These articles are written with you, the consumer, in mind as seen from the eyes of a person who has fixed automobiles professionally since being a teenager. If there is one area that most people are sensitive to, it is the regulation of auto repair garages. We see and read of mechanic rip-offs and whole organizations duping the public. The horror stories of incompetance and fraud lead people to believe that the fight against this behavoir is being fought. The organization (in California) responsible for this fight on your behalf is the Bureau Of Auto Repair.
The BUREAU is responsible for most of the ills that they try to regulate. The fact that there is no competance requirement for auto mechanics should tip you off to the real problem. The fact that garage licensing is meaningless and can be done without prior experience or any knowledge of auto repair or business ethics. The fact that the technology of the automobile has so outpaced the public and that no public education exists to even narrow the chasm of ignorance. The fact that anytime you try to correct a problem AFTER it has occured it is usually too late. The best solution is public education and auto awareness. Also, the mechanic who works on your vehicle should be held to some sort of standard that the BUREAU should establish.
The procedure that does exist is after the deed is done. If you feel you have been wronged you may file a complaint with the local BUREAU office nearest you. First thing you should consider is this, the BUREAU should be your next to last resort. The last resort is the court system. Your first contact should be the owner of the business. You should have already met him if you are paying attention to this writing. If no satisfaction comes from this meeting and you still feel wronged, than you have no choice but to pursue the matter to outside arbitration. The BUREAU is the agency that you contact and the free 800 number should be in plain view right there in the repair facility. This number is at the bottom of the BUREAU sign and is one of the few BUREAU requirements.
You must have your documentation in order with the written estimate, the receipt with the details of the repair, and any old parts or information that you consider useful in your explaination of the problem. You may have gotten a second opinion or had the repair actually done over. This information is critical in any third party intervention. The more you have in writing, the more information the arbitrator will consider reliable. No one wants a war of words, there should only be a discussion of fact. The main guidelines the BUREAU will look for are given on the BUREAU sign required to be posted in plain sight.
The first is the written estimate. Was it filled out correctly? Was a copy given to you before the work was started? Was the aggreed upon amount the amount you were charged? Was the work you wanted done the work that was performed? Was additional work authorized by you and noted in writing by the mechanic? Notice that the BUREAU will not be concerned so much with whether you were ripped off, but will be concerned with the procedure used to rip you off. Remember this aspect of the complaint procedure because very little will have to do with right and wrong.
The second guideline used is the details of the work order. The parts are required to be listed in detail and given the status of new or rebuilt. The labor should be descriptive of the service provided and with some idea of the time charged for the service. If multiple services were performed they should be listed.(This can be confusing when a lot of shops are using the service interval to describe the labor such as 30K or 60K.) If any subleting was done it should be noted and perhaps the name of the sublet business.
The third criteria used to sort out a complaint is the return of the old part removed from your vehicle. To have the old part saved for your inspection you must request it at the time of the written estimate. The place were you put your signature will usually have a box for you to check expressing your desire to have your worn parts returned to you. Look for this box and know that if you do not ask you will not recieve.
The fourth guideline is common sense. The BUREAU is a busy place and you should use them only as a desperate measure. All of your concerns should have already been expressed to the owner or manager of the repair facility. If you are the type that does not want to talk and you just want to get someone in trouble, you may find trouble is all you will get.
The last step is the submitting of complaints to the BUREAU. If all four of the previous steps were considered and paid attention, you should have the documentation I talked about in the begining of this discussion. Now on to the bureacracy we all love to embrace. Now to get some satisfaction and pay back that miserable, bad, bad mechanic who took all your hard earned money and gave you back a sick car. Finally you will right the wrong and destroy the bad guy. Maybe. Maybe not.
The BUREAU will scrutinize the work order and see the procedures used. The representative will take your story into account and see if the documentation matches your story. The BUREAU will pay attention to all of the evidence you have including old parts. Particular attention will be paid to the attempt made by the owner of the business to resolve the situation before it became an official complaint. The repair shop version of the story should exactly reinforce the documentation. It will be the mistakes in paper work that win you a judgement so you as a consumer should realize the importance of this document. When a third party evaluates anything the information has to be reliable and there is nothing more reliable than the written word. If the work order backs up the repair facility you probably will come away with nothing. However, the complaint will still be on the record of the repair facility and maybe a pattern will develop. (or maybe you were just mistaken)
The BUREAU is not concerned with excellence, competence, or satisfaction because it is believed to be elusive. They can only make decisions on the enforcement of the few rules of procedure that exist. My personal feeling is that this attitude is the reason we have such problems in the auto repair industry. When you have no definition of expectation how can you develop good repair facilities. I wonder how traffic would be if we had no drivers license program. The answers are simple but no one will do what it takes.
What will it take? Here is the Mingione Method of auto repair.
1. ALL Mechanics be ASE Certified a. This program already exists and is very credable b. This would imediately weed out the incompetant c. This would give an increase in mechanic esteem 2. ALL Repair Facilities would give out evaluation cards a. These cards would give the Bureau the means to have a rating system for repair shops. b. The relationship between good repair and reward would be established. c. A method of improvement could be implemented 3. Advertising of Auto Repair Services abolished or structured with maintenance services defined. (a tune-up is xxx a brake job is xxx) a. The confusion of the public over price vs. value would be eliminated. b. Misleading low-ball pricing would disappear. c. The nature of auto repair demands accuracy in advertising it is too easy to attract business with price. d. Key words such as "certified" and "specialist" would have disclaimers. 4. A consumer education program (for fun lets call it Auto Awareness) a. Would explain what good auto repair is about b. Will help to bridge the huge gap in public knowledge causing myths and just plain stupid beliefs. c. Could bring closer together the communication between mechanic and customer. d. Help people to understand how complex the task of auto repair can be.
This plan would do more to help you than even this book can. The difference is you can buy this book. I wish I could change just some of these things maybe you can help by demanding excellence. You can also spend your money more wisely and support real auto repair facilities. Stay away from the marketers who put a label on what they feel certain services are worth and offer the lowest level of service to offer the lowest possible advertised price. If services were defined clearly and were mandated to ALWAYS include the same composition (parts and labor), advertising would reflect the real cost of the service. Learn for yourself what it really takes to maintain a vehicle for the long term.
The best advise that I can offer is to head off the bad experience by using the information in this book and by using that computer between your shoulders. Be an informed consumer. Be a good CUSTOMER. It is my experience that good customers do not have problems in auto repair. Your attitude is the single most important aspect of your own success in finding good auto repair. Take responsibilty for your own situation and realize you have to look for excellence to find excellence.