Per Montgomery County: Spring and summer are times when more people get into their vehicles and head out on adventures. However, more miles driven mean increased chances for vehicle break downs, and in some cases, the need for major repairs. When transactions between vehicle owners and car repair businesses in Montgomery County reach serious conflicts, the County’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) often can help. OCP registers car repair shops and enforces the County code regarding consumer rights. When a resident registers a complaint concerning an interaction with a business, OCP is guided by Montgomery County Code 31-A, which governs automobile repair businesses in the County. Maryland State Commercial Law, Title 14, Subtitle 10 also applies.
In addition, the OCP staff includes automotive special investigator David Elswick, who has 17 years of experience as an automotive technician. He has Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification in 28 areas and three master automotive designations. Investigator Elswick is available to assist with any issues consumers or businesses may encounter.
“It is important to both consumers and businesses that the relationship between residents and retail businesses be one of excellent service, respect and trust,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “Throughout our County, that is what our consumers expect and what almost all businesses deliver. When there is a dispute, it is good to know we have an outstanding Office of Consumer Protection that can step in to try and resolve them. This is a great service that residents should know is always available.”
The highlights of laws regarding vehicle repairs performed by Montgomery County auto repair services include:
- Estimates for work of more than $25 must be given upon request. The final bill must be within 10 percent of the estimate—unless the customer is notified. County Code §31A-10.
- Authorizations (whether written or oral) are required. Maryland Commercial Law §14-1008.
- Used or rebuilt parts are to be identified in the estimate. The customer’s description of the problem, or requests for repair, are to be included.
- Labor charges, service charges, charges for release of the vehicle if it is not repaired and other charges for determining the estimate are to be stated prior to making the estimate.
- A detailed invoice identifying the customer and vehicle, including the odometer reading, is to be provided upon completion of repairs.
- The invoice is to be signed by the merchant. The technician is to be identified, terms or limitations of the warranty must be stated and replaced parts are to be offered, except parts returned to the manufacturer under warranty.
- Parts to be rebuilt, called “core” parts, can be returned to consumers. However, the consumer will have to pay a charge that the shop would receive as credit. If the consumer does not want to pay the core charges, most repair facilities will let them see the parts before they are sent to the rebuild service—if arrangements are made before the job is accepted. Montgomery County Code §31A-13; MD Comm Law §14-1004.
- Notices are to be posted advising consumers of their rights and the shop’s policy on storage charges. No storage charges are due for a period of 24 hours from the date of completion of the repairs, unless otherwise agreed.
- Not all disclaimers are enforceable. Merchants are responsible to take reasonable care of the vehicle, though a court may have to make the decision of what is “reasonable.”
Investigator Elswick said it is important for consumers to substantiate any complaints about a repair shop with the proper evidence.
“We recommend that you keep any replaced parts, and your receipts,” said Investigator Elswick. “Having repairs made by another shop will complicate your complaint, and in many cases, will result in the need to pursue the matter through court. Give the repairing shop a ‘reasonable’ number of attempts to correct problems.”
For more information about how to address issues with a vehicle repair shop, go to https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OCP/consumer/auto-repair.html.
For assistance from the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, send an email to [email protected] or call MC 311 (240-777-0311).
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