This fact sheet contains some general information that will assist you in choosing a repairer and avoiding disputes. 

It also provides guidance on dealing with repair disputes and explains some of the technical terminology, concepts, and issues you may encounter.

Motor vehicles are technically complex pieces of equipment, and like any other complex machine it’s a fact-of-life that repairs to them don’t always go according to plan, or in the way their owners think they should. Quite simply, repair disputes can arise in even the best run workshop.  

  • In our experience, many repair disputes are due to simple misunderstandings or poor communication on the part of one or both parties.  
  • But there can also be genuine deficiencies in the work that will need to be corrected. 
  • We’ve found that in most cases repairers are more than willing to work with the customer to resolve a dispute, so if you have an issue or concern the first thing to do is speak to the repairer.  
  • Be polite but clear about what the problem is and what you believe needs to done to resolve it.
  • Most repairers will happily put things right if they’ve made a mistake, and if it’s just a simple misunderstanding, it’s their opportunity to set the record straight and keep you as a customer.

Where a dispute can’t be resolved amicably between the parties you have several options.

  •  If the repairer is a member of the RACQ Approved Repairer scheme we can assist in investigating the matter and negotiating a resolution with the repairer. 
  • We can also offer advice and information if the repairer is not part of our scheme, however our ability to negotiate an outcome in such cases is limited.
  • If the repairer is a member of an industry body, such as one of the Motor Trades Associations, that body may help negotiate a resolution, but assistance from such bodies is not guaranteed.

In cases where a resolution can’t be negotiated, there are some official options.

  • Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading will investigate such matters and may be able to assist with a resolution.
  • Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) http://www.qcat.qld.gov.au/ has many of the powers of a court and offers a low cost legal option for resolving common consumer disputes. 
  • There are other legal options but they are generally high cost and would probably not be warranted for the vast majority of repair disputes.  You should seek independent legal advice if you plan to go this way.  

First, find a repairer you trust and feel comfortable with

  • Finding a repairer you are comfortable with and trust will go a long way towards avoiding disputes, or at least resolving them quickly and relatively painlessly.  
  • Personal recommendations and the experiences of family and friends can be a good starting point.
  • Look for repairers who are members of the RACQ Approved Repairer Scheme or industry associations. 
  • Such repairers will usually be regulated by codes of practice.  
  • Major repairs can easily overstretch your budget, or in the case of an older vehicle, exceed its value. So you can make an informed decision and / or manage your expenditure, it’s important to get a quote before committing to the repair. 
  • There’s a big difference between a quote and an estimate and this is a common source of conflict. 
  • Estimates are usually verbal, approximate and may change.  
  • A quote on the other hand is fixed and binding unless varied by agreement, such as when unforeseeable additional work is found to be needed.  That’s why it’s vital to get it in writing.
  • Quotes don’t have to be free. If the repairer must dismantle parts or carry out investigations they are entitled to charge for their time, so it’s important to ask if there will be a charge for the quote – before it’s prepared.  
  • In many cases the cost of a quote may be absorbed into the cost of the repair if you choose to go ahead with it.
  • If you’re concerned about the cost or scope of work suggested, get a second quote from a different repairer if possible – but to ensure a proper comparison is being made make sure the second repairer fully understands what is to be repaired.
  • Be clear when describing to a repairer what you want done. 
  • This is particularly important if the fault is intermittent and the repairer can’t experience it personally. 
  • The more they know about the issue the easier it will be to find and fix, which will ultimately save you time and money.

With intermittent faults it’s a good idea to keep notes of the circumstances leading up to the problem appearing.  Every bit of information could ultimately be important in identifying the cause. 

Some of the things that could be important are: 

  • road speed when the problem occurs
  • how long you’ve been driving when it appears
  • whether it happens when the engine is hot or cold 
  • in hot or cold weather 
  • on start-up 
  • the symptoms 
Have reasonable expectations

It could be completely unreasonable to expect a repairer who hasn’t experienced a problem to make a correct diagnosis first time based solely on your description of the symptoms.

Specified repairs and misdiagnosis

Take care when specifying the work to be done. If you diagnose the problem yourself and get it wrong, or request repairs that don’t resolve the issue, the misdiagnosis, and costs, will be your responsibility, not the repairers.  

