DON’T FORGET PRE-AUTHORIZATION OF CAR REPAIRS!
Auto repair shops and car owners both can learn from a recently published 2009 case from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, Kaskin v. John Lynch Chevrolet. Mr. Kaskin’s truck was towed to Lynch Chevrolet for repairs. The vehicle was less than a year old with approximately 3,300 miles on the odometer. When Mr. Kaskin spoke with the service department by telephone, the preliminary cost estimate was zero; both sides anticipated that the repairs would be fully covered under the warranty. But, they weren’t. The repairs were done, and Lynch Chevrolet demanded that Mr. Kaskin pay nearly $5,000 before he could take his truck. Needless to say, Mr. Kaskin was unhappy and sued the dealer in circuit court. The case went up to the court of appeals and then back to circuit court, again. To avoid such a debacle, there are some relatively easy things both sides can do.
Mechanics and Technicians: All repair facilities, large and small, should become familiar with the Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection laws found in the Wisconsin Administrative Code. Among the requirements for repair facilities is obtaining customer authorization before any repairs are performed. A written repair order is required for any repair that may exceed $50, and a shop representative must record the repair authorization on the written repair order. Written repair orders are advisable for all work, even if under $50. Written repair orders can also help a shop keep track of other aspects of its business, including parts inventory and billing.
Repair facilities must document the prior authorization for repairs. When generating a repair order is a habit, it can be completed within minutes of a customer’s arrival so that a vehicle owner can sign to authorize repairs before the work proceeds. If diagnosis takes longer, telephone calls and authorizations should be documented right on the repair order, days and times of conversations.
And the biggest lesson for repair facilities highlighted by the Kaskin case is that violations of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, in that case failure to obtain prior authorization, can result in a repair facility paying the other party’s costs, attorney fees and double damages!
Auto Owners: A repair facility cannot keep your car or require you to pay for unauthorized repairs. If they do, they run the risk of paying costs, attorney fees and double any damages you may suffer. To avoid having to call an attorney at that point, remember your rights.
You have the right to authorize repairs before they begin. This prior authorization must include a good faith price estimate. This allows you to shop around or get a second opinion if you wish. And if additional repairs are proposed beyond the initial authorization, you have a right to pre-approve the additional repairs with an updated good faith price estimate before anything further is done to your vehicle. When dropping off a vehicle for service at a repair facility, be sure to review the repair order. If you don’t receive one, ask for a repair order.
If you have questions or concerns about vehicle repairs and protection against complaints, call us. All of our attorneys have represented businesses, large and small, as well as customers. If you have questions, ask your lawyer, that’s what we’re for.
Jennifer A. Moeller with Stephen A. Kase