work, but it is your best defense in the event of problems down the road.
The same state law that lays out requirements for your written estimate also requires mechanics to notify consumers when a repair will exceed the original estimate by $10 or 10%, whichever is more.
It is your choice as to whether the repair job can proceed. If you choose to proceed, a second (equally detailed) estimate is recommended.
(LINK: Consumer's Guide: http://tinyurl.com/qht7nhy)
HOLDING A CAR
State law is clear: if the cost of a repair job will exceed the price listed on the estimate and you refuse to pay the additional amount, a repair shop may not hold your car.
At this point, consumers who cancel might encounter a mechanic who wants to charge a fee.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, repair shops may only charge fees for teardown or reassembly if those charges are included in the original written estimate.
When a repair is complete, regardless of whether it was successful or unsuccessful, consumers should demand an invoice that reiterates all provisions of their estimate, as well as any warranties or guarantees that come with the job.
State law requires that invoices include an odometer reading, a description of the work that was done, labor that was required, parts that were used, and the shop's state registration number.
(LINK: State law: http://tinyurl.com/oc5nawe)
If a car repair goes wrong, consumers should document everything. Take notes, snap photos, and keep records. Your first contact should be the shop manager and/or owner.
If that avenue is a dead end, the next step should be to file a formal complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
(LINK: File a complaint: http://tinyurl.com/87k9nv4)
HIRE AN ATTORNEY?
Finally, you might employ the services of an attorney. You might find a lawyer who will write a letter on your behalf for as little as $50. Sometimes, that legal heat is enough to spark some action.
The Florida Bar offers an attorney referral service, which is free of charge by dialing 1-800-342-8011. That line is answered Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
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