Follow guidelines when getting car repairs

Speaking from the bar

Experiencing a few extra “minor” problems with your vehicle lately? For example, does Ole Beater start only on calendar days that are prime numbers? Are you starting to keep track of miles per quart rather than miles per gallon? Do friends suggest you could improve your pick-up by hoisting a sail on your hood?

If so, it might be time to bring your trusty rusty into a local auto surgeon for a needed fix-up. Here are a few suggestions to help you avoid legal hassles when you get your car repaired:

The first, and perhaps most important, decision to be made is where to go to get your car repaired. Circumstances might limit or even dictate your choice of repairman when your car is under a dealer’s warranty, or you’ve broken down on the highway again. Ideally, you should get several estimates before having the work done.

There is no Better Business Bureau in DeKalb; elsewhere, you can consult the B.B.B. about the reputation of the shop with which you are thinking of doing business. Word of mouth is ordinarily a good source of information. Otherwise, ask someone who has lived in town for a substantial period of time whom they would recommend.

Under the law, the mechanic is required to stand behind his work; that is, perform the work for the price agreed upon by you. You, in turn, must pay for the work performed. If the mechanic makes repairs beyond those authorized, he cannot legally charge you for them.

If he has installed new parts in the process, he must replace the parts with your old parts, without cost. You also are required to give the mechanic a reasonable opportunity to correct any failure on his part to perform the work correctly.

Clear communication with your mechanic is crucial. Obviously, a mechanic’s time is money, so you cannot expect a formal course in automotive engineering when you bring your car into the mechanic’s shop.

Nevertheless, it is of mutual interest for both parties to discuss the problem fully. Give the mechanic all relevant information concerning the symptoms your car has been exhibiting, prior repairs, etc. You want a written estimate, the mechanic’s professional opinion concerning the nature of the problem and the extent and costs of repairs required.

Sometimes the mechanic cannot give you a firm diagnosis without actually beginning the work. In this case, you need to be particularly careful to ensure that you both understand and agree on what the mechanic is authorized to do. A written statement to this effect is a good idea. Realize it is not necessarily in your best interest to deprive the mechanic of all discretion in fixing the car. He might be prevented from other repairs that might be necessary and might cost you substantially more money if done later.

A solution is to instruct the mechanic to call you after he has made his diagnosis and prior to doing any repairs so you can advise him whether to proceed.

Since you often do not know when you pick up the car whether the problem is going to recur, it is very important to keep a copy of all bills, estimates, statements, parts warranties, etc., relating to the repair work. You might have to go back to the shop for additional adjustments so the mechanic has reasonable opportunity to correct work that he has performed improperly.

What is reasonable depends on the circumstances. With mutual good will, many problems can be resolved. As long as you are working with the mechanic, it pays to remain calm and business-like in your demeanor, so long as you do not convey the impression that you will not stand up for your rights. If the dispute is not resolved, realize the mechanic can keep your car until you pay him for his services.

If things deteriorate to this extent, be sure to pay the bill “under protest,” designating on your check or on the receipt that this is the condition of your payment. See an attorney promptly.

Repairs costs sometimes are covered by auto insurance policies when the damage is a result of a traffic accident. Under Illinois law, the other driver and his insurance carrier are not required to pay for repairs that exceed the value of your car. Furthermore, under recent law, when such a “total” loss occurs, the insurance company is required to take possession of your car and surrender it for junk upon payment to you. Again, if you encounter problems, consult an attorney.

Don Henderson

Lynn Richards

Students’ Legal Assistance