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Can the repair shop charge me more than they said they would?

Question
Can the repair shop charge me more than they said they would?

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Reviewed: 
December, 2016
Answer

It depends.

If you got a written estimate

In some cases, a repair shop can charge you a bit more than the amount on their estimate. If you got a written estimate, the repair shop can charge you up to 10% more than the estimated amount.

For example, if the estimate was for $1,000, the final repair bill could be up to $1,100, but no more than that.

If you and the shop agreed to a maximum amount

If you and the repair shop agreed to a maximum amount instead of an estimate, the repair shop cannot charge more than the amount you agreed to.

If there was no estimate and no maximum amount

If the repair shop did not give you an estimate and you did not agree to set a maximum amount, they cannot charge you for the work at all. They should have offered to give you a written estimate.

You should never sign a blank estimate or work order. If you do, it gives the repair shop permission to do whatever work they feel is necessary, even if you disagree.

 

Learn about the rules a repair shop must follow

The law in Ontario gives you rights and protection when you pay someone to repair your vehicle. These rules cover repairs to cars, vans, trucks, motorcycles, and motor-assisted bicycles. The law applies to dealerships, neighbourhood garages, used car lots, and specialty garages.

For example, the law says that a repair shop must:

  • tell you the cost of an estimate before they give you an estimate
  • offer to give you a written estimate
  • not charge more than 10% more than the estimate they give you (for example, if the estimate was $1,000, the most they can charge is $1,100)
  • not do work that you have not agreed to
  • display a sign that says how much they charge for services and work
  • display a sign that tells you if their employees work on commission

Commission means that an employee gets paid based on how many parts they sell. The sign must tell you how much commission they get paid and for what parts. This helps you make an informed decision when you agree to pay for service or parts.

Avoid getting your car repaired at a shop that does not follow these rules.

Reviewed: 
December, 2016
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Think about how you were charged

A repair shop cannot do any work on your car without your permission. Once the work is finished, the shop must give you a bill or invoice.

The bill must include:

  • the date you gave permission to do the work
  • the date the shop finished the work and the date they returned the car to you
  • the odometer reading (the number of kilometers your car has travelled) when the repairs were completed
  • a detailed list of all the charges for parts, labour, or anything else
  • the total charge
  • details about any warranties
  • an explanation of your rights under the Consumer Protection Act

If you signed an estimate

Compare your bill with the estimate. Make sure the repair shop:

  • has not charged you more than 10% over the cost of the estimate
  • has done all the work they said they would

If you agreed to a maximum amount for repair costs

If the repair shop agreed to a maximum amount, they cannot charge you more than that amount.

If you did not give your permission in writing

The repair shop must have a written record of your name, the date, and the time you gave your permission. If you gave them permission over the phone, they must also write down the number you called from or the number they called you at.

Reviewed: 
December, 2016
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Understand what can happen if you don’t pay

The law lets you refuse to pay for work that you did not agree to. But if you don’t pay, it may be hard to get your car keys back from the repair shop.

If the shop followed the rules about estimates and you agreed to the work, they can keep your car if you refuse to pay your bill. They can sue you for the money owing, and even sell your car if you don’t pay for more than 60 days.  However, they can’t keep your car if they did extra work, or did different work than you agreed to. For example, they can’t keep your car if they steam-cleaned the engine, when you didn’t ask for that.

If you did not agree to the work, it will be harder for the repair shop to sue you for the money.

If you need your car back right away, you can choose to pay your bill and take legal action against the repair shop later. For example, you can sue the shop in Small Claims Court.

You can also leave the car with the repair shop while you take action against them.
For example, you can write a complaint letter or sue them in small claims court.

Reviewed: 
December, 2016
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Talk to the repair shop

Talk to the repair shop immediately if you were charged:

  • more than 10% above the cost of an estimate,
  • more than the maximum you set, or
  • for repairs you did not agree to, or repairs that weren’t done the way you asked them to be done.

