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Car repairs legal advice

Contracts, quotes, estimates and delays

A basic understanding of the law can help avoid a dispute or decide if you need more formal advice.

A basic understanding of the law can help you avoid a dispute in the first place, or help you decide if you need more formal and personal legal advice.

Our general advice about getting the best from your garage gives you tips on how you can reduce the risk of something going wrong if you're dealing with a garage for car repairs or servicing.

Car repairs

Your contract

When you instruct a garage to carry out repairs or other work, you enter into a contract.

It’s best to put your instruction in writing if you can, as it will be easier to see what was agreed if there’s a dispute.

Whether written or oral, any contract contains both ‘express’ and ‘implied’ terms.

Express terms

Express terms are created when you instruct a garage and can be:

  • Specific and confined to a particular fault for example 'fit new X brand fuel pump'.
  • General for example 'the engine's not running well, the brakes are hopeless and there are dreadful noises coming from the suspension; fix them for me'.
Implied terms

In addition to any express terms agreed, implied terms are that:

  • Parts must correspond with any description given.
  • Parts must be of satisfactory quality and reasonably fit for any particular purpose that has been specified.
  • Repairs will be carried out with reasonable care and skill and within a reasonable time.


The basic dos and don'ts

  • Look for a garage that has signed up to a Trading Standards approved code of practice
  • Get a firm quote or written estimate before you authorise repairs
  • Get several quotes if you can to check that the price is fair
  • Make it clear if you need your car back by a specific time or date but give the garage a reasonable amount of time
  • Bear in mind a garage can charge for work involved in preparing an estimate if you don't go ahead and ask them to do the repair
  • Leave a phone number with instructions to call you for further authorisation if unexpected work is needed
  • Leave a note explaining the fault or symptoms and try to speak direct to the mechanic
  • Understand that problems can arise and costs increase, even when the mechanic's working carefully
  • Give the garage a chance to correct a repair that turns out to be faulty – subject to your right to arrange for the work to be carried out elsewhere and claim the cost from the first repairer
  • Contact your local authority trading standards department if you think you may have been a victim of unfair trading practice
  • Don't stop payment for work you're not happy with, without taking legal advice
  • Don't expect faults to be diagnosed for nothing – the garage should be able to give you an estimate of the time and cost required and possible repair options
  • Don't remove your car from the garage (unless authorised) while payment is still outstanding
  • Don't lose your temper
  • Don't expect miracles – intermittent faults can be very difficult to pin down, and components can break when being dismantled no matter how much care is being taken
  • Don't buy parts from one company and ask another to fit them. Two separate contracts mean that, if the part is faulty, you may have to pay the company that fitted it to remove it


Estimates, quotes and contracts

If a firm price is stated at the time of making the contract, then both you and the garage are bound by it, but it's more usual for a garage to give you an estimate rather than a firm quote.  
Generally, an estimate won’t bind the garage, although it will be an indication of the eventual cost.

A reasonable price
  • If no price is quoted, the garage can charge you a 'reasonable' price for all work properly performed.
  • What’s reasonable is a question of fact, and a court would decide by reference to the work done, market rates, and any previous dealings.
  • A price won’t automatically be considered unreasonable simply because other garages in the area charge less. 
Get several quotes

Business’s operating costs, hourly labour rates and parts prices can vary a lot so it's a good idea to get quotes from more than one garage, particularly if the job’s likely to be very expensive.


Authorising repairs

Garages should work strictly within their authorisation.

Leave the garage a phone number and make sure the garage is clear what sort of authorisation you are giving them.

Specific authorisation
  • If you authorise a garage to carry out only specific work, and to do no other work without further permission, then the garage is not entitled to claim payment for any extra work done.
  • If the garage has done extra, unauthorised work, they may remove any unauthorised replacement parts fitted provided the old parts are properly re-installed on your vehicle. If this is no longer practicable, the garage should bear the loss.
  • Unless such limited authority is in writing, it is open to dispute what instructions were actually given.
General authorisation

If your instructions to the garage are simply to carry out necessary repairs without any limit on either the extent or the cost of them, you give the garage unrestricted authority to carry out whatever repair work is necessary.

  • This doesn’t mean the garage can do unnecessary work, but establishing this can be very difficult, and would be down to you in the event of legal proceedings.
  • If you’re in doubt set a financial limit, preferably in writing, and ask the garage to contact you beforehand for your authority if this is going to be exceeded.


Delays

Delays can happen if parts are hard to obtain, if the problem’s hard to diagnose or if the repair turns out to be bigger than first thought, but if the garage has missed a clearly agreed completion date you may be able to:

  • Agree a new deadline for completion
  • Ask the garage for a courtesy car until the work is completed
  • Take your own car back and use it, if it’s still roadworthy, until the garage is in a position to complete the repair
  • Get the car repaired by someone else, if it can be taken away safely, and claim compensation from the original garage.

If you didn’t agree a specific completion date but you think any delay is unreasonable then you’ll need to discuss this with the garage and agree a new, and reasonable, completion date. A second opinion from another garage might help.


Can a Garage Retain your Car?

A garage that has repaired your car has what is known as a 'lien'. This is the right to keep the car until they’ve been paid for all work done.

  • If you take your car away without authorisation you risk both civil proceedings and criminal prosecution.
  • Apart from legal proceedings or leaving your car while any dispute is sorted out, the only option is to pay the amount demanded, marking the invoice as 'paid under protest'.

If you’re not happy with the repair

Any work that’s been done for you should be done using the correct materials, free from defect and should reach the standard of a competent motor engineer. If a repair’s fallen below that standard, the garage may be in breach of contract or negligent.

  • It’s best to resolve any issues with the original repairing garage as legal procedures can be very difficult and time consuming.
  • Strictly, you’d be entitled to take your car to another garage to have the faults put right and then claim the cost from the original repairer, in which case it would be essential to notify the garage of your intentions in writing and get several quotes along with expert evidence to support your claim.
  • In practice you should aim to keep the cost of any claim as low as possible so it’s usually wise, at least initially, to discuss the position with the original repairer. If reasonable to do so, allow them an opportunity to rectify their mistake at no further cost to you.
New problem?

You may get your car back only to find that the garage has caused a new problem.

  • Generally, the garage would be responsible for any additional fault or damage, but it’s up to you to prove that this happened while the car was in the garage's care.
  • It’s possible that the new fault could be completely coincidental and unrelated to the original fault or repair.

21 February 2017