Consumer Pamphlet: How to Avoid Being a Victim of Auto Repair and Service Station Gimmicks
Note: This pamphlet is available online only.
While most car mechanics are honest, there are some unscrupulous service station mechanics and attendants who use gimmicks and fraudulent tricks to con their customers into paying for unnecessary auto parts or labor.
Some use fear tactics in selling such parts as tires, radiator hoses and shock absorbers. Beware of attendants who tell you that you need such parts replaced immediately or else you will have a serious accident. They want to arouse enough fear so that you will make a quick decision to purchase based on an emotional reaction rather than on sound reasoning. Simply remember to have your car serviced regularly and checked by your mechanic before any major trips.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for the average car owner to be aware of all of the gimmicks being used, but the cautious customer can remember a few basic guidelines:
• First, deal with a local service station or mechanic whom you know from experience that you can trust. Gimmicks are more likely to be used on customers who are passing through rather than regulars who live in the area.
• Second, bring in your car when the shop is open. If the shop is closed or the vehicle is delivered by the shop or another person, there is an implied partial waiver of the estimate for diagnostics. The estimate can be oral. If you do leave your vehicle, leave specific instructions and a contact telephone number.
• Third, motor vehicle repair shops must register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under Florida Statute 559.904 . Verify that the shop you are dealing with is registered. Some counties also require registration; check with your county consumer agency. The Division of Consumer Services keeps a record of business complaints that you may look up online at https://csapp.800helpfla.com/cspublicapp/businesssearch/businesssearch.aspx
• Fourth, be aware of the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act, Florida Statutes 559.901 through 599.9221 . This act requires that a written estimate of the cost of a repair be given to you if your repair will exceed $100.00, with the specific requirements listed under Florida Statute 559.905. Always get a written estimate for any work done on your car and demand additional written estimates if the repairs are to exceed the original figure. You may also demand to be contacted by the attendant or mechanic for your authorization if there is going to be an expense over and above that which is stated in the estimate. You can ask that old parts replaced during the repair be returned to you. The repair facility must tell you whether new or used parts are to be used in the repair. All work and parts are required to be itemized on an invoice so you can know the reason for all charges. This law was designed to protect the consumer, so make use of it. If the customer does not give approval and the cost of repair exceeds the cost listed on the estimate as stated above, it is unlawful for the repair shop to hold the vehicle if you refuse to pay. Under Florida Statute 559.911, the repair shop must prepare and provide you a written invoice.
Repairs may be canceled if they exceed the estimate as stated above, and the repair shop must reassemble the vehicle, unless it is unsafe to drive. Please note, if you were given prior notice on the estimate, the shop may charge you fees for teardown, reassembly and destroyed items.
• Fifth, inquire about the certification of the mechanics who are going to repair your car. There are national and local programs that certify mechanics in specific areas, including brakes, engines, electrical work and transmissions.
If you feel that you have been victimized by a service station gimmick, first complain to the service station or garage where your car was serviced. If you are not satisfied with the station’s remedy or explanation, contact the Division of Consumer Services toll-free hotline at (800) HELP-FLA (435-7352) − or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) − and make a formal complaint or go to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website. Ask the division to send you a free pamphlet on the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act, or read this act at your local library. You also can contact your local consumer agency.
If you believe you need legal advice, call your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, call The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 342-8011 or your local lawyer referral service or legal aid office.
[Updated August 2016]