Tell the repair shop what charges you disagree with, and ask for a refund of what they overcharged you:

  • If you have a written estimate but the repair shop charged you more than 10% above the estimate, ask them for a refund of the extra cost.
  • If the repair shop agreed to a maximum amount but charged you more than that amount, ask them for a refund of the extra cost.
  • If the repair shop charged you for work that you did not agree to, ask them for a refund of the entire repair.

It is a good idea to put your complaint in writing and keep a copy of it for yourself.
 
If you have already paid and left the shop, you can send the repair shop a complaint letter. You can use the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services' sample letter, or write your own.

Make sure your letter includes the following information:

  • your name and address
  • the date
  • the name of the repair shop and their address
  • the date you contacted them or authorized the repair
  • the work you had done
  • the price you paid
  • the reasons why you disagree with the charges
  • specific instructions about how you want to solve the problem. For example, ask for a refund, return, etc.
  • the date by which you want a response from them (3 weeks is reasonable)

When you send your letter be sure to include:

  • your evidence, like copies (not originals), of receipts, invoices, contracts, or other relevant documents
  • your signature

Make sure you keep a copy of your letter. You should send it by registered mail, and keep your registered mail receipt so that you have proof that the repair shop got it.

Keep your letter clear and short.

Reviewed: 
December, 2016
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Complain to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services

If the repair shop has not followed the rules about how much they can charge you, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

Before the Ministry will help, you must send a written complaint to the repair shop. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter. Send the letter by registered mail so that you have proof that the repair shop got your letter.

Your letter should include:

  • your name and address
  • the date
  • the name of the repair shop and their address
  • the date you contacted them or authorized the repair
  • the work you had done
  • the price you paid
  • the reasons why you disagree with the charges
  • specific instructions about how you want to solve the problem. For example, ask for a refund, return, etc.
  • the date by which you want a response from them (3 weeks is reasonable)

When you send you letter be sure to include:

  • your evidence, like copies, not originals, of receipts, invoices, contracts, or other relevant documents
  • your signature

Make sure you keep a copy of your letter and your registered mail receipt so that you have proof that the repair shop got it.

The Ministry can investigate your complaint, order the repair shop to follow the law, and even take the repair shop to court. If the repair shop is found guilty of breaking the law or an order from the Ministry, they can be fined or sent to jail.

Reviewed: 
December, 2016
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Go to Small Claims Court

You have two options at Small Claims Court. You can either:

  1. Use a special application process to deal with the auto repair bill, or
  2. Sue the repair shop directly.

Special application process

When you use the special application process, you pay the full amount of the bill to the court. The repair shop must then return the car to you within three days. After this, the court decides how much money will go to the shop, and how much to give back to you. The court will usually make their decision within 90 days.

You will need a special form to make an auto repair claim. Ask the court staff for a Form 2 under the Repair and Storage Liens Act. You can get this form directly from the court.

You should also ask the court for the Guide to Money Paid into Court. You can speak to court staff by calling:

Toll-free …………… 1-800-518-7901

Toronto area ……….. 416-326-2220

TTY Toll-free ……….1-877-425-0575

TTY Toronto area …...416-326-4012

Sue the repair shop

If you are asking for $25,000 or less, and you decide not to use the application process, you may be able to sue the repair shop in regular Small Claims Court.

You must file your claim within 2 years of when you first learned about the problem.

You do not need a lawyer to represent you in small claims court. But, talking to a lawyer can help you understand the court process.  

The Ministry of the Attorney General has a self-help guide for Small Claims Court on its website.

If you want to sue for more than $25,000, you have to do this in Superior Court. It's very hard to do this without a lawyer. If you want to sue in Superior Court, you should try to get legal help.

If you have a low income, you might be able to get help from Pro Bono Ontario for cases in Small Claims Court or Superior Court.

There are some reasons why you might not want to sue in court, including:

  • you have to pay court fees.
  • if you lose, the court could order you to pay some of the repair shop’s legal costs.
  • it can be a lot more work for you, especially if you don’t have a lawyer
  • it usually takes a lot of time.
  • if you win but the repair shop doesn't pay, it's up to you to try to collect the money.
Reviewed: 
February, 2017
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Learn more about this topic
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc.
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services

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