Customer vehicle repair rights (Motor Vehicle Repair Law)

Vehicle repair customers in New Hampshire have certain rights and protections. The New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Repair Law protects you from some kinds of unreasonable demands that can be made by a repair facility.

Anyone who owns a motor vehicle has to take it in for servicing and repairs on occasion. We all hope that the repairs don't happen too often because an out-of-service vehicle interferes with our schedules and burdens us with unexpected bills. Shopping for a repair shop is similar to shopping for other types of services or merchandise. You want to look for the best quality of workmanship at the best price.

The Law

The New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Repair Law (RSA 358-D), which applies to all cars and small trucks but not to motorcycles and large trucks, gives vehicle repair customers certain rights. You have the right to:

  • Ask for a written estimate;
  • Approve any repairs before they are made;
  • Approve any repair charges that exceed the written estimate;
  • Have parts returned to you;
  • Receive an invoice detailing the work (parts and labor) done on your vehicle; and
  • Refuse to pay any charges exceeding 10% of the written estimate that you did not previously approve.

Every repair shop is required to post a six-foot-square sign listing the consumer's rights in a place where consumers can see it. The sign should provide the following information:

  • Your right to request a written estimate and to give written or oral approval before work begins.
  • Your written or oral permission is required before work beyond what is stated in the written estimate begins.
  • You must consent to any work that amounts to more than 10% of the original estimate or additional work.
  • The repair shop must obtain your authorization before beginning work even if you have not requested an estimate.
  • Your right to request the return of all replaced parts before work begins on your car, unless the parts have to be returned to a manufacturer or distributor under a warranty or exchange agreement.
  • Your right to receive an invoice.
  • Your right to refuse to pay for any unauthorized work.
  • You should file any complaints about a repair shop's failure to comply with the Motor Vehicle Repair Law's requirements with the New Hampshire Attorney General, 33 Capitol St., Concord, New Hampshire 03301.

When you take your vehicle in for repair or service, you should always request a written estimate before any work is done. A repair shop that declines to perform the work does not have to give you a written estimate. A shop cannot, however, cause you to waive your right to a written estimate as a condition to performing service or work. You have a right to ask for an estimate and the written estimate protects you in two ways:

  • It restricts the repair shop from changing the price that it quotes for the work.
  • It prohibits the shop from charging you more than 10% above the price stated in the original estimate.

Example: Millie takes her car in for a repair. She asks for a written estimate and gets one – the estimated cost of the repair is $100. The shop cannot charge Millie more than $110 to do the repair unless her permission is given for the higher cost. The shop cannot do any other repairs on Millie's car without her permission.

Any estimate you get should contain the following items:

  • list of the work to be done.
  • An estimated completion date/time.
  • An estimate for the price of labor and parts. It is a good idea to find out whether you will be charged at a "book" (flat) fee or hourly (only for the actual hours worked) rate for labor.

Although a repair shop may project a date or time to complete the work on your vehicle, the shop cannot be held responsible when uncontrollable factors cause delays. Uncontrollable factors include such things as a severe storm, a strike, an unexpected illness, an unexpected shortage of labor or parts, or a situation where you are unable to approve additional repair work.

Remember, you must give your approval before a repair shop can work on your vehicle. Even if you do not request a written estimate (which you should do as a matter of course), the repair shop has to at least get your oral consent before beginning any work. If the shop does any unapproved work, you do not have to pay for it. Unfortunately, this right sometimes conflicts with the mechanics lien statute which is discussed below.

Before the shop begins work on your vehicle, you may ask that any parts removed be returned to you. If the part(s) must be returned to the manufacturer or distributor under a warranty or exchange agreement (e.g., batteries), then the shop does not have to comply with your request.

If the repair shop subcontracts any of the work performed on your vehicle, the shop is responsible for the subcontractor's work as if the shop did the work itself. For example, you take your vehicle to a repair shop for an alignment and to have the tires rotated. You authorize the necessary work. This shop, however, does not have an alignment computer and customarily has another shop do its alignment work. The shop you initially authorized to do the alignment and rotate the tires is responsible for the work done at the alignment shop.

When you pick up your vehicle, the repair shop should give you a copy of the invoice with all of the following information:

  • A list of all work performed, either by the repair shop or subcontractor.
  • A list of all parts supplied worth more than $.50 and the retail cost of each part.
  • A statement of whether any used, rebuilt, or reconditioned parts were supplied in completing the repair work.
  • The number of hours of labor and the hourly rate for labor.
  • A statement of whether the repair shop will guarantee the work, and if so, the terms and length of any guarantees.

