All auto repair shops in California must be registered with the Department of Consumer Affairs, and every repair shop must post a sign with the following information to inform customers of their rights:
THIS ESTABLISHMENT IS REGISTERED WITH
THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS
IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR ACT OF 1971, A CUSTOMER IS ENTITLED TO...
- A WRITTEN ESTIMATE FOR REPAIR WORK.
- A DETAILED INVOICE OF WORK DONE AND PARTS SUPPLIED.
- RETURN OF REPLACED PARTS, IF REQUESTED AT THE TIME A WORK ORDER IS PLACED.
- QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE ABOVE SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO THE MANAGER OF THIS REPAIR FACILITY.
- UNRESOLVED QUESTIONS REGARDING SERVICE WORK MAY BE SUBMITTED TO:
BUREAU OF AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR
TOLL-FREE TELEPHONE: 800-952-5210
MONDAY THRU FRIDAY
If you don't see the sign, ask to see it.
The Written Estimate or Work Order
When given a written estimate, it must include the total estimated price for parts and labor for a specified repair or service. The estimate does not include sales tax.
In addition to the total amount, the estimate may itemize the parts to be used and the method of repair. If so, the repair shop must stick to it. They may not legally substitute parts or change the repair method, without your consent.
The dealer or service representative may also make an informal estimate and prepare a work order, showing an estimated price for diagnosis alone, or for diagnosis and repair. When you sign a work order, you are liable to pay up to the specified amount for the diagnostic or repair services. Do not sign a blank work order.
After the inspection or diagnosis is complete, the shop may call you to describe the work that should be done, to tell you the estimated cost of the work and parts, and to get your verbal authorization to proceed.
If any part of the work is going to be performed at a different shop, it must be noted on the written estimate or work order. For instance, auto body shops sometimes have auto glass shops replace damaged windshields. The shop you authorize to repair your car or truck may not sublet the work without your consent, unless you cannot reasonably be notified.
Giving Your Authorization
No work will be done until you receive an estimate and authorize the repairs by signing a written estimate or work order.
If the technician later determines that the work will cost more than estimated, the additional work may not be done without your consent. Someone from the shop must contact you, describe the additional work and associated costs, and get your permission to proceed.
If you give verbal authorization over the telephone (for instance, by saying "O.K., go ahead."), the shop may proceed with the work, but they must make a notation as follows:
- On the estimate, the shop must indicate that verbal authorization was given, noting the date and time and the name and telephone number of the person who gave the authorization.
- On the invoice, the shop must make the same notation; or, upon completion of repairs, ask you to sign or initial the statement, "I acknowledge notice and oral approval of an increase in the original estimated price."
The Teardown Estimate
For some complex problems, like a transmission failure, the repair shop may have to take your car or truck apart in order to give you an accurate estimate. A teardown estimate must note the following:
- The price of the teardown, including the price of reassembling the car or truck, and the price of replacing gaskets, seals, and other parts destroyed in the teardown process.
- The maximum time it will take the shop to reassemble the car or truck.
After the teardown, the repair shop must write a second estimate which shows:
- The estimated price for parts and labor for the recommended repair.
- The parts required for the recommended repair.
The shop will then contact you for permission to do the repairs. If you decide not to proceed with the work, they must reassemble the car at no further cost and within the maximum time stated on the teardown estimate.
When the repair job is finished, you will receive an invoice, which must show the repair shop name, address, and registration number.
All work performed, including any work done under warranty at no charge, must be listed on the invoice. Labor and parts must be itemized separately, and each part must be clearly identified. It must be noted if any used, reconditioned, or rebuilt parts were used. Sales tax is included as a separate item.
At the time you sign the work order, you may request that the repair shop return to you any parts that are replaced. The shop is required by law to return the parts to you only if you request them before the work is done.
If the shop installs a rebuilt part, the old part is usually returned to the supplier as partial payment for the rebuilt part. This payment is called a core charge. If you want the old part back, you may have to pay the core charge.
If any replaced parts must be returned to the supplier under a warranty arrangement, those parts will not be returned to you. But you have a right to see them if a charge is being made for replacement.
A repair shop is not required by law to guarantee its repair work, but many shops do guarantee some of their repairs. If work is guaranteed, it must be in writing. A written guarantee should show:
- The name and address of the repair shop or company that is making the guarantee;
- What the repair shop or company agree to do (e.g., repair or replace the failed part, or refund your money);
- What you must do to have the guarantee honored (e.g., return the car to the place of service, or pay a service charge);
- The effective time period of the guarantee (e.g., 90 days from the date of repair);
- The items that are covered or excluded;
- Whether the guarantee is prorated (adjusted for time or mileage), and whether it is transferable to the new owner if you sell your vehicle.
Dropping Off Your Car When the Shop is Closed
If you need to drop off your car when the shop is closed - very early in the morning, for instance - try to call the day before so the service manager knows the car is coming, and make arrangements to leave the keys in a safe place. Leave a note with your telephone number, describing the repair or service you need. The repair shop must contact you with an estimate and get your permission before doing any work.