About 10 years ago, I wrote an article about the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), an organization every body shop in California is more than familiar with, but the general public doesn’t even know what the acronym means.
Most people encounter the BAR when their cars are smog checked, or they see a plaque on a wall in a waiting room at a body shop.
I used some of my friends and other people back then to find out what they knew about the BAR. Only six out of the 30 people I talked to knew what the BAR was and what it does.
I also got some peculiar responses to my query, including “It’s law-related, right?” and “Is it a bartender union?”
Now in 2020, consumers are savvier about their cars, and that includes knowing about the BAR and its role in the automotive repair industry in California. By working hard to educate the public about what they do and how they can protect consumers, the BAR has significantly enhanced its communications and marketing, including its website at www.bar.ca.gov.
BAR’s website offers an Auto Shop Locator, a convenient and fast way for consumers to find a licensed automotive repair facility nearest to them.
Originally it was designed to locate smog check stations, but now it has been expanded to include all licensed auto repair businesses, including body shops, mechanical repair shops, air conditioning, parts retailers, auto dismantlers, glass windshield and mobile mechanics.
The Auto Shop Locator also allows users to obtain two other pieces of invaluable information---the shop’s BAR license number and whether or not it’s on probation or the subject of a pending enforcement action by BAR.
Rather than using MapQuest or Google, the BAR’s Shop Locator is a “more convenient way to find shops”, according to Clay Leek, who oversees BAR’s smog check, engineering and information services division.
“We have enhanced this feature with a new interactive map, a series of filters and a mobile app, so that consumers can access this information anywhere, all the time,” Leek said. “People can search for locations near their address, their city or their ZIP code, and then the Shop Locator tells the user their proximity to the shop.
"At the same time, people can make sure that the shop is licensed by BAR. This allays peoples’ fears and gives them an additional layer of comfort knowing that they’re taking their vehicle to a licensed business that is in good standing with the BAR.”
For example, I chose the Automotive Repair filter, followed by the Auto Body filter. I then tested the locator and quickly found a sample of the 50 body shops closest to me, one of which was on probation with the BAR. To eliminate any ambiguity, the listing of the shop is surrounded by a big red border with the word “Probation” listed clearly within the listing.
To get feedback from the collision repair industry, Leek and his team received input from a wide range of automotive industry representatives and body shops during their development stage.
The BAR registers and regulates 36,000-plus California automotive repair dealers and mediates automotive repair complaints, saving California consumers millions of dollars each year in the form of direct refunds, rework and bill adjustments, for example.
The BAR is one of 37 organizations under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs. BAR was established within DCA in 1972 following enactment of the Automotive Repair Act.
In response to consumer and industry concerns about fraud and incompetence in the auto repair industry, the act established BAR as the licensing and regulating authority over automotive repair dealers. The act also gave BAR authority to license and regulate stations and individuals that perform services in the areas of lamp and brake inspection and repair.
In 1982, California became the 20th state in the nation to adopt a vehicle inspection and maintenance (smog check) program. Pursuant to authority granted by SB 33, BAR became the administrator of the California Smog Check Program in 1984.
For more than 40 years, BAR has helped to protect California consumers from its headquarters in Rancho Cordova and 12 field offices stationed throughout the state. The organization serves many functions and administers various programs aimed at protecting Californians.
Leek is happy with the finished product and invites shop owners and managers to make sure their shop is properly listed on the Auto Shop Locator.
“I think they will like it for its simplicity and functionality,” he said. “We are really excited because by using it, consumers can stay informed and make educated decisions within a competitive automotive repair marketplace.”