Auto Repair Common Questions


What should you look for when choosing a repair shop?

* Look for an auto repair shop before you need one. Avoid being rushed into last-minute decisions.

* Ask for recommendations. Word-of-mouth often is the best advertising for a good technician. Ask friends, family members and others for recommendations of repair shops or technicians they trust.

* 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.

* Be sure the repair shop is capable of performing the repairs needed.

* Find a repair shop that honors your vehicle's warranty.

* Shop around among comparable shops for the best deal.



Is one technician better than another?

* Look for shops that display various certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence seal. Certifications indicate that some or all of the technicians have met basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas. Make sure the certifications were recently obtained. Remember, however, that certification alone is not an absolute guarantee of good or honest work.


What should be included in an estimate?

* 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.

When should you get a second opinion?

* Even though you bring in your car with a specific problem, additional 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.

* Ask if there will be a diagnostic charge if you decide to have the work performed elsewhere. Many repair shops charge for diagnostic time.

* Shops that do only diagnostic work and do not sell parts or repairs may be able to give you an objective opinion about which repairs are necessary.

After your repair is done, what do you need?

* 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.

What should you know about the parts to be repaired or replaced on your vehicle?

Parts are classified as:

* New auto parts - These parts are generally made to original manufacturer's specifications, either by the vehicle manufacturer or an independent company. Your state may require repair shops to tell you if non-original equipment will be used in the repair. Prices and quality of these parts can vary widely.

* Remanufactured, rebuilt and reconditioned parts - These terms generally mean the same thing: parts have been restored to a sound working condition. Many manufacturers offer a warranty covering replacement parts, but not the labor to install them.

* Salvage parts - These are used parts taken from another vehicle without alteration. Salvage parts may be the only source for certain items, though their reliability is seldom guaranteed.


What are the consequences of postponing maintenance?

* Since many parts of your vehicle are inter-related, ignoring maintenance can lead to failure of other parts or an entire system. Neglecting even simple preventive maintenance, such as changing the oil or checking the coolant, can lead to poor fuel economy, unreliability, or costly breakdowns, and could invalidate your warranty.

What maintenance guidelines should you follow to avoid costly repairs?

* The best way to keep a vehicle in good condition is to follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule in your owner's manual for your type of driving. If you do not have an owner's manual, contact the manufacturer to obtain one or to get a recommended maintenance schedule.

* Some repair shops create their own maintenance schedules, which call for more frequent servicing than the manufacturer's recommendations. Compare shop maintenance schedules with those recommended in your owner's manual. Ask the repair shop to explain - and make sure you understand - why it recommends service beyond the recommended schedule.


What warranties and service contracts apply to vehicle repairs?

* There is no such thing as a "standard warranty" on repairs. Make sure you understand what is covered under your warranty and get it in writing.

* Check with the Federal Trade Commission or your state or local consumer protection agency for information about your warranty rights.

* Warranties may be subject to limitations, including time, mileage, deductibles, businesses authorized to perform warranty work or special procedures required to obtain reimbursement. Make sure you understand these limitations.

* Compare warranty policies when selecting a repair shop.

* Many vehicle dealers and others sell optional contracts, called service contracts, issued by vehicle manufacturers or independent companies. Not all service contracts are the same; prices vary and are usually negotiable. To help decide whether to purchase a service contract, consider the following:

- The cost of the service contract.
- The repairs to be covered.
- Coverage of the service contract and whether it overlaps that provided by any other warranty.
- The deductible.
- Where the repairs are to be performed.
- Procedures required to file a claim, such as getting prior authorization for specific repairs or meeting required vehicle maintenance schedules.
- Whether repair costs are paid directly by the company to the repair shop or whether you will have to pay first and get reimbursed.
- The reputation of the service contract company, which can be checked with your state Attorney General's office or the local consumer protection agency.

How do you resolve a dispute regarding billing, quality of repairs or warranties?

* 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.