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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.
This topic discusses some of the problems you may encounter when having your vehicle repaired and how you might avoid the problems from the start.
If you know the simple mechanical parts of your vehicle, it will put you in a better position when you speak to a repairman and authorize repairs. Read your warranty and manual carefully to try to get a basic understanding about the mechanics and warranty of your vehicle. If you do not have a vehicle manual, copies of maintenance and repair books are available from most bookstores or the public library. You may also take your vehicle to a diagnostic center or vehicle care clinic and ask for a written report of the repairs you should have done. Know what is covered by your vehicle warranty. Some warranties will cover parts and labor. Some warranties cover the parts only. If you are unsure about certain repair costs, ask the manager why warranty is not covering the cost. Warranties do not usually cover routine maintenance.
Always keep copies of invoices for repairs done to your vehicle. Ask questions when you must pay for a repair that was previously done under warranty. The repair may be for the same problem and the invoices you keep will be helpful when there is a dispute. Take a copy of the work order you signed for repairs. You are not required to pay for the repairs that you did not authorize. The work order will be a proof of the authorized repairs. For example, if you authorized the shop to repair your transmission and the shop also repairs your radio, you should not have to pay for the repair to the radio if you did not authorize it.
Always get more than 1 estimate for the repairs required for your vehicle so that you know the costs are comparable. Get detailed written estimates and check them carefully. Is the estimate for labor only, or for both parts and labor? Sometimes, estimates are given as a flat rate. Flat rate estimates include the labor costs. You pay the flat rate only. It does not matter whether the labor costs are more or less time than it takes to make the repairs. If the repair shop charges you a lot more than the estimate you received from them – tell the repair shop that you consider it unfair trading.
Unfair trading is when a price is charged for goods or services much higher than the estimate they gave you and the extra costs are made without your consent. Your detailed written estimate and work orders will provide the proof of the costs and the repairs you authorized.
When parts and repairs are made to your vehicle that are not required at all, the parts and repairs are considered unfair trading. For example, the repair shop may replace the spark plugs in your vehicle when you just had the spark plugs replaced only 7 days ago. Keep copies of all invoices for vehicle repairs so that you can prove that work done was not necessary.
If you feel that you suffered damage or loss due to unfair trade practices, you may apply to the Courts for relief. If your claim is less than $25,000 you may bring a claim in the Provincial Court also known as Small Claims Court. If you are bringing an action that is outside the jurisdiction of Provincial Court, the legal action is brought in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
You should consult with a lawyer for a legal action in the Court of Queen’s Bench, as the procedures are complex. You must serve the Director of the Unfair Trading notice of legal action taken for unfair trading practices.
The repair shop is legally entitled to hold your vehicle if you do not pay for the repairs. The repair shop is entitled to a lien against the vehicle on the day it completes the repairs until they are paid in full. If you cannot pay the repairs all at once, try to work out a payment plan with the manager. If you cannot resolve the matter, contact the Consumer Information Centre at 780- 427-4088 in Edmonton and toll free at 1-877-427-4088 throughout the rest of the province.
If you want your vehicle back, you may apply to the Court of Queen’s Bench for a Replevin Order. You may have to pay money into the Court for the cost of the repairs until the matter is resolved. You should consult a lawyer if you are making this Court application as it could be quite expensive and the procedure is complex.