Vehicle repairs and maintenance
It is important to maintain your vehicle so it remains roadworthy and safe to drive. Know what to expect when you take your car to a licensed repairer.
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Repairers must have a licence and hire certified tradespeople to do any repairs that affect the safety or performance of a vehicle in NSW.
Businesses that install or replace accessories that do not affect the safety or performance of a vehicle, are not required to hold a licence to do that work. However, all businesses have obligations to consumers under Australian Consumer Law.
When searching for a licensed repairer, you can check the public register to see if a repairer is licensed.
Repairs and service
If you have a problem with a new vehicle that is still under warranty, refer to your warranty and talk to the motor dealer who sold you the vehicle.
Whether new or second-hand, your car or vehicle should have come with a logbook or owner’s handbook. These set out when the vehicle should be serviced and what maintenance needs to be done.
Following the maintenance schedule for your vehicle is important. It will help avoid the possibility of breakdowns or expensive repairs in the future.
If your vehicle is still under warranty and you do not have it serviced to the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, you may void your warranty. Check the details of your warranty and maintenance schedule.
Any licenced repairer can do the service as long as it is in line with the manufacturer's standards. You do not have to have the servicing done at the dealer you bought the vehicle from.
When you book a vehicle in for a service, clearly explain to your repairer the type of service you need.
There are different costs associated with the different types of services. For example, do not ask for a service if all you need is an oil change because there is a big difference in cost.
If you do not have a logbook or handbook and are not sure what your vehicle needs, ask the repairer. They can explain what is involved with each type of service, the frequency and cost for each service. If you are still uncertain, follow the manufacturer’s service schedule.
You will help the repairer find the problem if you describe all the symptoms.
Explaining the symptoms is far better than telling the repairer what to do. For example, instead of saying “I need a new battery, this one is dead”, tell them that your battery is flat. The reason for a flat battery may be as simple as a loose connection that requires tightening. This is a much cheaper repair than the cost of a new battery. Go for a test drive if necessary to show the symptoms.
Always ask for a cost estimate or quote to fix the problem and get it in writing so there are no surprises at the end. Make sure it includes the cost of parts and labour. The repairer should be able to explain any minor increase in the cost. Ask how long the repairs will take and when your car will be ready for pick up.
Sometimes a repairer can find extra problems when a vehicle is pulled apart. Leave clear instructions for the repairer. Tell them if you want them to go ahead with all necessary repairs or to contact you first. The repairer must only conduct work you have authorised.
If someone else is taking your car to the repairer for you, make sure that they understand the problem and can explain it to the repairer. You are still responsible to pay the account.
When a repairer spends time diagnosing your vehicle, they can charge a fee for this diagnosis. You must pay this fee, even if you decide not to carry out the repair.
Be sure to agree on a payment method before work starts on your vehicle.
Talk with your repairer to work out what kind of payment methods they accept. If you cannot pay for the repairs done to your vehicle, the repairer can keep your vehicle until you pay the bill. When this happens, it's called a possessory lien. This is also known as a mechanics lien or repairers lien.
Tip: When a repairer applies a lien, the owner can sue them for the return of the vehicle. The repairer can keep the vehicle until the court orders its return to the owner. The police cannot order the vehicle’s release.
If you need repairs after an accident, it is important you understand the terms and conditions of your insurance policy. Insurers may require you to use a repairer from their network.
For a warranty to be enforceable, it must form part of the repair contract. This means the owner must agree to its conditions and limitations. Ask the repairer to write down the warranty conditions on the invoice.
When a vehicle is taken in to diagnose a potential warranty issue, it is the owner's responsibility to authorise the repairs and agree to pay for the repairs if it is determined that the issue isn’t covered by warranty.
After the repairs
You can ask to see the old parts that were replaced. If reconditioned or exchange units are used, this should be noted on the invoice. These parts generally cost less than new parts.
There is no formal requirement for a dealer to provide a courtesy vehicle. In some circumstances, a dealer or repairer can provide a vehicle while the repair is being done. You should make sure that the vehicle is roadworthy, registered and insured. You may be held liable for any damage to the vehicle while it is in your possession.
A repairer has a responsibility to make sure that repair work is done in a ‘tradesman like manner’. This means that the repairs are to be of acceptable quality and carried out with due care and skill.
A claim may be made against the consumer guarantees if the workshop did not exercise due care and skill in repairs or testing. Consumer Guarantees for services state that services must:
be provided with acceptable care and skill or technical knowledge and taking all necessary steps to avoid loss and damage
be fit for the purpose or give the results that you and the business had agreed to
be delivered within a reasonable time when there is no agreed end date.
Similar warranties are implied by common law into contracts for the supply of services by workshops.
NSW Fair Trading can investigate a complaint about the fair cost of a repair even though there is no price control on vehicle repair costs.
A repairer in one area, where operating costs are low, may charge less than another where costs are high and skilled staff are in short supply. Some repairers may charge more because of their level of skill and service.
If the owner and repairer agree on a price before the job starts, it forms part of the contract. It is generally binding on both parties whether the repairer’s costs exceed the quote or the owner discovers later that the job could have been done cheaper.
If there is a disagreement about the repair and you still make the payment, this does not stop you from lodging a dispute with NSW Fair Trading.
A dealer or repairer may be liable for loss or damage while the vehicle is in their possession waiting for repairs under warranty.
If you believe that the repairer has acted in a dishonest or fraudulent manner, you should report it to NSW Fair Trading, who will investigate your complaint.