Automotive Repairs and Towing Services

Each year billions of dollars are spent needlessly on auto repairs and towing services due to fraud or incompetence. While most mechanics are honest and capable, it is important that you take steps to prevent being ripped off.

Registration and Licensing

Every auto repair shops must be registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and an official outdoor repair shop sign must be posted stating the registration number of the shop. (The sign will be 3' x 2' and Kelly green with white lettering.) You should also look for a labor charge sign, which may advise you how the labor charge is calculated and may also display the hourly labor charge.

In New York City, towing companies are required to be licensed by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. Using a licensed towing service may prevent hassles down the line.

Finding a Repair Shop

It is best to know where you will bring your car before you break down. You will save time and hassle if you have a place in mind before the time comes. Getting advice or a recommendation from friends is usually the best bet. If you cannot come up with a good shop through that route, then evaluate other shops on your area.

Car dealers: Car dealers often charge higher prices, but their mechanics may have more specialized knowledge of your car.

Specialty, franchise, and department store auto centers: These repair shops have a name brand that is familiar to consumers. Remember that these centers are normally independently owned and operated, so you need to evaluate the reliability of each location. These centers usually have specialized knowledge of certain services, and may not be able to do general repair work.

Independent service stations: Prices and services vary most widely among these repair shops. You are more likely to have the same mechanic every time at a smaller station, and have all types of repair work done.

Avoid garages that only take cash. They may not stand behind their work, and payment by cash leaves little recourse in the event of a problem. If you pay by check or credit card, payment can be stopped if you discover fraud or unsatisfactory service.

If you have been towed to a shop that you know nothing about, it may be worth the time and the money to get a second opinion about the repair. You may have to pay for another tow, but in the end it may save you hundreds of dollars.

The Estimate

You are entitled to a written estimate of the parts and labor necessary for each repair or service offered to you, but you must ask for it. The cost to receive the estimate may not exceed the shop's hourly labor rate. When teardown is necessary, the cost of the estimate must include the cost of the teardown and reassembly.

The estimate must contain the following information:
  • a list of parts and their individual cost;
  • an indication of any parts which are not new;
  • the labor charges for each repair, and whether it is calculated by clock hours or flat rate
  • your name and the name of the repair shop;
  • the date;
  • the vehicle identification number; and
  • a statement advising you of your right to replace parts if you request them in writing prior to the repair.
You may not be charged for parts or labor in excess of your estimate, without prior consent.

The Work Order
A repair shop may not perform any services you have not authorized by a work order.

If you prepare a written work order, it must be attached to your invoice. If the repair shop prepares the work order, a copy must be given to you. If a work order is orally given over the phone or in conversation, it must be noted on your invoice, including the date, time, manner, and who authorized it.

The Invoice

When work is completed on your vehicle, the repair shop must provide you with an invoice which includes:
  • the shop's name, address and registration number;
  • the date of the invoice;
  • the date you presented your motor vehicle to the shop for repair services;
  • a list of parts supplied and labor performed, and the cost of each job;
  • a notation, where appropriate, that a part used was not a new part;
  • the odometer reading when the car was left at the shop;
  • the promised delivery date (if any);
  • your name; and
  • a description of the motor vehicle.

Compare this invoice with your written estimate, if you asked for one.

You should inspect your vehicle before you pay for the repair work. This inspection must be made on the premises of the repair shop.

You cannot be charged for storage unless you are so notified, in writing, when you bring the vehicle in to the repair shop.

The repair shop must return replaced parts to you if you ask for them, before any work is done on the vehicle. Parts excluded from this requirement are those sold on an exchange basis or those subject to a manufacturer's warranty.

You may remove your vehicle from the repair shop during the shop's business hours if you pay for labor actually performed, parts actually installed, parts specifically ordered (if the order cannot be canceled) and any storage charges about which you were notified, in writing, in advance.

If the shop is holding your vehicle to satisfy a lien for repairs or storage, you have the right to either the return of your registration number plates upon request, or the shop may instead personally deliver or mail (by special delivery, first class) the plates to the nearest motor vehicles office with notice of why the vehicle is being held.

Important Rules and Suggestions

  • Request the firm return your old parts.
  • Obtain a written estimate.
  • Stay with you car during your repairs.
  • Do not advertise how little you know about cars.

For more information:

To check on the license or to file a complaint against an auto repair shop, contact:

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
Bureau of Consumer & Facility Services
P.O. Box 2700-ESP
Albany NY 12220-0700