HOUSTON – Taking your car to the repair shop can be unsettling. You may not know what's wrong with your vehicle, and repair costs can easily add up to hundreds of dollars.
Consumer expert Amy Davis explains how you can minimize your risk of things going afoul and not be surprised with a big bill you weren't expecting.
Texas has no law that specifically covers auto repairs, but if consumers followed some simple steps, there would be far fewer surprises like the one that popped up on Channel 2 producer Cynthia Capers.
Capers never drives her 2012 Range Rover on toll roads because she doesn't have an EZ Tag. It's why she was surprised when she received a toll violation invoice from the Harris County Toll Road Authority for three toll plazas her Range Rover passed through in September.
"I was like 'Wait a minute,'" Capers said. "I didn't even have my car at that time. It was at the dealership."
Her car was at Land Rover of Southwest Houston on 59 near the beltway for almost a month. The toll plazas it passed through were 25 miles away at 249 and the beltway, near Tomball, at 6:40 a.m. The repair shop at the dealership opens at 9 a.m.
"It was there for almost a month and to know that during that time someone was riding around in it and it wasn't getting fixed makes me really mad," Capers said.
Davis reached out to Land Rover of Southwest Houston. The service manager paid the past due tolls within 24 hours. He told Capers the employee who had driven her car had already been fired. The dealership declined to make any further comments citing privacy laws and personnel matters.
"If they knew that there was a problem with this guy, when I came to pick my car up. why they didn't let me know?" Capers asked.
When we checked Caper's service invoice from last year, we discovered the dealership didn't document any of the miles put on her Range Rover while it was in their custody. It lists the same mileage in and out.
That's why you should always write down your own mileage when you drop your car off for repairs and check the odometer when you pick it up.
To avoid surprise bills, sign an authorization for the mechanics to inspect your vehicle when you first leave it. Make it clear in writing the shop does not have your consent to begin repairs. You should only sign an authorization to start repairs after the shop has giving you these things in writing:
- The work they will be doing
- All fees including parts, labor and storage you will be charged
- The date when repairs will be completed
Read the forms the shop gives you carefully. Some have both the authorization to inspect and repair on the same form. If you sign that, you are giving them permission to start the work before you know what they will do.
It is never a good idea to withhold payment from a repair shop if you feel like you were charged inaccurately, but you should voice your concerns.
The Texas Attorney General says you should pay the bill. Make sure you write on the invoice or check that it was paid under protest. Then you can file a complaint with the a-g's office or sue the shop in small claims court to get your money back.
If you simply refuse to pay, the business can take a mechanic's lien out on your car and keep it.