Auto Repair Law In Texas

Texas has no comprehensive statute specifically governing auto repairs. However, the Deceptive Trade Practices/Consumer Protection Act includes some sections which deal with auto repairs. Under this law, it is illegal to:

  1. Knowingly make a false or misleading statement about the need for parts or repair service.
  2. State that work has been done or parts were replaced when that is not true.
  3. Represent that goods are original or new, when in fact they are second-hand or refurbished.

How Do I Protect Myself?

Your best protection from fraud and faulty repair work is to find a reputable mechanic or repair shop before your car needs to be repaired.

Ask your friends if they know of a reliable mechanic. After you’ve selected some repair shops, call the Better Business Bureau or the Office of the Attorney General in your area and ask if anyone has complained about the shops you are considering. Ask the shops for the names of customers you can contact to see if they are satisfied with the shops’ work.

Authorization To Inspect Before Work Is Done

You should get a written authorization to tow, inspect, test drive, diagnose, or disassemble any part of your car for the purposes of providing an estimate of repair costs, prior to towing the vehicle and prior to the inspection, test drive, diagnosis, or any disassembly. This authorization should state the following:

  1. a description of the towing, inspection, test drive, diagnosis, or disassembly;
  2. the charges for the towing, inspection, test drive, diagnosis, disassembly, storage, and any other charges if you elect not to have the work done after the estimate of repairs costs is disclosed to you;
  3. whether these charges will be added or included with the cost of repairs;
  4. that the authorization for the inspection, test drive, diagnosis, or disassembly, does not constitute authorization of repairs;
  5. that the commencement of repairs must be authorized by a separate repair order;
  6. that all parts replaced or removed from the vehicle during inspection will be saved and placed in a plastic bag in the trunk of the vehicle or other suitable place where you can access them; and
  7. an indication of whether your vehicle will be in any state of disassembly when returned to you if you elect not to authorize the repair work and the charges for reassembly without repairs.

Do not sign any form authorizing inspection, test drive, diagnosis, or disassembly that does not cover these items.

Authorization To Begin Repair Work

You may be asked to sign both the authorization to inspect and the authorization to commence repair work at the same time. The authorizations may be on the same piece of paper, but they should require a separate signature. Read each one carefully before signing. The authorization to commence repairs should also include the date and time that you signed the form. If you decide to have repairs made, make sure the initial work order clearly specifies all of the following information:

  1. the repair work to be done,
  2. the specified fee for the specified work which includes the price for the parts, the price for the labor, the fee for storage, and any other charges,
  3. an indication of whether the replacement parts will be new or rebuilt, and whether there will be a charge for the “core” of parts such as alternators or starters which you may wish to keep,
  4. the date by which repairs will be completed,
  5. the terms of any warranty, including the duration of the warranty, the parts and labor warranted, and the exclusions of the warranty,
  6. an indication of whether the repairs will be paid for in cash, by check, by credit card, or through any another form of financing;
  7. if the repairs are to be financed, the terms of payment, including the loan approval from the financing company and the amount of the down payment, the dates for payment, all financing terms including the amount financed, the annual percentage rate, the monthly payment, and the number of monthly payments;
  8. an indication that all parts which will be replaced or removed from the vehicle during the repair will be saved and placed in a plastic bag in the trunk of the vehicle, or else that they will be identified and exchanged for new parts;
  9. your signature approving the commencement of repair work and the method of payment.

Things You Should Not Do

  1. You should not disclose your credit card account number, driver’s license number, or any other personal information unless you clearly specify that giving the information is only for loan approval purposes, or unless you have approved the work, the work is finished, and you are ready to pay for it. You should clearly indicate in writing that giving this information does not constitute an authorization to inspect or repair your vehicle. The authorization to inspect or repair is a completely separate authorization that should also require your signature. Deceptive shops will extract this personal information from you, commence work without your authorization, and then claim that you authorized the work because you provided this information and would not have done so unless you had authorized the repairs.
  2. You should not leave valuables in your car.
  3. You should not allow anyone to speak for you in negotiating car repairs on your vehicle. Deceptive shops will use this as an excuse to add on extra charges, on the grounds that your son, boyfriend, sister, or some other person authorized the repairs.
  4. You should not allow your car to be inspected, disassembled, or lifted up on a rack until you have obtained a copy of the inspection authorization forms with your signature showing the information outlined above.
  5. You should not assume that a friendly smile and a friendly verbal agreement will get your car fixed without arguments, lawsuits, or repossessions. Get everything in writing.

