By Daniel Foster
For most of us, the complexity of car repairs leaves us vulnerable to shady repair shop owners and mechanics. If you worry about your vehicle and wonder whether your mechanic is an honest one, you are not alone.
Although most repair shops and mechanics are honest, there are some that will empty your wallet without a second thought about their moral compass. Poorly repaired vehicles can break down in traffic. This is particularly dangerous at high speeds. Crucial parts can also crack or malfunction. You could lose control, causing a serious risk to you, other drivers and pedestrians.
With car repairs, consumer protection starts with you. When considering a garage to repair your vehicle, you should shop carefully and diligently. After all, how many other investments do you make that are worth thousands of dollars?
All repairs to motor vehicles are covered under Part VI of the Consumer Protection Act, 2002. This particular section of the Act includes but is not limited to muffler shops, used car lots, dealerships, and garages. When an unsuspecting consumer visits these repair facilities, they should know their rights.
When you visit a garage, the first thing you should see is a conspicuously displayed sign setting out how much the garage charges and repair practices. The sign should state that replaced parts will be returned to you if you want them. The sign should also state that the repairer is required to give a written estimate unless the customer declines.
Furthermore, always get an estimate in writing. One of the biggest mistakes a consumer can make is to sign a blank work order before repairs are carried out. Some important points the written estimate should include are: an exact description of the repairs to be made; the parts to be installed and whether they will be new, used or reconditioned; price of the parts; number of hours to be billed; how labour is calculated; and total amount to be billed. The key strategy in having this estimate is that a repairer cannot charge you more than 10% of the estimate if they carry out services beyond the authorized repairs. We have all heard about that friend, relative or colleague who took their vehicle in for repairs only to find out that the mechanic carried out other costly services because “they cared” about your safety. If they refuse to provide an estimate, drive away immediately.
Once the repairs are carried out, should the consumer and the garage have a dispute over the costs or quality of repair, the repairer has a remedy by which they may sell the vehicle under the umbrella of the Repair and Storage Liens Act. To remedy this, the consumer may file an application with a court of competent jurisdiction and pay the full amount of the bill there. By doing this, the repairer is required to return your vehicle to you until the court can decide where the liability falls.
The Consumer Protection Act also provides a statutory warranty period after the repairs are carried out. You are entitled to a warranty period of 90 days or 5000 kilometers, whichever comes first. The warranty applies to all labour costs and includes all new and reconditioned parts. Should your vehicle break down before this warranty period expires, you are entitled to take it to another garage and the original repairer must pay for the repairs and all reasonable towing charges incurred.
In the end, it is up to us to be prudent consumers. The garage that sits just a block away from your home may prove convenient, but costly in the end. Although UFO’s and ghosts have proven to be elusive, a good garage mechanic doesn’t have to be. To learn more about consumer rights, visit the Ontario Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services web site.
By Daniel Foster