It's The Law
Car Repairs Require Written Estimate
I took my car into a local repair shop last week. When I went back to pick it up, the bill was huge and I think they did a lot of work that was not needed. Can they get away with that?
In 1980, Florida's legislature adopted the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act, which was amended in 1993. The Act requires a written estimate be provided before auto repairs are done and after completion a detailed receipt. It also provides remedies for consumers when repair shops do not comply with the statute.
The Act requires all motor vehicle repair shops register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services before doing business and to renew the registration biennially. The Department may deny, revoke or refuse to renew a registration. When any customer requests repairs that will cost more than $100, a motor vehicle repair shop must prepare a written repair estimate with details required by the statute. A copy of the repair estimate must be given to the customer before work has begun. The statute does allow the customer to waive the written estimate in writing. But, a repair shop cannot require waiver.
If the customer leaves the motor vehicle at the repair shop when the shop is not open, there is an implied partial waiver of the written estimate; however, once the shop has done diagnostic work and can estimate costs to repair, the shop must notify the customer by telephone, telegraph, mail or other means of the additional repair work and estimated cost and the customer may orally or in writing authorize or cancel the repair. The same notice is required if the repair shop determines that actual charges will exceed the written estimate by more than $10 or 10 percent, whichever is greater.
To further protect consumers, the Act also specifies what is to be included in an invoice and requires posting a sign advising of consumer rights in all motor vehicle repair shops. If the motor vehicle repair shop fails to comply with the statute, it loses right to lien the motor vehicle and it also loses right to payment. The repair shop must release the vehicle to the owner even if the owner refuses to pay for unauthorized repairs. If court action is pursued, the prevailing party is entitled to attorney's fees as well as damages.
A good example of how the statute works is the case of Gonzalez v. Tremont Body and Towing. In that case, Gonzalez was not given a written repair estimate when she dropped her car off at Tremont Body. When she went back to get her car, Tremont Body refused to give it to her unless she paid. She refused to pay and sued. Tremont Body admitted it did not provide a written estimate, but claimed it was entitled to be paid the reasonable value of its repairs anyway.
The court ruled that Gonzalez was entitled to her car and the repairs, without having to pay Tremont Body anything. The court also ruled that Gonzalez was entitled to damages for the time Tremont Body kept her car and for costs and attorney's fees as the prevailing party in the suit.
Florida's Motor Vehicle Repair Act is powerful protection for consumers. If a repair shop does not comply with the Act, the consumer gets free repairs. If the consumer has to sue, the consumer also gets attorney's fees and costs. For those reasons, few motor vehicle repair shops fail to comply with the statute. I suggest you consult with an experienced attorney. Because the statute also provides for recovery of attorney's fees, you should not find it difficult to obtain representation.
By: William G. Morris, Esquire
William G. Morris is an attorney with offices at 247 North Collier Boulevard on Marco Island, Florida. His practice covers a broad range of subjects, including civil litigation, real estate, business and corporate law, estate planning and probate, domestic relations and contracts. He writes this column periodically with respect to legal matters that frequently affect non-lawyers. The information contained in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney.
Questions for this column can be sent to: William G. Morris, e-mail: email@example.com or by fax, (239) 642-0722 or
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