About a fourth of all complaints made to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs are car-related; half of those deal with automotive repairs. In an effort to protect its consumers, New Jersey enacted the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations which sets forth an extensive list of auto repair shop practices that are deemed to be deceptive. If a car repair shop engages in one of these practices, it violates both the regulations and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
To learn more about your rights as a consumer and avoid some of the problems that may result from a trip to a car repair shop, read on.
(For more articles on consumer law protections in New Jersey, visit Nolo's New Jersey Debt Management & Consumer Law Center.)
What Is an Automotive Repair Dealer?
Under the law, an automotive repair dealer is any person or business who, for compensation, performs maintenance, diagnosis, or repair services on a motor vehicle or replaces auto parts. Automotive repair dealers are required to be licensed with the state and are required to renew their licenses annually. If an automotive repair dealer has not renewed its license, it will not be allowed to conduct automobile repairs.
What Types of Repairs Are Covered Under the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations?
The law applies to all maintenance and repairs performed by an automotive repair dealer, but excludes tire changes, lubricating vehicles, oil changing, and installing light bulbs, batteries, windshield wiper blades, and other minor accessories and services.
Prohibitions Under the Law
It is unlawful under the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act for an automotive repair dealer to do any of the following:
- Make any written or oral statements that are misleading and deceptive which the automotive repair dealer knows to be untrue or misleading.
- Start work without first having received a signed written authorization from the consumer which clearly states the nature of the repair and the odometer reading of the vehicle, or if during other than normal working hours, verbal authorization from the consumer to proceed with the repair.
- Start work without first giving the consumer a written estimate. The total price must be stated either as "price not to exceed" a certain amount or as an exact figure broken down into parts and labor.
- Fail to provide the consumer with a copy of any receipt or documents signed by the consumer, at the time they signed them.
- Make false promises which are likely to influence, persuade, or induce the consumer to authorize the repair, service, or maintenance of the vehicle.
- Charge the consumer for work done or for parts supplied which are in excess of the estimate given, without the prior oral or written consent of the consumer.
- Fail to return parts to the consumer at the time the repair is completed provided that the consumer, before the work was commenced, requested the return of parts.
- Fail to record on an invoice all repair work performed by the automotive repair dealer for a customer. The invoice should clearly and separately itemize the charges for parts and labor and also state whether any new, rebuilt, or used parts were supplied in the repair.
- Fail to provide a copy to the consumer of any guarantee that clearly discloses all of its terms.
- Fail to post in a conspicuous place a sign informing the consumer that the automotive repair dealer must provide a written estimate, copies of all receipts, detailed invoices, a copy of any guarantees that are offered, and that the consumer has the right to the return of any replaced parts.
What Can You Do if You Have a Problem With an Automotive Repair Dealer?
If you have a problem with repair work done on your vehicle, you should immediately speak to the owner of the repair shop and explain the nature of your complaint. If you cannot resolve the problem with the repair shop, you can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Consumer Affairs will attempt to mediate the dispute. Or you can consult with a consumer law attorney to discuss the options that may be available.
If an automotive repair dealer violates any of the provisions of the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practice Regulations (and thereby also violates the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act)t, you may be able to cancel the repair contract and receive triple damages, attorneys' fees and costs of suit.
How to Protect Yourself When Dealing With Auto Repair Dealers
Below are some tips for avoiding problems when using an auto repair shop.
Shop around. Prior to selecting an auto repair shop, take the time to shop around and ask family or friends for recommendations.
Beware of discounts. Always be wary of auto repair facilities that offer discount offers to do the repair work. Make sure the repair shop is licensed and insured.
Pay attention to the repair order. Never sign a blank repair order and make sure that you fully understand the repair order, and that it clearly reflects what work you want done to the vehicle. Under the law, you may waive your right to an estimate, but must sign a written waiver in order to do so. Before you waive this right, remember, the requirement for a written estimate is there to protect you from unscrupulous auto repair shops.