Four key tips to avoiding nasty surprises with mechanics
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You never know when your car might let you down — everything could be working as normal one day, but then you might start hearing squeaking or rattling driving to work the next.
Here’s a guide to help ensure you’re not left with a nasty surprise when you visit your local workshop to collect your car and pay for your repairs.
Estimate versus a quote
Jumping on the phone and asking a handful of workshops for an estimate might seem like the easiest approach to repair costs, but it’s not always the most accurate.
A workshop should tell you what they think the job will roughly cost, based on the information you provide and existing information on the kind of job required.
The actual price may be a bit more or less, but as a rule of thumb it should stay within 10-15 per cent of the original estimate.
Where possible, drive your vehicle into a workshop so they can physically see the make and model of the car, gauge its overall condition and check the work is actually required.
They can then call their suppliers to get a better idea of part prices and availability, which will allow them to pull together a written quote, including the labour rate.
A quote is an offer to do the task for an exact price. If the quote is accepted, the workshop can’t charge more unless you agree to extra work — for instance jobs that come up that couldn’t be seen until the work started.
Getting a quote
Consumer Protection has great advice on how to obtain quotes:
Choose at least three businesses. Give them the same information and ask for a written quote.
Check if the business is charging a fee to prepare a quote.
●Compare quotes by looking at the total price and whether GST is inclusive or exclusive. Check the hourly rates, quality and cost of materials, start and finish dates, and how long the job will take.
●Negotiate with the successful business on price.
●Try not to pay a deposit but, if you do, pay no more than 10 per cent of the total cost. Never pay the whole amount before the job is finished.
●Keep all the paperwork — quotes, invoices, receipts. Make sure the quote you receive is inclusive of GST and be aware of any expiry dates. Labour rates, prices and availability of parts change over time and usually quotes will only be valid for 30 days. We recommend using a reputable, well-established service provider and if the company is part of an association, this may give some backing and resolution assistance if a dispute does occur.
A quote is part of a contract
Once it has been accepted, the quote is the basis for the contract between you and the workshop. Ensure the quote is in writing and includes a detailed breakdown of all the parts and labour.
If additional work and cost is required, the garage needs to have your consent before they carry out the work. In contractual terms, this will be a variation to the agreement.
If things go wrong
If your bill is more than agreed to and the workshop hasn’t contacted you beforehand to have you authorise additional charges, you should only have to pay the quoted amount.
If the price or way it would be calculated was not agreed beforehand, all is not lost. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993, a person in trade must complete the work with reasonable care and skill, and, unless otherwise determined by your agreement, in a reasonable time for a reasonable price.
If the repair cost is higher than expected, it’s usually best to sort it out with the workshop first. If you can’t agree, depending on the amount of money involved, it might be best to pay the full amount to get your vehicle back.
If the person in trade disputes the allocation of costs you can then take things further by taking a claim with the Disputes Tribunal or District Court to try to get your money back.
For advice on your specific situation, particularly if there are complications or a lot of money involved, it may be best to seek legal advice on the best course of action.