Montgomery Co. resources to help you avoid ‘being ripped off’ at the car mechanic

Summer is ahead, and for many, so are long road trips. Last summer, 97% of vacations were taken by car, according to AAA.

These long road trips take a toll on vehicles — which end up in the mechanic’s shop sooner or later.

In Montgomery County, officials are reminding drivers to look out for scams at car repair shops and to remember that their rights as consumers are protected under Maryland law.

“It is important that the relationship between consumers and car repair operations be one of excellent service, respect, trust and transparency,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in a release.

The knowledge gap between a car mechanic and an average driver can be vast — leaving room for the mechanic to take advantage of an unknowing customer. But Maryland State Commercial Law has rules to limit such scams:

  • Estimates for work of more than $25 must be given upon request.
  • The final bill must be within 10 percent of the estimate — unless the customer is notified.
  • Customer authorizations (whether written or oral) are required.
  • Used or rebuilt parts are to be identified in the estimate.
  • The customer’s description of the problem, or requests for repair, must be included.
  • A detailed invoice identifying the customer and vehicle, including the odometer reading, is to be provided upon completion of repairs.

If a driver does have an issue with a mechanic or their work, it’s important that the customer keep tabs on the entire repair process, officials said.

“We recommend that you keep any replaced parts and your receipts,” said David Elswick, an auto investigator for Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, in a news release.

“Having repairs made by another shop will complicate your complaint and, in many cases, will result in the need to pursue the matter through court.”

Elswick added that it’s best to “give the repairing shop a ‘reasonable’ number of attempts to correct problems,” if you have issues with their repair work.

If the problem persists, drivers can report the issue to the Maryland Office of Consumer Protection.

“When there is a dispute, it is important for residents to be aware that there are resources available by our outstanding Office of Consumer Protection that can help resolve them,” Elrich said.

“I encourage all residents to utilize our Office of Consumer Protection whenever they feel like they are being ripped off or scammed by any business — especially when it comes to potentially expensive automotive services.”

More information about how to address issues with a vehicle repair shop can be found online.

Luke Garrett

Luke Garrett is a D.C. native dedicated to journalism. He is a reporter and the creator, host and producer of the original WTOP podcast, “DMV Download.” The podcast debuted in 2022. On the show, Garrett takes a weekly look at the biggest stories and ideas in the D.C. region.

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