Things are changing in Iowa

Starting May 1st in Iowa a customer can keep his vehicle while a bill is in dispute if the Iowa AG deems that unfair business practices are involved.Mind you all that is required is a “belief” by the AG not a legal decision by a judge. I wonder if this practice will take off and be adopted by other states.

In most States the shop owner can keep the vehicle while the charges are in dispute.

I addition to giving our readers technical help with their vehicle problems, frequent requests for information on how to handle billing disputes are common on CarTalk.

I am undecided on the issue as many requests made to us here at CarTalk too help with billing/legal issues don’t always include the complete story. I fear that the Iowa AG may act incorrectly when presented with these incomplete stories that a person with experience in the car repair business can detect.

I think this is going to open up a real can of worms because you know as well as I do that many people will flat lie through their teeth, omit much of the story, or just flat misinterpret or don’t understand what has been done.
This happens every day on this forum.

Now they want to turn a 1/2 story which may or may not have one iota of truth to an AG and his staff of whom none even know how to check their own oil.

You have to wonder WHY those laws are ever written…Is it because some businesses were OVERCHARGING or charging way way more then the estimate or the mechanic mysteriously finding NEW problems and fixing them and then charging the customer for the work. Every consumer protection law I know of…came about because of ABUSES by businesses…they don’t just appear in a vacuum.

To me, this seems like a solution looking for a problem. If you insist on getting your quote in writing, you can use it to avoid being overcharged. This protects both parties, not just the customer.

Almost every person who comes here to complain about being overcharged actually authorized the work at the price they paid. These people need to use their brains and question these charges before they authorize the work, not after.

Almost every person who comes here to complain about being overcharged actually authorized the work at the price they paid. These people need to use their brains and question these charges before they authorize the work, not after.

When I was going to college and working as a mechanic…there was a law in NY saying that if a car doesn’t pass inspection then the mechanic has the right NOT to allow the car out of the shop until it’s fixed (at the mechanics discretion)…Since our garage did inspections (honest inspections)…I can’t tell you many people complained to us about other places that would ALWAYS find something wrong with their vehicle and INSIST they pay them to fix it or they won’t get their car back…several of these customers went to far as to having the car towed to our garage and we inspected it and found NOTHING wrong.

I don’t believe this was was written just for the heck-of-it…

Bringing the “no release until repaired” requirement into a law that was intended to aid in resolution of disputed charges is complicating. Are any states still allowing what was known as “red taging”?

What we are seeing is a shift of the burden of proof with the Iowa law. The shop still can sue to recover unpaid charges, it is just that now under certain circumstances the customer gets to take the car while the bill is in dispute.

The issue of why a dispute over the charges for a repair should be examined (one of the reasons we are here) and the potential for both the customer and the shop only telling their side of the story is right up at the top of the list of reasons we have disputed bills.

Some customers refuse to act appropriately when arranging repairs for their cars and some shops feel it is their duty to relieve these customers of as much of their money as possible. This condition is not unique to auto repair.

Those concerned that the AG’s office might hold a bill in abayance under false pretense given the AG’s office may want to consider that AGs and Assistant AGs are experts in asking the right questions and seperating the true storys from the exaggerations. Lawers can see right through embellishments. My guess is that those requesting such a decision based on unfair business practices will need to come in with some evdence.

I also wonder…can the shop hold the vehicle until the AG’s office makes a preliminary determination? Does this new statute effectively create a right by the shop to hold the vehicle pending the decision that did not exist prior to the statute?

Define what you mean by “overcharging”. What constitutes an “overcharge”.

As to your point about finding new problems I will state this, and it’s a fact.
Mechanic work has no crystal ball and there are no psychics. There is often no way of knowing what’s going on with something until it’s torn into and many, many times there are unforseen problems. It’s just a fact of life. Call it Murhpy’s Law if nothing else.

From something as simple as an oil change or fuel filter change to the teardown of a major component like a transmission or engine something always crops up.

It’s no different than any other profession. A doctor wants to run a test or perform a surgical procedure and then tells you that a dozen other tests must be run or more surgery is needed does this mean he’s gouging? And with a doctor the consequences are far more lethal. Just consider my brother in law who is 6 feet under because of the Mother of All Botched Guesses.
Consider a roofer who rips off the roof and finds unforseen damage or the remodeler who tears off the sheetrock and finds a multitude of problems.

Whitey is exactly right. The customer should ask questions about the repair and the costs involved before authorizing any repair and as an added plus, should always get a second opinion, or even a third.
In the event a problem causes a push comes to shove situation the matter can be resolved in small claims or district court. If the AG wants to get involved in this then the AG should also go to bat on behalf of mechanics and shop owners against that percentage of customers who are trying to pull a fast one or skew the story.