Common Scams

Some of the common ways that deceptive auto repair shops will unfairly separate you from your money are by:

  1. waiting until the vehicle is up on the lift and partially disassembled before getting your authorization to proceed with the repairs. By then, you are essentially forced to: (a) authorize overpriced repairs or risk getting your car back in a disassembled and unusable condition; or (b) pay a large and unexpected fee to have your vehicle reassembled, only to discover it no longer runs at all.
  2. showing you dirty oil with metal filings in it as evidence that you need a new transmission. Virtually all used transmissions have dirty oil with some amount of dirt and metal filings. This is normal and is not necessarily a sign that you need a whole new transmission. However, once the transmission is disassembled and reassembled with the same old seals and parts, it usually does not work the same as before.
  3. commencing repair work on your car without first getting your authorization to perform the repair work, and then charging you for repair work which you did not authorize,
  4. giving you a verbal estimate as to the cost of repairs, then charging a higher price.
  5. representing that repair services will be completed by a certain day in order to induce the sale, then failing to have the repair services completed by that day.
  6. telling you that repairs are needed when in fact they are not needed.
  7. failing to disclose re-assembly or inspection charges before starting repair work.
  8. advertising that the shop will provide “Free towing” and then requiring you to pay for your own towing costs.
  9. telling you that the shop will provide a free rental car during repairs and then requiring you to pay for the rental charges.
  10. telling you that the shop will provide repair services pursuant to a warranty then charging you for repair work covered by the warranty.
  11. representing that work or services have been done, or parts replaced in your car, when the work or services were not done or the parts were not replaced.
  12. starting repair work on your car before obtaining authorization from you, then charging you for it.
  13. starting repair work before obtaining written approval of the loan from the finance company, in those instances where you borrow money to pay for repairs. If the loan company does not approve the loan, and the work is already done, you may still be liable for the payment if you can’t show the deception.
  14. failing to complete the repairs as represented to you in the repair work agreement.
  15. failing to repair your car in accordance with the warranty provided after your car is brought to the shop for warranty repairs.
  16. failing to notify you and secure your additional approval, in writing, for any additional work to be done that was not set forth in the original written agreement.
  17. representing or advertising that the shop will accept consumer credit cards or personal or business checks as payment for goods and services, and then refusing to accept credit cards or checks.

Resolving Disagreements Over The Bill

If the charge is much higher than the estimate, or if the work was done without your authorization and you feel that you have been overcharged, question the bill. Have the shop write out the reasons for the difference in cost, and keep this written explanation together with the work estimate, final bill, and other paperwork. Make sure the mechanic returns your old parts. (The mechanic may return some parts, such as alternators and brake shoes, to the parts supplier for a refund, so you may not be able to get all of them.)

Even if you are unsatisfied with the mechanic’s explanation of the difference between the estimate and the final charge, or feel you have been cheated, pay the bill, making clear that you do not agree to it. You can then file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office and/or file a small claims court law suit against the mechanic.

If you refuse to pay a repair bill — even a bill in dispute — the mechanic has the legal right to keep your car until you pay. Even if you feel cheated, you should not pay with a check so you can regain possession of your car and then stop payment on the check — your vehicle may still be repossessed.

If you suspect that the repair shop has violated the law, and you can’t get them to resolve the problem to your satisfaction, your first step should be to take your car to another repair shop. Give the second mechanic a copy of your itemized receipt and order an inspection of the alleged repairs and parts. Get this report in writing. If you notice the same problem with your car is recurring, or find a new problem that should not have arisen, you will be in a better position to negotiate a refund from the first mechanic if you get a second mechanic’s opinion of the work done – in writing.

How Do I Report Fraud?

If you have an auto repair problem that the shop will not correct, the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection office and the Better Business Bureau both offer a complaint resolution process to help resolve your problem.

What You Should Do After an Auto Accident

Many Texans are involved in automobile collisions every year. Although most people are aware of the obvious steps to take immediately following an accident (assist the injured, call the police, etc.) we have found they may be too upset to think of many of the less obvious steps which also should be taken.

If you are involved in an automobile collision you should:

Stop immediately, but do not block traffic. Failure to stop after a collision can result in criminal penalties. Turn off your ignition to guard against fire. Stay at the scene of the accident.

Warn oncoming automobiles of any traffic hazards. At night, leave your lights on or set out traffic flares if possible. You may be liable for damages to approaching drivers unless they are properly warned.

Assist anyone who may be injured. Stop any bleeding. Provide other first aid if you can. Call for an ambulance if necessary. Do not move a seriously injured person unless absolutely necessary because movement can increase injuries.

Telephone the police and cooperate fully with the investigating officers. If you are involved in a hit-and-run collision, it is especially important that you notify the police immediately. Write down the names and badge numbers of all investigating officers. Be sure to notice whether the officer is a city police officer (and which city) or a Department of Public Safety officer.

If you believe the driver of the other vehicle may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, tell this to the investigating police officer.

Make written notes of the full names, addresses, home phone numbers, work phone numbers and license plate numbers of all parties involved, including any witnesses to the collision. Also note the date and time of the collision, and the make and model of all vehicles involved. Do not trust your memory. In such a stressful situation, you may not remember important facts. You should always carry a pen and paper in your car.

Measure skid marks and step off distances such as from the curb to the point of impact. If your vehicle is not blocking traffic or creating the potential for another accident, do not move it or any accident debris until you are instructed to do so by the investigating police officer.

Make a rough drawing of the scene of the collision, showing the position of all vehicles and any other details you think may be important.

Exchange automobile insurance information with the other parties. The drivers involved must show their driver’s licenses to each other. Copy all information from the other driver’s license.

Make notes of any statements made by the driver or occupants of the other vehicles as to how the collision occurred.

Before you allow a tow truck driver to pick up your car, be sure to ask the driver how much it will cost and tell the driver where to take your car. Get the name, address and telephone number of the driver and the towing company.

Phone your lawyer as soon as possible and follow your lawyer’s advice. In Texas, a lawsuit for damages arising from an automobile collision must be filed within two years from the date of the collision. However, the sooner your lawyer becomes involved in the matter, the better he or she can advise you and protect your rights.

1.Do not give statements to anyone other than the police officers without first consulting with your lawyer.

2.Report the collision to your insurance agent or insurance company as soon as possible.

3.Take photographs of any damage to your car and of any injuries to yourself.

See your doctor if there is any chance you may be injured. Serious injuries do not always cause immediate pain.

Report the collision to the Texas Department of Public Safety. You must do so if there is an injury, death or property damage in excess of $250.00. You may obtain a report form from any police or sheriff’s office or from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Even if you think you may have been at fault in the collision you should not make any statements admitting fault. You may discover later that the other driver was equally at fault, or more so. Statements you make while emotionally upset may be misunderstood or misquoted later by other parties or bystanders. Spectators at the scene of a collision may be curious. It is best to say nothing at all regarding the cause of the collision.

Keep calm, don’t argue, don’t accuse anyone and don’t admit fault.

Because of the need for advice under these stressful circumstances, our law firm has prepared a wallet-sized card that contains an abbreviated version of the above instructions for those involved in automobile collisions.

Automobile Insurance in Texas

All Texas motorists should carry automobile insurance. Since 1981, it has been the law in Texas that all motorists must carry automobile liability insurance. Effective September 1, 1991, the enforcement provisions of the mandatory insurance law were strengthened.

Texas motorists must now show proof of liability insurance to receive or renew a driver’s license, receive a safety inspection sticker or register a vehicle. The fine for not having insurance has increased from $75 under the old law to between $175 and $350 under the new law. A second offense could mean impoundment of your vehicle and suspension of your driver’s license.

Some people may be confused about the various types of automobile insurance available in Texas, the purpose of each type of insurance, and the costs related to that insurance coverage. The basic types of automobile insurance are:

Liability coverage

This coverage protects you if you drive negligently and cause injury to another person or damage to another vehicle. Texas law requires every automobile owner to carry liability insurance in the minimum amount of $20,000 per person injured. It is usually wise, and normally not much more expensive, to carry more insurance than the minimum limit. If you do not have enough insurance to pay for the damage or injuries you cause, you could be personally responsible for the additional cost of the damage or injuries.

Personal Injury Protection coverage

This is a form of “no-fault” insurance coverage that pays medical bills and lost earnings for you and others in your car, no matter who was at fault in the collision. PIP is available in different amounts, and $10,000 worth of coverage is generally not much more expensive than $2500 in coverage. PIP coverage pays benefits if any member of your family is injured in an automobile and if any person is injured in your automobile. It is a very worthwhile addition to your basic automobile insurance policy.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage

This coverage will pay for property damage or injuries sustained by you, your family members or occupants of your automobile and caused by drivers who have no liability insurance, or insufficient liability insurance, of their own. In other words, this coverage replaces the other driver’s liability insurance. This coverage is optional but highly recommended. Without it, you will have no protection if you are involved in a collision with an uninsured driver.

Collision coverage

This pays for property damage to your car if it is involved in a collision, no matter who was at fault in the collision. This insurance will pay for your property damage even if the collision was your own fault. There is a “deductible” amount that you must pay, and your insurance company will pay the remainder.

Comprehensive coverage

This coverage pays for loss or damage to your automobile or its contents in situations not involving collisions. For instance, this insurance applies in cases of hail damage, fire, theft or flood. The question of fault does not apply to comprehensive coverage, but there is a “deductible” amount you must pay.

Automobile insurance rates vary widely depending on the insurance company or agent you choose, the types and amounts of coverage you want, and the kind of car you drive. Our law firm has prepared a brochure that further explains automobile insurance and offers tips on lowering the cost of your insurance. It is available on our Web site or you can call us for a printed version of this free brochure.