August 31, 2010

Take the Scare Out of Auto Repair!

tomBy Tom Miller
Iowa Attorney General

Car-repair complaints always rank high in Iowa, even though most repair shops treat customers fairly. The most common complaints are that a repair shop charged more than the estimate, or that it did work the customer didn’t authorize. Today’s cars are computerized and complex machines, so doing our own diagnosis and repair is out of the question for most of us. Here are some things consumers can do to reassure
themselves — and protect themselves against being cheated in auto repairs.

The most important step is to find the right repair shop and technician:

• Ask for recommendations from friends, family members, and others. Word-of- mouth is often the most reliable advertising for a good shop or technician.

• Find a trusted shop and keep going back to it.

• For expensive or complicated repairs, get a “second opinion” and cost estimate.

• Be skeptical of advertisements for low-price maintenance work. Consumers sometimes pay for unnecessary repairs after shops do the advertised maintenance.

• Exercise your rights under Iowa’s Motor Vehicle Service Trade Practices Act. These rights can help consumers avoid higher-than-expected repair charges:

• Shops must tell you that you have the right to receive a written or oral estimate for any repair that costs more than $50.

• After you receive an estimate, the shop may not charge you a higher price, unless it contacts you with a higher estimate and you okay the additional cost.

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

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

For a free brochure on “Taking the Scare Out of Auto Repair,” or to file a complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines IA 50319. The telephone number is 515-281-5926. E-mail: