Consumer rights: Car repairs

Published: 11/02/2015

Certain jobs have certain reputations. Solicitors, for example, are often stereotyped as ‘stuffy’, ‘boring’ and ‘old fashioned’. Another profession that often gets a bad rep is car mechanics; that deep intake of breath that indicates that what you thought was a minor job is going to cost you a fortune.

The thing is, just like with solicitors, the majority of mechanics aren’t like this. That said there are times when the service you receive from a garage isn’t good enough. At times like this it’s important to know your legal rights and what you can do if things go wrong, are delayed or cost considerably more.

Set the terms

If you need work done on your vehicle it is important that you and the garage are in agreement about a number of things before any work is undertaken:

  • What work needs to be done
  • How much it will cost
  • How long it will take.

It is advisable to get quotes from different mechanics to ensure the price you are paying is reasonable. It can also give you a means to negotiate with your preferred garage. Once you have agreed a price, this will ultimately be the price you need to pay as you have entered into a contract with the garage. The only time you can dispute this is if:

  • Not all the agreed work was done
  • The work done was of poor quality.

Poor quality

Under the laws of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 and the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002, any repair work must be carried out:

  • with reasonable care and skill
  • in a reasonable time
  • for a reasonable charge.

If your vehicle was not repaired properly highlight the problem to the garage and give them the opportunity to fix it. If they refuse, or try and charge you more for the work, find out if they belong to a trade association. If they are, obtain a copy of its code of practice (this sets out the standard of service they must follow) and show this to the garage.

If the garage does not belong to a trade association or they simply refuse to fix the problem then you could go to another garage. You can then look to recover these costs. Inform the garage of your intentions in writing (either letter or email) including three official quotations for the required work. Explain you will be claiming the cost of the average repair quotation.

Faulty products

When a mechanic fits a new part and it fails within the first six months you could be entitled to a refund or replacement. The garage needs to be able to prove that the part ‘conformed to the contract’.

It’s important to understand however that if the part fails due to wear and tear then it is not the fault of the garage so boy (and girl!) racers take note!

If the garage does admit fault, they have a responsibility to repair or replace the part but this cannot be at your inconvenience. If the repair takes a long time then you could also be entitled to a partial refund or a courtesy vehicle whilst yours is getting fixed.

Lost, stolen or damaged

It’s not too much to expect for your car to remain safe whilst ‘in the shop’ so if it is lost, damaged or even stolen during its time at the garage it is the responsibility of the garage to put it right.

When you collect your vehicle it is a good idea give it the once over whilst it is still on the premises. That way, if there is any damage it is easier to prove it occurred during its time there than afterwards.

If you notice the damage after you have left, it is essential you return to the garage with your vehicle as soon as possible – the longer it is the more chance the garage can argue you caused the damage rather than them.

If they do admit fault you have a couple of options:

  • The garage appears to repair the damage
  • You get the repairs done at a different damage and they cover the costs (you may need to check with their insurance company first).

If they deny responsibility, refuse to do the repairs or if the vehicle is a write off, contact the trade association and/or the garage’s insurance company and negotiate with them.

Many garages have a caveat that says something along the lines of ‘cars are left at the owner’s risk’ and are therefore only responsible to replace a stolen car if they failed to take reasonable care.

If your car is stolen whilst in the garage, the best thing to do is to claim on your own insurance policy and let your insurer deal with their insurance company.

Disputing a bill

If you agreed the cost of the work beforehand then it is difficult to dispute a bill after the job is complete. However you can dispute a bill if:

  • You didn’t agree the price and you feel it is unreasonable
  • The price agreed has changed
  • The work took considerably longer than quoted
  • The garage is charging you for additional work without your consent
  • The work carried out was of poor quality.

Typically a garage will not release a car until the bill has been paid. This is obviously very inconvenient to the customer who doesn’t want to pay what they deem unfair charges. In this instance you can ‘pay under protest’. This allows you to retain possession of your car whilst allowing you continue to dispute the bill. Write ‘paying under protest’ clearly on the repair order sheet or invoice.

It is easier to dispute a bill if the garage is a member of a trade association. If they are, follow its complaints procedure. If they are not, you’ll need to:

  • Compile any supporting evidence you have (e.g. quotations for repairs)
  • Contact the garage, in writing, explaining why you think the bill is too high. You may also wish to include a copy of any supporting evidence
  • Inform the garage you intend to take the claim to the small claims court if necessary.

In some instances the threat of going to court is enough to start negotiations with the garage. If however you have to follow through with your threat you will need to prove that:

  • You did not agree for the work to be done
  • You did not agree the price charged
  • The price is unreasonable
  • The work was poorly executed.

Reporting rogue garages

If you believe a garage or mechanic is misleading customers then it is essential you report them to trading standards. Rogue practices include:

  • They are charging for work that does not needed
  • They are charging for work that has not been done
  • Fitting inferior parts
  • Fitting second hand parts and claiming they are new.

If you are injured in an accident that you believe was a result of any work carried out by a garage, contact our Personal Injury department for help and advice about making a personal injury claim.

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