2009-01-23 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER Advances in manufacturing technology have made today's cars and trucks more reliable and longer-lasting. However, even well-built vehicles, can break down as a result of wear and tear, age, or accidents, and every vehicle requires periodic preventative maintenance. For many consumers, especially those with little automotive knowledge, a trip to the repair shop is a daunting one, rife with suspicion and trepidation about getting an accurate diagnosis and a fair price. Fortunately, New York's Repair Shop Act protects consumers from unfair and deceptive automobile repair practices. The next time you bring your vehicle to a shop for repair or maintenance be sure to keep the following tips in mind and know your rights.

Always do business with a registered repair shop. Under the Repair Shop Act, all repair shops must register with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and post an official green and white registration sign outside of the premises. Ask friends, coworkers and relatives to recommend a good repair shop. Once you have selected a repair shop, do not be afraid to ask questions about your vehicle's problem and the suggested repair. When you have agreed on the work to be performed, it is important to keep all records associated with the repair, and if you authorize repairs over the phone, be sure to note the time of the call and the name of the repair shop staff person you spoke with. This information serves as a record of the service performed, and may be necessary in the event that you need to file a complaint.

The Repair Shop Act entitles consumers to the following rights when dealing with a repair shop. First, you have the right to request a written estimate. If you do so, the shop is prohibited from charging more than the estimated price without your permission. Work may not begin on your vehicle until you give your permission. The Act stipulates that if you wish to keep any replaced parts, except warranty and exchange parts, you must ask for them in writing before work begins. Upon completion

of the repair, the shop must provide an invoice listing each repair performed, each part replaced, the cost for each, and the cost of labor. Lastly, the Act grants consumers the right to inspect the vehicle before paying for repairs. In the event that you are unsatisfied with the quality of a repair or feel that you have been treated unfairly, first attempt to discuss the matter with the management of the shop. If this fails to result in a satisfactory outcome, you may contact the DMV Consumer Complaint Unit at: (518) 474 -8943. The

DMV's Complaint Report form for a complaint against a repair shop (VS-35) is available by calling the Consumer Complaint Unit or by downloading it from: www.nysdmv. com/forms.htm. Keep in mind that complaints must be made to the DMV within ninety days or three thousand miles after the repair, whichever comes first, and the Department cannot resolve disputes over the terms of warranties or guarantees.

In the event that a shop refuses to work with the DMV to resolve a consumer complaint, the shop may be required to appear at an administrative hearing, and, if it is found to be in violation, ordered to pay restitution to the consumer. Under the Repair Shop Act, administrative law judges may offer violators the "attractive" option of paying reduced civil penalties and license suspension periods if the violator agrees to pay the consumer restitution within thirty days. Some shops choose to ignore this offer, which, under current law, leaves the judge with no further authority to order the shop to pay the consumer. I have introduced legislation (A.9624-A of 2008) that would amend the Act to close this loophole by providing that when a violation is found to have occurred, consumer restitution, when ordered, is still required to be paid even if the violator chooses to ignore a penalty reduction incentive put forth by the judge.

Visit the DMVs webpage at: www.nysdmv.com/ broch/c17.htm. Also see the New York State Attorney General's webpage on auto repair at: www.oag.state. ny.us/bureaus/consumer_frauds/tips/auto_repair.html.

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