There’s a significant issue that affects just about every shop.
Bureau of Automotive Repair Customer Complaints.
I don’t care how proficient you are in explaining the repair process to your customers, how apologetic in fixing comebacks, how well you explain your check engine light has nothing to do with the brake job your shop just did – you will get complaints.
You are going to have BAR Customer Complaints.
The BAR has made it even easier to make complaints. You can call, you can do them online – you could probably send a homing pigeon – and you will get a call from your local bar rep who “needs to investigate.”
We all know the drill. The BAR rep either comes by or calls, says he has a complaint from Mrs. Smith and he needs to investigate. He’ll be back tomorrow and he wants you to have the invoice and all techs present to discuss the complaint.
You understand his authority so you do it, you get the invoice, you tell your tech’s he’ll be by tomorrow, so be ready. You explain what you did, explain what you told the customer, explained what you can do for her to make things easier, and what does the Bureau of Automotive Repair tell you to do?
After you’ve explained how you did everything by the book? After you showed how your invoice has the correct signatures, authorization for subsequent repairs following telephoned conversations aptly marked, and have each category of parts, labor, hazardous waste fee, tire disposal fee, and fluids in their own section, with tax on parts only?
“Give them their money back.”
Are you kidding me?
What happens if you don’t? You’ll hear any number of these canned responses:
“Your invoice is in violation of Business and Professions code section 9887.xx, you need to return their money.”
“Your recommendation to fix X was in violation of acceptable trade standards and practices under x, y, z, and therefore you need to return their money.”
“Your statement that they should replace this was fraudulent and misleading, you need to return their money.”
“After reviewing the vehicle in question, you did not do X in violation of the Health and Safety Code section xxx.x, you need to return their money.”
We know what comes next. . . .
What happens if you don’t return the money? You feel like you did it by the book, you did things right. What happens if you refuse.
The Bureau will get in your face. They will pull out all the stops. They will threaten your license, they will threaten to close you down, they will threaten your livlihood. They will threaten to take all your invoices, find violations, and write citations for various instances.
Hell, they’re so proud of it, they post their “victories” on their site here: http://www.bar.ca.gov/80_BARResources/02_SmogCheck/Program_Overview.html to the tune of $6.3 million.
They’re effective. Very Effective. Why? Because they sound legitimate. They sound like they know what they’re talking about – who are you to question the BAR?
Well I’ll tell you straight off. The Bureau has no authority whatsoever to force you to return any money to any consumer.
Any and all disputes between a shop and a consumer are civil matters, not licensing matters. Civil disputes are decided by courts. Licensing matters, believe it or not, are also decided by courts – Administrative Law Judges to be exact.
It’s your money. You earned it. You put in the work, you put in the time, you purchased the parts, and paid the overhead for your shop. It’s yours.
The BAR mediates disputes.
They do not decide them.
The Bureau is a division of the department of consumer affairs. It’s purpose is the protection of the public. As I’ve mentioned in several other blogs, they do not have your best interests at heart.
Their Authority is Extremely Limited
They have absolutely no authority to demand payment. This is a civil dispute between you and the customer. The BAR is a licensing agency, not a civil court that decides disputes between consumers and shops.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. I would never recommend returning money to a consumer unless there was absolutely no question there was shop or tech error. Furthermore, if there was shop error, bring it back, we will fix it, or at least take a look at it to determine if in fact there was shop error.
Otherwise, I would tell both customers and the BAR alike, they can keep their hands out of my pocket.
I would tell them a simple yet effective manner in closing both the complaint and any BAR presence at my shop:
“If you have any more questions, you may contact my Attorney, William Ferreira at Automotive Defense Specialists.”
“He’ll be happy to listen to your threats against my license, how you’ll ‘shut my shop down’ or how ‘my invoice doesn’t comply with provision X of the HSC, B&P code, CCR, etc.’”
“He simply loves conversations with uneducated BAR reps who think they know the law.”
In fact I do.