Wednesday, 30 April 2003 17:00

Shops may be required to display rating signs

California auto repair shops are being put on notice to perform the jobs for which they have been contracted - and do them correctly. 

A proposed pilot program for Los Angeles and San Jose - known in Sacramento as Assembly Bill 761 (AB 761) - would require all auto repair businesses to display a red, yellow, or green sign in their windows to let consumers know that they are in compliance with all regulations governing auto repair or the level of violations they have received from the Bureau of Auto Repair (BAR).

This concept, based on the successful letter rating system for restaurants in which the rating sign is posted in the restaurant window, was introduced by Assembly Member Jenny Oropeza (D-Carson) and supported by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.
Oropeza notes that consumers often must choose an auto repair facility at a time when they are most vulnerable. Vehicles are towed to a repair facility and currently the consumer has no way of knowing the quality of work that shop has to offer. "You should not feel like you have to guess about the reliability of a repair shop," says Oropeza.

Startling statistics show that auto repair fraud is rampant in California. "Some shops charge for new part replacements but install used parts. Or simply repair damaged parts. This can make a car unsafe," offers Oropeza. "Too many auto repair shop owners and operators put profits ahead of safety." Recently, a California Highway Patrol sting operation implicated 25 different auto repair shops that resulted in the arrests of 35 people for preparing false estimates for insurance claims.

An auto body reinspection inspection program conducted by the BAR over an 18 month period revealed that 43% of cars inspected contained evidence of fraud, averaging $586 per car for parts not used or labor not performed. A statewide survey conducted by Allstate found that at least 74% of consumers felt victimized by poor quality work. Auto repair rip-offs rank # 6 in the top ten consumer complaints according to the Better Business Bureau.

AB 761 will require detailed invoices indicating each part used and the name of each technician who performed the labor on the car. Serious violations, such as fraud, theft and false advertising, will result in the issuance of a Red Circle with the word "Violation" to be placed in a highly visible spot at the entrance to the repair facility for five years.

Yellow Circles will be issued to shops who violate policies relating to estimates, invoices and unregistered shops. This Yellow violation circle will remain posted for three years.

Hiring "red circle employees"

If the offense involves an employee, the BAR will have the disciplinary history of that person. Even if the offending employee changes work venues, the violation sign will stay for the proscribed time period, but will also travel with the employee in an effort to keep unscrupulous people out of the workplace.

There is an up-side for legitimate facilities, according to Oropeza. This policy will reward shops for playing fair. Currently, shops that scam customers are able to charge lower prices than legitimate shops. AB 761 will level the playing field by showing the consumer that the lowest price is not the best tool to use for evaluating work to be done. Oropeza declares, "I know not all shops are bad. Honest shops do not deserve the reputation that bad shops give."

This bill should be a major deterrent to those shops who even consider scamming their customers. Consumers will know to stay away from those shops displaying red or yellow signs. In addition, investigators will be better able to gather evidence critical to proving auto repair fraud.

Legitimate businesses who may have a temporary problem will not have to worry about finding a red or yellow sign in their windows. Only violations which have been given due process will affect a shop's rating. Shops will receive a warning for minor violations similar to "fix-it" tickets that drivers receive. If the violation is corrected as required - no harm, no foul.

Ken Roberts, a spokesman for the ASA, has cautiously expressed support for this legislation, saying, " it would highlight code violations that mirror parts of the associations own code of ethics."

"I know most consumers join me in hoping for a system that will help ensure honest, safe auto repairs. Our lives may depend on it," Oropeza affirms.

You can follow the progress of this bill on the web www.leginfo.ca.gov.


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