Anyone who owns a motor vehicle has to take it in for servicing and repairs on occasion. We all hope that the repairs don't happen too often because an out-of-service vehicle interferes with our schedules and burdens us with unexpected bills. Shopping for a repair shop is similar to shopping for other types of services or merchandise. You want to look for the best quality of workmanship at the best price.
Vehicle repair customers in New Hampshire have certain rights and protections. The New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Repair Law protects you from some kinds of unreasonable demands that can be made by a repair facility. This section discusses how to exercise your rights under this law and maintain a healthy relationship with the vehicle repair facility that you choose.
The New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Repair Law (RSA 358-D), which applies to all cars and small trucks but not to motor cycles and large trucks, gives vehicle repair customers certain rights. You have the right to:
Every repair shop is required to post a six-foot-square sign listing the consumer's rights in a place where consumers can see it. The sign should provide the following information:
When you take your vehicle in for repair or service, you should always request a written estimate before any work is done. A repair shop that declines to perform the work does not have to give you a written estimate. A shop cannot, however, cause you to waive your right to a written estimate as a condition to performing service or work. You have a right to ask for an estimate and the written estimate protects you in two ways:
Example: Millie takes her car in for a repair. She asks for a written estimate and gets one – the estimated cost of the repair is $100. The shop cannot charge Millie more than $110 to do the repair unless her permission is given for the higher cost. The shop cannot do any other repairs on Millie's car without her permission.
Any estimate you get should contain the following items:
Although a repair shop may project a date or time to complete the work on your vehicle, the shop cannot be held responsible when uncontrollable factors cause delays. Uncontrollable factors include such things as a severe storm, a strike, an unexpected illness, an unexpected shortage of labor or parts, or a situation where you are unable to approve additional repair work.
Remember, you must give your approval before a repair shop can work on your vehicle. Even if you do not request a written estimate (which you should do as a matter of course), the repair shop has to at least get your oral consent before beginning any work. If the shop does any unapproved work, you do not have to pay for it. Unfortunately, this right sometimes conflicts with the mechanics lien statute which is discussed below.
Before the shop begins work on your vehicle, you may ask that any parts removed be returned to you. If the part(s) must be returned to the manufacturer or distributor under a warranty or exchange agreement (e.g., batteries), then the shop does not have to comply with your request.
If the repair shop subcontracts any of the work performed on your vehicle, the shop is responsible for the subcontractor's work as if the shop did the work itself. For example, you take your vehicle to a repair shop for an alignment and to have the tires rotated. You authorize the necessary work. This shop, however, does not have an alignment computer and customarily has another shop do its alignment work. The shop you initially authorized to do the alignment and rotate the tires is responsible for the work done at the alignment shop.
When you pick up your vehicle, the repair shop should give you a copy of the invoice with all of the following information:
The repair shop must keep a copy of the invoice for its own records for a period of one year.
Under New Hampshire law, mechanics have an automatic lien (a right to keep possession of a consumer's car when they have done work on it) until they are paid for their work. Often repair shops rely on their mechanic's lien to keep possession of a consumer's car when the consumer claims that the repair shop overcharged for repairs. In such cases, if the repair shop has violated RSA 358-D by doing unauthorized work or exceeding the written estimate by more than 10%, a court would probably find that the violation rendered the mechanic's lien void. However, when this type of dispute occurs, you are usually in no position to wait for your car until a judge can decide the case. A fair suggestion would be to pay any undisputed repair charges immediately, then put the disputed amount into an escrow account in a bank until the dispute is settled. The shop should be willing to release the car from the lien under these conditions. In some cases, however, when you are facing a mechanic's lien you may have no practical option but to pay the disputed charges and seek the return of your money in Small Claims Court. (For information on small claims courts, refer to Remedies: Small Claims Court).
Points To Remember
Before choosing a repair facility, take the time to shop around for a reputable repair shop. One of the best ways is to ask family or friends for their recommendations.
Dealers' service departments routinely get notices about car defects from the manufacturers. These so-called "hidden warranties" often never find their way into the public knowledge. If your vehicle has a problem that is not covered under the warranty, before having the repairs made, ask the service department manager if he or she has received a technical service bulletin (TSB) from the manufacturer regarding the particular problem. You may be able to get the repair done for free if a TSB has been issued on the matter.
Unscrupulous auto mechanics have ingenious ways of separating you from your money. Several of the newer scams include:
Where To Go If You Have A Problem
If you have a problem with repair work on your vehicle, you should talk to the manager or owner of the repair shop where the work was performed to explain the nature of your complaint. (You might want to refer to the section on Remedies: Effective Negotiation before you start).
If you are not satisfied with the shop's response, write a letter to the shop explaining your position (refer to the section on Remedies: Writing A Complaint Letter for pointers on how to do this). Include all the facts that you can recall and send copies of invoices plus any other relevant documents. Keep copies of all the mailed documents. If the shop does not respond appropriately after receiving your letter, send a cover letter explaining the situation, along with copies of any documents, to the New Hampshire Consumer Protection & Antitrust Bureau:
NH Consumer Protection & Antitrust Bureau
33 Capitol Street
Concord, NH 03301-6397
You may also wish to contact the following offices to address any inquiries or complaints.
NH Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles
33 Hazen Drive
Concord, NH 03305
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New Hampshire Department of Justice | 33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301