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Laws on Automotive Repair in California

laws on automotive repairWhen you bring your vehicle to an auto body repair shop for some major repairs following a crash, chances are that you know much less than the car mechanic about the nature and extent of the damage. You may be concerned that the repair shop could take advantage of the situation or misguide you. Fortunately, California has fairly comprehensive auto body shop repair laws in place to protect the interests of consumers like you.

As an injury lawyer in California, I am often asked about the state’s laws on auto body shop repairs in the aftermath of a crash or a collision. I usually preface my answers by saying that the Golden State has some of the most consumer-friendly laws concerning vehicle repairs. I have tried to answer the most common questions related to vehicle repairs that people ask me in the event of an auto accident in California.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it my responsibility to pay for the repair costs?

Yes. Unless your auto insurance policy states otherwise, you will usually be responsible for paying for the repairs to the auto body shop repair facility. Auto insurance policies typically specify that the insurer will pay you for any losses incurred, after deducting any applicable depreciation or deductibles. The insurance company will reimburse you for the cost, but they will not pay directly to the repair facility.

Is the auto body repair shop responsible for the repair work they perform on my vehicle?

Yes. According to the Automobile Repair Act, every repair dealer must register themselves with the State of California. They should also display this registration in their shop. This Act says that the repair dealer’s registration could be invalidated for several reasons, including any willful disregard of or departure from the generally accepted standards for professional repair.  

Can I get my vehicle repaired at any facility or should I go to the facility recommended by my insurance provider?

This is typically the first question that victims of automobile accidents ask me if their vehicle has suffered damage. You need to understand that auto insurance companies, like any other business, always look for ways to reduce their costs and improve their bottom line. One of the ways they manage to do so is by encouraging their consumers to get their vehicles repaired at a ‘preferred’ or ‘direct repair facility.’

Section 758.5 of the California Insurance Code, however, prohibits auto insurance companies from forcing or requiring customers to have their vehicles repaired at a specific facility, as the state law considers it an ‘inherently unfair practice.’

The law also states that an auto insurance company can suggest or recommend a particular repair facility for a consumer only if one or more of the following conditions are met.

  • The consumer has voluntarily asked the company for a recommendation.
  • The company has informed the consumer (in writing) of his or her right to get their vehicle repaired at a facility of their choosing.
  • In case the company gives a verbal recommendation to the consumer, they must follow it up with a written notice which explains the consumer’s right to get their vehicle repaired at a facility of their choice.
  • In case the consumer chooses to get their vehicle repaired at the recommended facility, it is the company’s duty to make sure that the car is repaired and restored to its original condition and the consumer does not incur any additional charges, which are unlikely to be charged by other facilities.

Are repair facilities and insurance providers required to provide consumers with written estimates of repair?

Yes. Section 2695.8(f) of the California Code of Regulations clearly states that auto insurance companies and repair facilities must provide consumers with a written estimate which includes a breakdown of the repairs and the cost of restoring the vehicle to its original condition.

Is it required for the auto body shop to guarantee the quality of their work?

California law does not mandate auto body shops to guarantee the quality of their work. Still, most reputable workshops will provide you with a guarantee. A guarantee or a warranty is binding only if it is presented in a written format.

What happens if the workshop’s estimate is higher than that of the insurance company?

In such a scenario, the insurance company has three options.

  • They can choose to pay the difference between their estimate and the estimate provided by the workshop.
  • They can recommend other workshops where the consumer can get their vehicle repaired and restored for the initially estimated amount. They are required to recommend at least three or more facilities to the consumer. Also, they are required to assure the consumer – in writing – that the quality of the repair and restoration work will be at the same level as the facility which provided the higher estimate.
  • They can adjust the estimate provided by the workshop chosen by the consumer to a reasonable extent.

Can my insurer require the use of after-market parts in vehicle repair?

California law allows the use of after-market parts in vehicle repair and restoration if the following conditions are met.

  • The after-market parts used by the facility must be equal to original parts in terms of quality, safety, performance, and fit.
  • In some cases, the after-market parts might have to be modified to make them safe for use. In such cases, the insurance provider is required to pay for the cost of changing these parts, as long as the costs stay within a reasonable limit.
  • The parts must have a manufacturer identification code or number.
  • The parts must carry a warranty which assures that they are safe to use.

Does my insurer have a duty to inform me of rental car coverage options while my vehicle is being repaired?       

Yes. Your insurance company is mandated by law to inform you of the following:

  • Whether or not your plan includes rental car coverage
  • If it does, the extent of coverage offered by the plan
  • The daily rate
  • The number of days you are allowed to rent a vehicle under the plan

Will I have any recourse, if I face problems with my auto insurance provider?

Yes. You have a right to discuss your problem with your insurance broker. If they fail to resolve your issue, or you are still dissatisfied, you can communicate your concerns to California’s Department of Insurance at their offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Sacramento.

If you have suffered a significant loss due to vehicle damage in a crash, however, it may be best to consult with an experienced auto accident attorney in California right away.

Watch YouTube Video: Choosing an Auto Repair Shop: Interview Your Shop. In the following video, master mechanic Bogi explains how to find a good auto repair shop.

The Role of an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer 

If your vehicle has been damaged as a result of a crash or a collision, which was caused by someone else’s carelessness, the first thing you need to do is to contact an experienced car accident lawyer in California.

Apart from filing a personal injury lawsuit against the person who was responsible for the accident, the lawyer can also help you with towing your damaged vehicle to a workshop, renting a car while your vehicle is in the workshop, and ensure that your car gets repaired and restored to its original condition.

The best part is that most law firms do not charge you any additional fee for providing these services. They charge you only for the personal injury claim and not for the property damage claim, as the service is generally provided as a courtesy to you (the injured party) or your family, although there might be some exceptions, depending on various factors.

Experienced car accident attorneys in California know the state’s law regarding collisions and crashes as well as the legal requirements regarding the repair and restoration of damaged vehicles. So, they can make sure that your rights – both as a consumer and as an accident victim – are not violated at any point by your insurance company.

In other words, a dependable auto accident lawyer can keep your insurance company honest in how they deal with you.

Regulatory Guidelines in California for Auto Body Repair Shops

The Automotive Repair Act in California mandates that every auto body repair facility must follow a specific set of guidelines. These guidelines are created to make sure that your rights as a consumer are protected. Here is a brief summary of the guidelines:

  • It is the duty of the auto repair shop to ensure that the customer is adequately informed and updated during the car repair process.
  • The repair shop must only carry out repairs which the customer had asked them to perform.
  • The auto repair facility must maintain written records of all the repair work performed and any components or parts used or replaced.
  • It is mandatory for a repair shop to provide the customer with a copy of the initial estimate as well as the final invoice. If the customer is required to sign any other document, the shop must provide a copy of it to the customer.

When an auto body repair shop in California follows all the guidelines, it helps ensure that the customer is involved in all the decisions, and remains well-informed and in control of whatever repairs are actually performed.

Sacramento Car Accident Lawyer

I'm Ed Smith, a Sacramento Car Accident Lawyer. Injuries from a car accident can cause permanent complications. If you have been injured in an accident and need some free, friendly legal advice, call me at 916.921.6400 or 800.404.5400.

We are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

See our client reviews on AvvoGoogle, and Yelp, and our past cases on our Verdicts and Settlements page.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 11.6.20]

Photo by from Pexels

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