The Carlington Summit

Consumer protection and car repairs

Car repair is a major area of concern for consumers everywhere. Often people don't know what their rights and obligations are.

In Ontario, car owners are protected under the Motor Vehicle Repair Act. This act requires repair shops and garages to give written estimates on repairs, full details about the repairs to be done, rates to be charged and information on warranties on parts and labour.

It goes without saying that a car owner must shop around for estimates. Friends and other car owners may be of help in finding a good repair shop or garage.

Garages and repair shops must tell customers in advance as to how much the estimate will cost. This cost is usually not charged if you let the garage or shop giving the estimate do the repairs. However, you may have to pay for the estimate (and any other fee charged to examine the car or put the car back together) if you do not let the garage or shop giving you the estimate do the repairs.

After you have authorized the garage to do the repairs, the final bill cannot be higher than the written estimate originally given by 10 percent. The bill can be higher if you later verbally agree to have additional repairs done which were not on the original estimate. The repair shop has to record your name, phone number and the date and time of the conversation during which you agree to have the new repairs done.

Once the repairs are done, the garage can keep your car and sell it if you don't pay the bill. This is allowed under the Repair and Storage Liens Act. If a disagreement arises, it is best to pay the bill to get the car back and then take further action you think necessary. Another way to resolve disputes is to go to court and pay the amount of the bill into court until the matter is dealt with.

If you feel you have been misled or deceived, you can seek help through the Business Practices Act. This act, for example, forbids garages to tell customers that repairs are needed when they are not.

You can always file complaints with the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations if you are having problems with a garage or a repair shop. Further information on the three acts mentioned above can be obtained from the ministry at 1-800-268-1142.

West End Legal Services is a community legal clinic serving low-income residents west of Holland and Fisher Avenues. You can contact us for legal advice at 596-2641.