Getting a car repaired can be one of the most frustrating experiences in life. Even though most repair shops do a good job and treat customers fairly, repairs can be more expensive than planned and many customers have experienced escalating costs when a simple repair becomes more complicated. Issue between customer and mechanic are often based on communication. In many cases the customer believes the issue is being “had.”
In an effort to improve communication and protect the customer, Florida enacted the Motor Vehicle Repair Act in 1980 and it has been amended through the years. The Act applies to motor vehicle repair shops in Florida, with limited exceptions for government repair shops, repairs of for hire vehicles and repairs for vehicles operated for agricultural or horticultural pursuits. That means, the general public seeking motor vehicle repairs are almost always fall within ambit of the statute.
The Act requires motor vehicle repair shops be registered with the State. It protects customers, meaning the person who signs the written repair estimate or any other person whom repair work is authorized. Motor vehicles under the statute are limited to automobiles, trucks, buses, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, motor scooters and other motor powered vehicles, but do not include trailers, mobile homes, travel trailers, trailer coaches without independent power, watercraft, aircraft or special mobile equipment. Special mobile equipment means any vehicle not designed or used primarily for transportation of persons or property and only incidentally operated over highway.
The Act defines motor vehicle repairs to mean all maintenance of and modification and repairs to motor vehicles, including diagnostic work incident thereto, and goes on to reference that motor vehicle repair includes rebuilding or restoring of rebuilt vehicles, body work, painting, warranty work and other work customarily undertaken by motor vehicle repair shops.
When a customer requests a motor vehicle repair shop fix a vehicle, if the cost of the repair work will exceed $100.00 to the customer, the shop must give the customer a written estimate before doing any diagnostic work or repair. Failure to provide the estimate can make the repair free unless the following is under one of the limited exceptions in the Act. The written estimate must include the following items:
(a) The name, address, and telephone number of the motor vehicle repair shop.
(b) The name, address, and telephone number of the customer.
(c) The date and time of the written repair estimate.
(d) The year, make, model, odometer reading, and license tag number of the motor vehicle.
(e) The proposed work completion date.
(f) A general description of the customer’s problem or request for repair work or service relating to the motor vehicle.
(g) A statement as to whether the customer is being charged according to a flat rate or an hourly rate, or both.
(h) The estimated cost of repair which shall include any charge for shop supplies or for hazardous or other waste removal and, if a charge is included, the estimate shall include the following statement: “This charge represents costs and profits to the motor vehicle repair facility for miscellaneous shop supplies or waste disposal.” If a charge is mandated by state or federal law, the estimate shall contain a statement identifying the law and the specific amount charged under the law.
(i) The charge for making a repair price estimate or, if the charge cannot be predetermined, the basis on which the charge will be calculated.
(j) The customer’s intended method of payment.
(k) The name and telephone number of another person who may authorize repair work, if the customer desires to designate such person.
(l) A statement indicating what, if anything, is guaranteed in connection with the repair work and the time and mileage period for which the guarantee is effective.
(m) A statement allowing the customer to indicate whether replaced parts should be saved for inspection or return.
(n) A statement indicating the daily charge for storing the customer’s motor vehicle after the customer has been notified that the repair work has been completed. However, no storage charges shall accrue or be due and payable for a period of 3 working days from the date of such notification.
The shop does not have to give a customer the estimated cost of repair or the charge for preparing a written estimate of the customer waives in writing the right to receive a written estimate.
The repair shop must also give the customer a written disclosure if the cost of repair work will exceed $100.00 in a separate, blocked section, to contain only the following statement in large type:
PLEASE READ CAREFULLY, CHECK ONE OF THE STATEMENTS BELOW, AND SIGN:
I UNDERSTAND THAT, UNDER STATE LAW, I AM ENTITLED TO A WRITTEN ESTIMATE IF MY FINAL BILL WILL EXCEED $100.
I REQUEST A WRITTEN ESTIMATE.
I DO NOT REQUEST A WRITTEN ESTIMATE AS LONG AS THE REPAIR COSTS DO NOT EXCEED $___________. THE SHOP MAY NOT EXCEED THIS AMOUNT WITHOUT MY WRITTEN OR ORAL APPROVAL.
I DO NOT REQUEST A WRITTEN ESTIMATE.
SIGNED: ____________________ DATE: ___________________
If the customer leaves the vehicle at a repair shop during hours when the shop is not open or someone else brings the vehicle to the shop, there is an implied partial waiver of written estimate. But, upon completion of the diagnostic work necessary to estimate the repair cost, the shop must notify the customer of what the charges will be for the repair work. The shop is also required to notify the customer if it determines that actual charges will exceed its estimate by the greater of $10.00 or 10%. Notice may be by telephone, telegraph, mail or other means and, once notified, the customer has right to cancel the repair order.
What happens if the customer cancels? If the customer cancels after being advised that repairs cannot be completed within the estimate, the shop must promptly reassemble the vehicle in a condition reasonably similar to the condition it was received unless customer waives reassembly or the reassembled vehicle would be unsafe. The shop can still charge for the cost of tear down, parts and labor to appraise items that were destroyed by tear down and the cost to reassemble the component or vehicle provided the customer is notified of those possible costs in the estimate prior to commencement of diagnostic work.
That portion of the statute has proven expensive and somewhat illusory protection for the customer. If the shop estimates cost of repair finds it would cost more, the customer still has to pay for the cost of tear down, reassembly and parts. In some cases, that may be as much or more than the original estimate.
The statute even addresses removed parts. Repair shop must allow a customer to inspect parts removed from the vehicle if the customer so requests at time the repair work is authorized or, if the shop has no arrangement to exchange parts with the manufacturer supplier or distributor, have them returned to the customer. If the customer does not make the request at time of authorizing the repair, the parts may be disposed.
The Act not only provides protection by mandating estimates and notice, but also requires the repair shop to give each customer a legible written invoice for each repair. Invoice must be itemized, dated and include the odometer reading for the motor vehicle. Invoice must state if replacement parts are used, rebuilt or reconditioned and include any guarantee provided by the shop. The shop’s registration number from the State must be included. How does a customer know about these rights? The Act requires repair shops post a conspicuous sign advising customers of their rights under the Motor Vehicle Repair Act.
If the shop does not meet the statutory requirements, the customer can file suit and, if successful, is entitled to damages plus court costs and attorney fees. That means, the customer can recover all of the repair costs plus interest and get his or her attorney paid by the repair shop. Courts have agreed repair shops must strictly comply with the statute.
Motor vehicle repair shops have a lien on the motor vehicle they work on until paid. A lien can be enforced by selling the motor vehicle to pay the repair bill. But, if the repair shop has not complied with the Act, the shop has no lien and refusal to release the vehicle to a customer can create additional claim for damages for loss of use (i.e. what it cost to rent another car) and even other damages contemplated by the party.
The Act is a powerful protection for Florida consumers. Its primary focus is making sure the repair shop and customer communicate and that the customer is not surprised by size of the repair bill. To make sure repair shops comply with the Act, the penalty for non-compliance is free repair for the customer with the possibility that the customer can recover even greater damages, attorney fees and costs.
William G. Morris is the principal of William G. Morris, P.A. William G. Morris and his firm have represented clients in Collier County for over 30 years. His practice includes litigation and divorce, business law, estate planning, associations and real estate. The information in this column is general in nature and not intended as legal advice.