Do cosumer protection laws actually work in the automotive world?
Here’s a simple question about automotive consumer protection laws: Do they work in the real world?
Let’s start with the fact that the majority of transactions between consumers and automotive service providers are completed properly and lead to relative satisfaction, as much as anyone can be satisfied with spending money on a product they seldom understand. But in those rare cases where things go off the rail, there are consumer laws and regulations to protect us, right? We really don’t have to worry about such matters, do we?
With auto repairs, as in most things in life, the devil really can be in the details, and just knowing your rights really isn’t enough.
Every jurisdiction in the country has some sort of auto-repair specific consumer protection legislation. These rules and regulations speak to the need for consumers to be provided with written estimates and upfront pricing on the preparation of such documents, as well as clear indications on the repair invoice of parts and labour details. They also cover the information that must appear on each repair order and final invoice. Things like VINs, in-and-out mileage recordings, sequential document numbering, and the like. But do we really need all this detail, especially for small and routine services?
If you frequent a smaller shop for oil changes and other minor items, and that facility uses hand-written invoices without all the details required by law, you may run into problems if your automaker requires proof of maintenance for a warranty repair. If your invoices don’t meet the minimum requirement regarding VINs, detailed part descriptions and labour operations, you can be denied warranty coverage. If you’re in doubt, simply compare the detail on your shop’s repair orders and invoices to one you received from your authorized dealership service department.
In some cases, familiarity really does breed contempt. Many smart customers develop solid long-term relationships with their mechanics and shops. Visit after visit, they and their service techs and counter staff get used to each other and sometimes, this can lead to problems.
For example, you drop your ride off for a routine oil change and inspection and the tech notices a serious safety-related problem with, say, the brakes. They prepare an estimate and try to get hold of you with no success. Based on the fact that you’ve never questioned their judgment before and that you told them you needed your vehicle by the end of the day, they go ahead without notifying you. Yes they were wrong, and every consumer law of the land would back you up if you balk at paying, but you’d still likely end up with a broken relationship.
If you’re concerned about the money you spend on vehicle maintenance and repairs – and really, who isn’t? – make sure you clearly indicate your need for notification regarding any work or cost when you drop the vehicle off and sign the repair order. Even a quick written note under your signature to that effect isn’t going overboard.
Also, make sure you will be available if your shop needs to get in touch. If you plan on being in meetings all day, delegate your authorizing duties to another responsible person. When you get a call from the shop requesting approval for repairs, ask questions. Are the parts being used, new, remanufactured or used? What’s the warranty on the work? Can it be safely put off to another visit? What are the benefits? Make note of the estimated total and compare it to the final bill. Many jurisdictions require that final invoices be within 10 per cent of the original estimate.
Yes, consumer laws can protect us, but often with some inconvenience and time delays.