Ask Questions

If there’s something you don’t understand – ask for an explanation.  If you still don’t understand, get a second opinion.  RACQ Motoring Advice   (http://www.racq.com.au/membership/what-you-get/motoring-advice) can assist in explaining complex technical issues and may be able to offer an opinion about the accuracy of the information you’ve been given.
Few repairers will carry out work unless it’s been properly authorised otherwise they risk not being paid for it. You’ll usually be asked to sign some form of authorisation – often it’s what’s called a Repair Order. It’s in your best interests to ensure you clearly outline what is required and understand the scope and likely costs of the work you are authorising as you will be legally committed to pay for it. If you haven’t asked for a written quote you should make it clear that you must authorise any extra expenditure / work that exceeds that initially agreed to.

Express Warranties

An express warranty is one that is clearly stated. For example, a car repair may be guaranteed for 3 months or 5,000km.

While this is a common offering, there is no standard warranty period for repairs and it can vary.  You should discuss warranty details with the repairer involved.

But regardless of the warranty, there are some other factors to consider.

  • A part, assembly, or service (such as a sublet repair) may have a longer or shorter warranty period than the repairer normally offers.
  • The warranty period and the parts affected should be noted on the repair invoice.
  • There could be cases where there is no, or limited warranty on a repair. Examples are where you instruct the repairer to not repair certain faults, or to make repairs that the repairer believes are dangerous, un-roadworthy, or will not provide a satisfactory outcome. These exclusions should be recorded on the invoice.
  • You will probably be asked to sign the repair order acknowledging that you understand the implications of the proposed repair.  However, the repairer can only remove their responsibility for problems that arise as a direct result of not being allowed to carry out the full extent of the work. If for instance the job failed because of a problem with the workmanship, the repairer would still be responsible.
  • Note also that the repairer could refuse to carry out such work.

Implied Warranties

An implied warranty is somewhat more nebulous in nature. Unlike an express warranty, implied warranties do not have to be stated and have no defined time or distance limitations. They cover things like the quality of workmanship and the suitability of parts used in the repair.

Second-hand parts are commonly used to keep the price of repairs down or because replacement parts from other sources are not available.  However, second-hand parts may have limited warranty cover, or may be restricted to replacement of the part with another used component.  In such cases the removal and refitting costs will be your responsibility.

This is a term used to describe the standard industry practice of sending a component or assembly to another specialist repairer.  For example, a general repairer might remove diesel fuel injection components and send them to a diesel fuel injection specialist for overhaul.

In the event of a dispute between the repairer and the sublet repairer, it is the original repairer’s responsibility to sort out the problem and you should never have to deal with a sublet repairer, unless you organised that part of the repair.
Problems sometimes recur or aren’t correctly repaired the first time. If you suspect a problem is related to an earlier repair it’s important to return to the original repairer if possible.  If that isn’t possible, you should at least contact the original repairer first before authorising further work.

If you have to deal with another repairer it’s worth asking him / her to contact the first repairer as they may be able to shed some light on the history of the fault, or if it’s found that the original repairer has contributed to the problem, negotiate to have it corrected.

Where there is no option but to involve another repairer, it’s important to keep any parts that have been replaced and to get a clear and detailed statement, in writing, as to what the problem was. This will assist if a third party has to investigate and negotiate a resolution. Plenty of clear and detailed photos may also help.
Regardless of whether you are conducting your own negotiations or a third party is doing it on your behalf, it’s important that you keep detailed and accurate records of the events.
  • You should insist on being given detailed repair invoices.  
  • They should include information such as the vehicle’s identity (registration number etc.), the date and odometer reading when the repair was carried out, what work was done, what warranty is provided, the parts fitted and a breakdown of the labour and individual parts costs. 
  • This will assist in the event of a dispute, but will also be a record of the repairs and servicing carried out on your car.  
  • It could also be of assistance in showing that it has been properly maintained when it comes time to sell. 
  • Keep a record of all phone conversations – times, dates, who you spoke to, the subject etc. as this information will be useful in your negotiations but it may also be needed either by a third party engaged to negotiate a resolution, or in the worst case, by a tribunal or court.