AttorneyAuto DefenseJames S. SifersUsed-Car Dealerships

Repair Work: A Word of Caution

As has become a truth in California with respect to auto dealers, no good deed goes unpunished.  Many consumer attorneys have taken issue with dealers providing goodwill and/or warranty work for recently sold vehicles where a written estimate for the work to be provided and/or an invoice for completed work was not provided.  This often happens in situations where a dealer’s in-house mechanic does work for a customer shortly after the sale.

What first must be determined is whether or not a dealer’s in-house mechanic can even do the work.  Generally, individuals in California who perform auto repair must be licensed by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (“BAR”). (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 9884.6.)  If your in-house mechanic is not licensed by the BAR, they are likely not authorized to provide any services to vehicles not in inventory.

Assuming a dealer’s mechanic is licensed by the BAR, then even if goodwill and/or warranty work is being provided to a customer post-sale, California law requires that work to be properly documented.  The customer must be given a written estimate for the “price for labor and parts necessary for a specific job.” (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 9884.9(a).)  The work then must be authorized by the customer. (Id.)  If that estimate changes “after it is determined that the estimated or posted price is insufficient and before the work not estimated or posted is done or the parts not estimated or posted are supplied,” the mechanic must obtain a new approval from the customer for the revised estimate prior to performing any work on the vehicle. (Id.)  If the customer provides oral consent for the revised estimate, the mechanic (or dealer if the dealer is separately licensed by the BAR) must document that changes as follows on the work order:

[Note] the date, time, name of person authorizing the additional repairs, and telephone number called, if any, together with a specification of the additional parts and labor and the total additional cost, and shall do either of the following:

(1) Make a notation on the invoice of the same facts set forth in the notation on the work order.

(2) Upon completion of the repairs, obtain the customer’s signature or initials to an acknowledgment of notice and consent, if there is an oral consent of the customer to additional repairs, in the following language:

I acknowledge notice and oral approval of an increase in the original estimated price.

(signature or initials)

A written estimate will not be required for “preventative maintenance” provided without charge to the customer, and which includes:

[C]hecking tire pressure and adding or relieving pressure, as necessary; rotating tires; changing transmission fluid, transmission filter, engine oil and filter, differential fluid, power steering fluid, and transfer case fluid; changing engine or cabin air filters, and external fuel filters; changing engine coolant; performing a fuel system induction service; replacing belts and windshield wiper blades; replacing light bulbs and restoring headlamps; adding oil or fuel treatments through the designated fill points; and topping off fluids; and all of the listed services include the removal, reinstallation, and replacement of any components necessary to perform each service, and the tapping of damaged threads without removal of any fluid pan.

(Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 9880.1(j) & 9884.9(e).)

Once the work is completed, the BAR licensed mechanic must then provide an invoice which “describe[s] all service work done and parts supplied.” (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 9884.8.)

With all of these requirements, if a dealership is not licensed by the BAR, it is not advisable to have any repair work, even goodwill and warranty work, completed at the dealership.  Furthermore, if the dealer is going to arrange to have any work done on a customer’s vehicle post-sale, a good practice would be to refer that work to an outside, BAR registered repair facility where that facility can provide the required estimate and invoice for the work done, even if the dealership is ultimately paying the bill.  While providing warranty work and goodwill work is part of operating a dealership, be careful in the manner in which that work is done as consumer attorneys are always looking for technical violations in order to bring suit and collect fees.

James S. Sifers

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