This past week I took my wife’s car into a Honda service center located in a Maryland suburb of Washington D.C. My wife is completing a fellowship in the D.C. area and I had come up for a visit her over the July 4th holiday. I brought her car into the Honda service center and briefly discussed with an employee the need for scheduled maintenance, including an oil change, before walking into the lounge area to wait. Sitting in the waiting area I realized that I did not receive the written estimate that I’m so used to from my experiences in Florida. Unsure of the laws governing auto repairs in Maryland, I said nothing to the repair facility. When the service was completed I was presented with a modest bill. I paid the bill and was given a receipt for. A few days later, as I was driving the car, I noticed the maintenance light came on indicating that the car was due for an oil change.

This experience got me thinking about automobile repairs and the consumer protection laws in Florida that govern vehicle repair facilities. Awareness of the laws governing automobile repair can be a valuable asset when dealing with a repair facility.

Motor vehicle repairs in Florida are governed by the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act, which is found in Chapter 559 of the Florida Statutes. The law in Florida requires that a consumer be provided with a written estimate prior to any repair that is expected to cost more than $100.00. A customer can waive this requirement, or modify it by authorizing repairs up to a certain amount without a written estimate, but such waiver must be done in writing. Additionally, if there is a charge for providing a written estimate, this must be disclosed in writing and authorized by the customer prior to the imposition of any charge.

The law also requires that at the completion of the repair work the customer must be provided with an invoice that: details the work done; and itemization of all parts and labor involved; a statement identifying any used, reconditioned, or recycled replacement parts; a description of any warranty; and states the date and odometer reading for the car.

It is a violation of the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act for a business to recommend repairs that aren’t needed, or to claim to have done repairs that weren’t really done. The statue also prohibits other misleading or deceptive acts such as making or charging for repairs that weren’t expressly authorized or misuse of a customer’s credit card.

Although state law prohibits dishonest or deceptive acts by repair facilities, I doubt that you’ll see very many claims litigated under the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act. The act does allow an injured consumer to recover their actual damages, along with costs and reasonable attorney fees. However, litigating these claims also puts a consumer at risk for paying the costs and attorney fees of the repair facility if the consumer looses the lawsuit. Few people are willing to risk liability for thousands of dollars in attorney fees in order to recover the costs of a faulty or unneeded repair. This is both understandable and unfortunate. Dishonest repair facilities not only rip off the hard-earned dollars of individuals and families, but they put honest repair facilities at a competitive disadvantage through deceptive pricing practices. The only winner is the dishonest repair facility. I admire those who are willing to take a stand to protect their rights and the integrity of our marketplace. As for my wife’s car and her oil change light, the service center told us they just forgot to reset the light, but reassured us that they had done the oil change. We’re both skeptical and will probably pay for another oil change at another facility just to make certain.