Roseann Freitas, PR & Communications Manager for the Better Business Bureau Great West & Pacific, joins producer/host Coralie Chun Matayoshi to discuss what you can do to avoid having to hire a mechanic in the first place, steps you should take when hiring a car mechanic, getting estimates in writing, understanding your car warranties, how to protect against fraud, and what to do if you have been scammed.
Q. What can you do to avoid having to hire a mechanic in the first place?
Maintain your car correctly. Read your vehicle’s manual for suggested routine maintenance to keep it humming along and reduce the need for repairs. Look for information such as the type and weight of oil to use in different seasons, proper maintenance intervals, and the maximum load your car can carry or tow. If your car has a manual transmission, find the proper shift points for maximum engine life (usually the same as described for maximum fuel efficiency). Pay close attention to your car’s performance changes, any lit dashboard signals, and unusual smoke or odors. Don’t wait until you have an accident, or your car stops running to look for a mechanic. You will be much more stressed when facing an emergency, so do your research when you can take your time and make educated decisions.
Q. What are the first steps you should take when hiring a car mechanic?
Do your research. Ask friends and family for mechanics they trust. If you need significant repairs, you may want to find a dealer or repair shop specializing in the type of repair or a specific make or model car. In Hawaii, the repair shop and mechanic must have an automotive, motorcycle or truck license except for tire repairs, changing tires, lubricating vehicles, installing light bulbs, batteries, windshield wiper blades, oil and filter replacement, spark plug replacement, and other minor accessories or services. Mechanics can be certified by passing a National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) organization test. Make sure the certificates are recent but remember that certification alone does not guarantee excellent or honest work. Check business profiles at https://BBB.org to see if a business is BBB Accredited and in good standing and to read reviews and complaints.
Q. What about any warranties on the car?
Understand your warranty. Make note of anything you need to do to keep your warranty valid. If you are getting work done while the car is still under warranty, check to see if there are guidelines you must follow and if you must take the vehicle to a specific location. If in doubt, ask questions at the dealership where you bought your car. If your warranty has expired, shop around for a reputable mechanic to perform the work.
Q. Many people turn to the Internet to figure out how to do this themselves. Is this a good idea?
Have a professional diagnose the problem. Self-diagnosing problems can lead to unnecessary costs if you ask for specific work that doesn’t fix the issue. Describe the problems you are experiencing, with as much detail as possible, but have the auto body shop do a diagnostic (ask first if there is a charge for that) and determine what should be done. Don’t rush the technician into making an on-the-spot diagnosis of the problem.
Q. What should you expect and require once the mechanic has looked at the car?
Get a written estimate.
The State of Hawaii requires mechanics to provide a written estimate before starting any work. Hawaii also requires all work done, parts supplied, and warranty work be included on the invoice or work order. Ask if there is a charge to get the estimate before requesting one. Ask about the expected time to complete the repairs before agreeing to the repairs. If crash, used, rebuilt or reconditioned parts are used it must be stated on the invoice. Also, ask for any details on costs connected with the return of parts, the cost of shop supplies, the cost of disassembly, inspection, and diagnosis of the vehicle, and the cost of reassembling the vehicle if you choose not to authorize repairs. Be sure to understand all shop policies regarding labor rates, guarantees, and acceptable payment methods. Make sure the estimate states the mechanic will ask for authorization before doing additional work or incurring extra costs. Include your name and telephone number so the mechanic can reach you. If the estimate increases by more than $100 or 10% after starting work, then the customer should be called for approval. The consumer can waive their right to be notified in writing. If there is any uncertainty about the repair, get a second opinion. For more significant repairs, you should also get multiple estimates. Never sign off on an estimate that is blank or appears to be incomplete. If there is anything you do not understand, ask for an explanation.
Q. After the work is completed, what should you do next?
Pay attention when you pick up your car. When you pick up your vehicle, get a complete and detailed written summary describing everything the mechanic did. Ask the service manager to go over it with you and explain all the work they did and the replacements they made. Also, if they replaced any major parts, ask to see what they did. If you want to keep all replaced parts, you must ask when the work order is taken, and they don’t need to be returned to a supplier or manufacturer. In Hawaii, the repair dealer doesn’t have to return the transmission, differential and engine block. The bill should itemize the repairs, so if a problem occurs later, you can show what was done. The bill should also note the car’s odometer reading before and after the work is done. Are there any charges you do not recognize or understand? If you requested to approve work before it was done and see charges on the bill you did not authorize, you should ask questions about those items.
Get all guarantees in writing. Get any shop guarantee in writing. A written guarantee should include what it will cover, such as parts, labor, or both, how long they are guaranteed, and any exclusions. It should also outline whether the guarantee is adjusted for time or mileage and if it transfers to a new owner if you sell the car. Save all paperwork, bills, and receipts.
Q. What kind of fraud can happen when you take your car in for repairs?
Be a smart consumer. One of the best ways to protect yourself against disreputable car repair shops and scams is to practice “consumer automotive strategy.” Watch your car if possible. Do not leave valuables in your vehicle when leaving it in the shop. Be aware of common scams used by dishonest repair shops. There are many things disreputable mechanics can do to make a car appear to have more problems than it does. For example, switching the spark plug wire connections can prevent a car from starting. If you feel you have been taken advantage of, you should first complain to the repair shop’s service manager or the facility’s owner. If you cannot resolve the complaint satisfactorily, contact the BBB where the car was serviced.
Q. If your car continues to have issues, what remedies are available?
Follow up with problems. If you continue to have issues with your car after the work is complete, take it back to the shop that performed the original repair. If issues persist, it will be easier to identify who is responsible for the repair. If you cannot reach a satisfactory repair, you may wish to file a complaint at https://BBB.org. If your issue involves the warranty for the car, you can open a dispute with a the BBB Autoline at https://bbbprograms.org/programs/all-programs/bbb-autoline in the United States. You can also contact the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO) at 808-587-4272 or https://cca.hawaii.gov/rico/file-a-complaint. If the mechanic who did the work is Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified, ASE may be able to take action if enough complaints have been filed.
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Disclaimer: this material is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The law varies by jurisdiction and is constantly changing. For legal advice, you should consult a lawyer that can apply the appropriate law to the facts in your case.