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Steer clear of auto repair problems

Before finding a mechanic, consider these tips and know your rights

Has the winter been rough on your car? Does it need repair caused by an accident on icy roads?  Is it out of alignment or does it need new shocks due to all the potholes?  Taking the time to find the right repair shop will save you money and future headaches.

Auto complaints — from sales to warranties — topped the list of written complaints made by consumers to the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division last year.  Auto repair complaints, specifically, saw the largest increase. 

Before taking your car in for repair, follow these steps:   

1.    Research, research, and research. Research potential repair shops. Research, as much as you can, the damage done to your car. Finally, research the current value for your car.

2.    Ask around. Word-of-mouth recommendations are often the most reliable way to find the right place.  Ask friends or colleagues before you commit to taking your vehicle somewhere to be fixed. 

3.    Review other complaints. Check various business review websites to see what others are saying about the repair shop. You can also check with the Consumer Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if anyone has filed complaints and how the business or mechanic responded.

4.    Check certification. See if the shop’s is “ASE” certified.  The non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) works to improve the quality of vehicle repair and service by testing and certifying automotive professionals.  Certification alone, however, does not guarantee good or honest work, and there are also good mechanics who are not certified.

Know what your insurance policy covers

After you find the right shop, your work is not done!  You should then consult your auto insurance and know what your policy covers:

1.    Know your deductible. 

2.    Review your rights with respect to obtaining estimates of the cost of repair. 

3.    See if your policy covers a rental car. 

4.    Pay careful to the type of parts that are covered under your policy. Are they original equipment manufacturer parts or non-original equipment manufacturer parts, commonly known as “after-market parts.” 

5.    If the accident was not your fault, you may be entitled to a monetary payment to cover the diminished value of your vehicle. You generally need to obtain a letter from a repair shop or auto dealer stating that before the accident your car was worth a certain amount more than it is worth now.

6.    Under Iowa law, an insurance company may not tell you where you must have your repairs made.  An insurance company can recommend and describe a repair facility where they have a relationship, but they cannot refuse to pay a claim because the repairs were made at a particular repair shop. Your insurer can limit the amount it pays for the repair.

7.    Your insurance policy may include an appraisal clause for instances in which you disagree with the insurance company’s estimate of repairs. Review the appraisal clause in your policy to know how it works before using. These clauses usually allow you and the insurance company to obtain independent estimates, although you may be required to pay for the estimate.

Get it in writing

The Consumer Protection Division has seen an increase in disputes with repair shops over charges. In most cases, the problem starts when the consumer receives an estimate over the phone.   It might take a little longer, but it is best practice to request the estimate in writing.  This will make it easier to compare the estimate with the final work performed in case there is a discrepancy.  

Here are helpful hints to help you once you have a shop and know your insurance policy:

1.    Ask the shop about the repair process for your vehicle and how those compare to manufacturer guidelines for those procedures. 

2.    Ask what storage, administrative, and diagnostic fees you may have to pay out of pocket if any, when those apply, and what the administrative costs include.

3.    After the estimate, confirm that the shop and the auto insurance company agree on the cost, parts, and steps of the repair before the repair begins.

4.    Ask for an estimated date of repair. If the repair will take an extended period of time, request weekly updates from the same person if possible.

Know your rights

You should also be aware of your rights under Iowa’s Motor Vehicle Service Trade Practices Act. You have certain rights to help you avoid higher than expected repair charges:

•    You have the right to receive a written or oral estimate for any repair that is expected to cost more than $50, and shops must notify you of this right.  Make sure to request a written estimate.

•    The shop generally may not charge you a price that’s more than the estimate, unless it contacts you with a higher estimate and you approve the additional cost.

•    The repair shop may not charge you for any repairs that are unnecessary or that you did not authorize.

•    The repair shop must disclose in advance if it charges for dis-assembly, reassembly, partially completed work, or any other work not directly related to repair or service.

•    If the repair shop works with an outside repair or service supplier, the shop must provide, if you request one, an itemized receipt from the supplier.

•    The repair shop may not use aftermarket crash parts without first disclosing it in the written estimate.

Disputes may come up even if you follow these tips.  Try to resolve your problem directly with the repair shop. You will have a much better chance of success if you document your complaint, so keep copies of all estimates and invoices.

If you cannot resolve the problem, you can contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website, by email or by phone:

Phone: 515-281-5926 (outside the Des Moines area, call toll-free: 888-777-4590)


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