The repair shop must keep a copy of the invoice for its own records for a period of one year.

Mechanic's Lien

Under New Hampshire law, mechanics have an automatic lien (a right to keep possession of a consumer's car when they have done work on it) until they are paid for their work. Often repair shops rely on their mechanic's lien to keep possession of a consumer's car when the consumer claims that the repair shop overcharged for repairs. In such cases, if the repair shop has violated RSA 358-D by doing unauthorized work or exceeding the written estimate by more than 10%, a court would probably find that the violation rendered the mechanic's lien void. However, when this type of dispute occurs, you are usually in no position to wait for your car until a judge can decide the case. A fair suggestion would be to pay any undisputed repair charges immediately, then put the disputed amount into an escrow account in a bank until the dispute is settled. The shop should be willing to release the car from the lien under these conditions. In some cases, however, when you are facing a mechanic's lien you may have no practical option but to pay the disputed charges and seek the return of your money in Small Claims Court. (For information on small claims courts, refer to Remedies: Small Claims Court).

Points To Remember

Before choosing a repair facility, take the time to shop around for a reputable repair shop. One of the best ways is to ask family or friends for their recommendations.

  • Be wary of discount offers for repair work. You may be better off in the long-run sticking with a single reputable mechanic who knows your car well and will not perform unnecessary repairs.
  • Find out whether the shop and its technicians have met their licensing or registration requirements. You may also want to look for any evidence indicating that the technicians are certified in special areas of automobile repair.
  • Never sign a blank repair order. Make sure the written repair order reflects what you want done on your vehicle.
  • Obtain a written estimate. If the repair shop cannot provide you a written estimate because the nature of the problem is unknown, ask the shop to contact you and give you an estimate when it does find the problem. Remember to get a price estimate for the diagnostic work that the shop will do to identify the problem.
  • For costly or complicated repairs, try to get a second opinion from another shop.
  • Find out whether the charge for labor is a flat fee or is based on the actual time it takes for the repair.
  • Keep records of all repair work done to your vehicle, including the written estimates, invoices, names of the persons involved in the repair transaction, and so forth.

Dealers' service departments routinely get notices about car defects from the manufacturers. These so-called "hidden warranties" often never find their way into the public knowledge. If your vehicle has a problem that is not covered under the warranty, before having the repairs made, ask the service department manager if he or she has received a technical service bulletin (TSB) from the manufacturer regarding the particular problem. You may be able to get the repair done for free if a TSB has been issued on the matter.

Unscrupulous auto mechanics have ingenious ways of separating you from your money. Several of the newer scams include:

  • Engine-monitoring computers in newer cars have generated a new set of fraudulent repair possibilities. It is unlikely that the computer itself will have a problem so if a mechanic tells you that the computer is the source of your car's troubles, seek a second opinion.
  • A dishonest mechanic may attempt to charge you separately for items (and labor) that are all part of the same repair job. Getting a written estimate before having repairs done, and getting a second opinion if the estimate seems high, is one way of avoiding this scam.
  • Your car does not need to be repaired before it is broken or worn out. Although some routine things like hoses and belts should be replaced periodically before they break, the warning systems in cars will give you plenty of warning when something needs to be replaced. Do not be talked into repairing or replacing parts that have not yet worn out.

Where To Go If You Have A Problem

If you have a problem with repair work on your vehicle, you should talk to the manager or owner of the repair shop where the work was performed to explain the nature of your complaint. (You might want to refer to the section on Remedies: Effective Negotiation before you start).

If you are not satisfied with the shop's response, write a letter to the shop explaining your position (refer to the section on Remedies: Writing A Complaint Letter for pointers on how to do this). Include all the facts that you can recall and send copies of invoices plus any other relevant documents. Keep copies of all the mailed documents. If the shop does not respond appropriately after receiving your letter, send a cover letter explaining the situation, along with copies of any documents, to the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Bureau:

NH Consumer Protection Bureau
Department of Justice 
33 Capitol Street 
Concord, NH 03301-6397

You may also wish to contact the following offices to address any inquiries or complaints.

Better Business Bureau
48 Pleasant Street
Concord, NH 03301

NH Division of Motor Vehicles
Department of Safety 
23 Hazen Drive
Concord, NH 03305