What is that sound? With every bump in the road, every turn of the steering wheel, and every stop, a disconcerting ping or clunk emanates from your car. The natural reaction is to take it to a motor vehicle repair shop. However, you may become one of the unfortunate victims of an unscrupulous motor vehicle repair shop. As with any business, there are those who are wonderfully professional and others who are unscrupulous. Therefore, it is important that you are informed before having your vehicle serviced, and that you bear in mind that all motor vehicle repair shops must be licensed by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.1
Since repairing a vehicle often involves uncertainties, you may request a written estimate, for which the repair shop can charge a reasonable fee.2 It must contain the estimated cost of parts and labor necessary for the specific job. The repair shop is then prohibited from charging for work or parts in excess of the estimate without your consent.3 According to New York State Law, a "motor vehicle repair shop" does not include those businesses whose activities consist solely of fueling; changing oil, water, batteries or tires; replacing fan belts, air filters or oil filters; or installing windshield wiper blades or light bulbs.4
The work performed on your motor vehicle must be recorded on an invoice that describes the service performed and parts used.5 This includes information as to whether an installed component system contains new or used parts. You are entitled to one copy of the invoice and one copy will be retained by the motor vehicle repair shop.6 In addition to the invoice, you can, upon your timely written demand, have the replaced parts returned to you. As well, if you authorized the service over the telephone, the parts can be kept until the motor vehicle is retrieved; including all replaced parts except those normally sold on an exchange basis or subject to a warranty.7
For every part that is replaced in your motor vehicle, there is an express written warranty that applies to parts that are new, used, modified, rebuilt, remanufactured, improved, or reconditioned.8 However, if the part was used and had been removed from a motor vehicle without any attempt to improve its condition and it is marked "as-is," it is exempt from the express warranty. The warranty means that the parts are warranted to be fit for the ordinary purposes for which the parts are used.9 The initial seller warrants its parts for the first 3,000 miles or 90 days, whichever comes first.10 An "initial seller" is defined as the entity that "manufactured, modified, rebuilt, remanufactured, improved, reconditioned or recycled…or…first sold the part."11
When choosing a repair shop, keep in mind this basic overview of your rights under New York law. As with anyone with whom you plan to do business, it is always wise to ask friends or family for recommendations, shop around for the best deal, and compare warranty policies on repairs. If you need expensive or complicated repairs, consider getting a second opinion, find out if you will be charged a diagnostic fee if you decide to take your car elsewhere to be repaired, and ask for a written estimate and inquire if you will be charged for that estimate.12
The Department of Motor Vehicles can investigate complaints of improper repairs or deceptive trade practices. If you have a complaint about a motor vehicle repair shop, it can be submitted by mail to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, Consumer Services Section, P.O. Box 2700, Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12220-0700, or call them at (518) 474-8943.
1 N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §398-c.
2 N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §398-d(2).
4 N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §398-b(2)(c).
5 N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §398-d(1).
8 N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §617.
11 Consumer Law Help Manual - Automobiles. www.consumer.state.ny.us.
12 Taking the Scare out of Auto Repair. www.ftc.gov.
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