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Get a written estimate before having your car repaired

Florida motor vehicle repair shops are required to register annually with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Shops performing only minor repair work, such as lube jobs and oil changes, must register as minor repair motor vehicle repair shops.

Under the law, registered shops must do the following:

Post in a conspicuous location in the customer service area the registration certificate or a sign advising consumers of their rights and giving the department's toll-free telephone number. Included in the sign is a statement advising consumers they are entitled to the return or inspection of replaced parts if requested at the time the work order is placed.

Include their registration number in any advertisements, announcements or listing relating to motor vehicle repair in any newspaper, magazine or directory.

The Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act provides rights for Florida consumers. If the repair work will cost more than $100, the repair shop must give you the option of:

1. Requesting a written estimate.

2. Being notified by the shop if the repair exceeds an amount you specify.

3. Not requiring a written estimate.

Ask for a written estimate and advise the shop you expect to approve any charges that exceed the estimated bill. Shops cannot force you to waive your right to an estimate. When an estimate is required, you must be given a copy. Ask whether the prices quoted are for new, used or rebuilt parts, and make sure the written estimate clearly states which. The repair shop must get your approval before exceeding the repair cost by more than $10 or 10 percent, whichever is greater, so make sure to give them a phone number where you can be reached. You can cancel repairs if they exceed the estimate and the repair shop must reassemble the vehicle, unless it is unsafe to drive. The shop may charge you for teardown and reassemble only if you were given notice of that charge on the estimate. You are entitled by state law to get back any replaced parts if you requested them initially. However, the repair shop may charge a fee, and, if the parts are under warranty agreement with the manufacturer or distributor, they may not be returned to you.

The written estimate must include the shop's name, address, telephone and state registration number; the customer's name, address and telephone; the date and time of estimate; the year, make, model, odometer reading and license tag number of vehicle; the proposed work completion date; the description of the problem or request; the labor charges based on a flat rate, hourly rate, or both; the estimated cost and charges for repair; any charges for making an estimate or basis for the charge; the customer's intended method of payment; the name and telephone number of any alternate person the customer would allow to authorize repairs; the terms of the parts and service guarantee; a notation if the customer wants replaced parts returned; and any charge for daily storage.

Shops notify customers after repair work is completed, and customers then have three working days to pick up the vehicle before storage fees may be charged.

The invoice should be checked carefully. Make sure you understand the work that was performed and what you are paying for. Keep a copy of all work orders and receipts and get all guarantees or warranties in writing. The invoice must include the guarantee, if any; the date and odometer reading; the description of work; and labor, parts and other merchandise costs, as well as whether the parts are new, used or rebuilt.

The Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Consumer Affairs, has a brochure you can request describing all your rights regarding the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act. They can be reached at 1-800-HELPFLA (435-7352).

_ Dottie Teuton is executive director of the Better Business Federation. Information on this and other business/consumer questions may be obtained from the office by calling in Citrus County at 795-3547 or Marion County 307-9222. Or at the office at 6460 W Gulf to Lake Highway, Crystal River, FL 34429, or contact by e-mail at betterbusifedvipweb.net. Or call the Florida Division of Consumer Services at (800) 435-7352.

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