There are important legal considerations when you get your car serviced or repaired. If your car is still under warranty or you have a service contract for repair, you should carefully abide by the written terms in order to preserve your legal rights and remedies.
Cars Not Covered By A Warranty Or Service Contract
In this circumstance, the contract for repair is solely between you and repair shop personnel. Problems can arise if it is not clear exactly what repairs you have authorized or if the repair is not effective.
When you ask a car repair shop to repair your car, the North Carolina Motor Vehicle Repair Act requires the shop to prepare a written repair estimate if the cost of repair will exceed $350.00. By means of a conspicuous sign (24”x 24”), the repair shop must notify you of this right, as well as your right to the return or inspection of all parts which have been replaced if you authorize a repair. The written estimate must include the cost of repair to you, including diagnostic work, and be given to you before any repair or diagnostic work is performed. The estimate must also include a statement allowing you to indicate whether the replaced parts should be saved for your inspection or returned to you, and a statement indicating the daily charge for storing the car after the shop has notified you that the repairs have been completed.
No written estimate is required by law if the repair shop does not agree to repair the car. You may also waive your right to receive a written estimate for the period of time specified in the waiver document. There are three instances when a partial waiver is implied by law: if you leave your car at a repair shop during hours when the shop is not open; if you allow the shop or another person to deliver your car to the shop; or if the repair shop reasonably believes that an accurate estimate of the cost of repair cannot be made until diagnostic work is completed. In the latter instance, as soon as the diagnostic work is completed, the repair shop must provide you with the full written repair estimate.
By law, the repair shop must notify you by telephone, mail, or other means
- if a determination is made that actual cost for repairs will exceed the written estimate by more than 10%;
- if the written repair estimate contained only an estimate for diagnostic work necessary to estimate the cost of repair and the diagnostic work has been completed; or
- if an implied partial waiver exists for diagnostic work and the diagnostic work has been completed.
You then must notify the repair shop orally or in writing that you either authorize, modify or cancel the order for repair. If you cancel the order for repair or you decide not to repair your car after the diagnostic work is performed, the repair shop must expeditiously reassemble your car in a condition reasonably similar to what it was when you brought it to the shop. You will be obligated to pay the cost of repairs actually completed which you authorized in the written estimate, as well as certain costs associated with reassembling your car if you were notified of the possibility of these charges in your written estimate. If you authorize the repair, the repair shop cannot charge you more than 10% beyond the written estimate plus any amounts that you have authorized beyond the written estimate. The shop cannot refuse to give you your car for refusing to pay more than this amount. Upon completion of the repair, the shop must provide you with an invoice describing the work that was done, itemizing labor, parts, and merchandise and their costs (unless covered under service agreement or warranty), and identifying any replacement part as being used, rebuilt, or reconditioned.
The Motor Vehicle Repair Act includes a detailed list of prohibited acts and practices in the repair of your car. Violations of the this Act can result in the award of attorneys fees to the consumer in addition to all other remedies available under North Carolina statutory and common law.
The Duty of Care
Once you have agreed upon the terms of the repair contract, the repair person has a legal duty to make all authorized repairs in a workmanlike manner according to the standards and skills for such repairs in the trade. If you do not get an effective repair, if unauthorized repairs are made, or if your car is damaged during the repair process, you also have certain legal rights and remedies under contract, negligence, and consumer protection laws.
Protecting Your Legal Rights
Get your repair estimate, repair contract and any warranties in writing. Terms and conditions may be written on the intake invoice. Get copies of all documents and keep them in a safe place.
- Ask for the return of any parts removed from your car.
- If your car is malfunctioning after a repair, do not drive it. You will not be able to recover money for any damages which you could have avoided.
- Notify the repair shop at once of any ineffective repair and request that they tow your car back to the shop if it cannot be driven without risk of further damage. Generally, you have a legal duty to give the repair shop a chance to "cure" the repair, whether or not the repair was warranted.
- Keep a diary of all events once you discover an ineffective or unauthorized repair. You should also have another person witness any discussions you have with repair shop personnel after any problem arises.
- If you still cannot get an effective repair, you need to have another mechanic evaluate the problem and provide you with a written statement. Having an "expert" evaluation will be useful in settling the dispute and necessary if you have to go to court.
- If the matter is not resolved, you will be entitled at law to recover any reasonably related costs you incur to get an effective repair as well compensation for the loss of use of your car.