(Case in point here, one of many. When I worked for SAAB we had complaints filed against us (and I’m the tech involved) at the BBB and the state AG’s office; and the disgusting part of this is that this guy was never charged one single dime for time spent on this car.)

Unfortunately automotive disputes and real estate disputes are the large majority of the workload of the civil courts. With states cutting budgets in the judiciary, civil courts will become even more backlogged than they already are. Other states will have to enact legislation to try to balance the needs of shops to get paid with the needs of the people to have their cars.

I’m NOT talking about the HONEST mechanic…I have no problem with a GOOD Honest mechanic finding other problems that need addressing. When this happens they’ve ALWAYS called me to ask for my approval to proceed.

I’m talking about the DISHONEST mechanic who’s just trying to rip people off. Sorry, but I’ve seen it far more often then I should have. I can’t tell you how many STING operations in NY and MA that have uncovered this type of mechanic.

The story is in this months “Motors” magazine. I recieve an early copy via download. I contacted Motors magazine (last year) and at the time they said there was no restriction on me forwarding my copy. Now if it turns into I am forwarding 100 copies a month perhaps someone would take notice.

It would be good for someone else to take a look at the acual law, as my report is paraphrased (to the best of my ability).

It is doubtful that I will ever see such a problem but if faced with it today I would likely require walk in customers to pre-pay the entire estimated amount prior to making the repair. What other alternative is there?

I’ll have to take a look at it if I get a chance. I enjoy these sorts of tidbits about what various laws are being implemented in various areas, and I appreciate your post. It interests me to learn about these things as best my feeble mind can handle.

Have a great weekend.

If you did so I suspect your customer base would stop growing and ahrink through attrition.

The overwhelming majority of people don’t mind paying if the work is honest, the problem shown and explained to them, and they’re treated with respect. For those that try to “stiff” you, I guess dealing with bad debt is part of all businesses. Most businesses write it off at the end of each quarter.

A brief story about an incident that happened one time and why it’s very iffy when non-mechanical minded judges and lawyers (even the AG types) get involved.
Guy brings a VW in and wants the trans fluid changed; nothing more. Since this was a minor deal, as shop foreman I chose to knock this out myself and leave the gravy money for the techs.

The car shifted a bit sluggish while driving it into the shop and I noted this on the repair order. The fluid was changed and the trans still had a shift flare in it. The customer was advised of this and he agreed that the problem was there and was “hoping the fluid change would cure it”.

Several months later the dealer is served with a summons for small claims court. This guy was suing us for “destroying his tranmission”.
So off to court the service manager (who was to present the dealer side of this) and myself as shop foreman with several factory manuals to present the technical side of the most likely cause.

Come to find out this guy had the car at another shop who had quoted him X dollars (down to the penny) to fix this trans and it had not even been removed from the car yet.
The irritant was that even though the judge ruled in our favor and dismissed the guy’s case the judge also stated that he thought “we were guilty” of damaging the transmission and would have awarded this guy a win IF the other shop had torn the transmission apart.

This judge was an idiot, pure and simple. We had our copies of the repair order with the notation about the trans having a problem when the car was brought in but the owner of this car conveniently “forgot” to bring his copy.

Even though we won the case we still felt like we got an undeserved blackeye out of this deal.
And on a side note, it was determined several years later that this “other shop” was a den of thieves and went out of business after foisting off a number of lousy rebuilt engines. (Four good ones out of 75 total is pretty shaky odds.)
And this is the shop the judge was going to back. Jeez.

MB, I posted this piece of news because we do get a small percentage of “legal” type questions. I also feel it good to take a look at they way things are headed.

In my opinion (for what it is worth) shops perform the worst under the pressure of a “comeback”. This is when all sensitivity is gone and everyone’s fangs are out. Kinda relates to OK4450’s story, these comebacks need someone with the problem solving skills of a Biblical figure to sort out fairly. I have seen shops charge again for something they broke but on the other hand I have had customers comeback and claim we stole their contraband product.

The question of what’s fair can be a tough one. OK4450’s story points out the problems of doing an honest job of the work requested, even notifying the owner that there may be a more serious problem, and still being taken to court. Yet there are also plenty of perfectly honest folks who get “taken” by a “den of thieves” as also included in his story. I myself have even been involved in shops trying to screw me, as well as been the recipient of just plain sloppy work (like a loose oil plug…which I fortunately caught in time).

I can also empathize with a court system trying to fgure out who’s in the right when both stories sound plausible. Or an AG’s office swamped with consumer complaints, many of which are misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps many decades from now, when I’m long gone, EVs will be the norm, sophosticated event recorders will be in all vehicles, and a lot of these problems will go away. Nah, on second thought, people will never change.