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Washington auto repair law

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by 42grasshopper, May 28, 2011.

  1. 42grasshopper
    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 5

    from washington

    My shop is currently being sued for not following a law in Washington state that says I must give a written estimate for all work to be done. I am a street rod and custom shop and have been in business 11 years and this is the first time it has been a issue with a customer. I would like my fellow hot rodders to post there opinions or any info on this that may help our case. you can e-mail me as well at

    Thank you;
  2. Swifster
    Joined: Dec 16, 2006
    Posts: 1,449


    So write an estimate...
  3. Isn't that at the owners request?
  4. I know its a pain in the butt to be constantly updateing paperwork, but its one of them "We-say-so" things the state says to do. You only get 10% over with out haveing it in writing and okayed by the customer. My old boss got burned by several customers over in-correct paperwork. Too bad the customer didnt want to work things out with no lawyers.{or guns}

  5. If the Wa. law is anything like the one here in Illinois repairing a car, there are 3 options the owner can select from regarding on how they would like to proceed with construction or repairs: A. I request an estimate before you begin repairs; B. Proceed with repairs but call me for approval before continueing if price exceeds $xxx.xx or C .I dont want an estimate and you may set the price of repairs.

    What you need to do is just write out the agreement ( All work on a time and material basis ) and have the owner initial option B or C. I was one of the representatives from our Shop Owners Association when this was passed here in Ill. over ten years ago and the issue of custom ,chassis fabrication, restoration , auto machine shops and all other automotive service shops were discussed . The options were agreed to by all involved to be adequate to protect both the interest of the shop and the consumer. You really need to have a signed authorization from the owner to protect your interest ( Mechanics Lein ) in case of any payment issues or such.

    Your not the first shop owner that may not have been aware of the statute and authorization but I am sure that this was addressed with the renewal of your automotive business liscense.

    You might want to post an intro so we get to know each other better.
  6. brad chevy
    Joined: Nov 22, 2009
    Posts: 2,627

    brad chevy

    Hell that law been around for along time,If the cost of the repair is more than the estimate it has to be approved by the customer 1st. In Fla if the customers requests to see the defective parts you replaced you have to have them. What brought this law about was the asshole shops screwing customers over and giving all shops a bad rap.The state did a sting here,marked a rearend in a motor home that a shop told the customer was bad. Shop charged the customer $1700 to replace the rear end,all they did was replace the rear u-joint and paint the rear-end housing. Crooked shops make it rough on the really honest mechanic trying to make a living.
  7. RichG
    Joined: Dec 8, 2008
    Posts: 3,919


    Estimate laws are there to protect the customer AND the shop, it's basically your contract with the car owner... if this is the first time you've been hit on this after 11 years, well, you're pretty darn lucky. I'd never leave a car with a shop without getting an estimate in writing and a list of work to be done. All in all, this is your fault, sorry.
  8. dragsta
    Joined: Apr 11, 2010
    Posts: 589


    i'd contact they have the skinny on the laws.
  9. I kinda have to disagree with estimate is not a contract---only a written "guess" or "guideline" of the cost of whatever's being done. The "contract", or work authorization comes after the estimate is reviewed and approved by the customer ;). Separate piece of paper(or should be)

    I miss the days of handshake agreements and the value of a man's word. :(
  10. Hot Rods Ta Hell
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 4,261

    Hot Rods Ta Hell

    Since you're a Street Rod and Custom shop, write your estimate's to read "between one and twenty thousand dollars". Like Earl said; if they want a defined contract, they can ask you to provide that once you've had a chance to make an accurate estimate/diagnosis (at an agreed upon hourly rate).
    For example; The mechanic that does my smogs has a $75 straight estimate fee to diagnose a problem with his scope, etc. He then calls the customer to let them know exactly what the parts and labor cost will be to get a thumbs up before they do the repairs.
  11. 48FordFanatic
    Joined: Feb 26, 2011
    Posts: 1,335

    from Maine

    I would think it would be in the business owner's best interest to give a written estimate and have the customer sign it before doing any work. It can't be that complicated.
  12. RichG
    Joined: Dec 8, 2008
    Posts: 3,919


    I used the term "contract" loosely, yes, it's only an "estimate", but it exists as a written agreement between both parties as to what work will be done and roughly how much that work will cost. Any time I've gotten an estimate, I've signed off on it and the next piece of paper I've gotten is usually the final bill, unless there has been work that has been needed to be done in addition to the original estimate.

    In Washington state, anything agreed upon by two parties and signed is a legally binding contract... for BOTH parties. It doesn't need to be notarized or witnessed (although it helps if you actually have to enforce the agreement!:p)

    EDIT: I just reread what you posted... an estimate is an estimate until it is signed, then it's a contract.:p Yes, you are technically correct!

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  13. You're fortunate you went as long as you did without gettin' your ass bit.

    In Wa. St. a shop must contact the customer for approval if the actual work performed exceeds 10% over the written estimate. As for a "contract", converting the estimate into a signed work order can accomplish that, albeit in a minimal way.

    A shop will play hell trying to collect if it doesn't have any signed documentation of any agreements made with the customer.

    Without really trying to bust your chops grasshopper, you're demonstrating what happens when a talented/gutsy technician forgets that he's also running a business. Ignorance of the business aspects is no defense. You're probably not on the winning end of the stick on this one (admittedly not knowing if you have some alternate agreements). The best you may be able to do is show any progress payments you received to minimize your losses, though you probably should spend a few bucks for a real lawyer to help you figure out your best options for this particular case.

    When I had my shop I used a fairly sophisticated computer program to generate estimates, and then convert them to a work order. The work order also had statements on it about potential storage charges, late payment fees, and so on. I would guess that there are many more stock programs out there to choose from today. If you don't use a computer there are probably stock printed forms available from a stationary supply source.

    Now the really tough advice for the typical non-business oriented guy. The biggest complaints I hear from both customers, and shop operators, is the higher end cost and longer delivery dates than orignally "promised". Very often that comes about because the shop person just throws a number off the top of their head for cost and time. A good estimate/work order will help discipline that. BUT, the best tool to save you grief, and the potential for the kind of experience you're noting here, is the use of change orders to the original estimate/work order. Talk to any of your more professional friends in contracting businesses, they've likely learned the lesson the hard way too. Change notices help you keep track of those incremental increases in labor and material charges, and the changes that the customer throws at you during the course of the project. As you've likely learned, the customer conveniently forgets about those changes he makes that result in additional labor and parts costs, which also often cause time delays. If you've had him sign a change order each time one of those incidents occurs along the path of the project, when he starts to bitch you can professionally lay out all the documents to demonstrate his impact on work in progress. You'll also find that you give away less stuff an improve your bottom line, in addition to reducing (never will eliminate) customer bitching. I know, technician minded guys HATE paperwork....................remember, you're also a businessman! Charmin isn't the only paperwork for protecting your butt!
  14. john walker
    Joined: Sep 11, 2008
    Posts: 1,114

    john walker

    here are the rules:

    Attached Files:

  15. Jims35
    Joined: Dec 22, 2009
    Posts: 279


    I think it's a good law,people want to know what it cost. I wish all states did it. Myself ,along with other building contractors have been doing it for years,estimats,contracts,cost plus,hourly ect.In the building trade. You would want too know what i was going too charge for remodeling or building you a house, right ? It's no different if i leave my car in your shop. Great idea .
  16. hoof22
    Joined: Jan 15, 2008
    Posts: 530


    I ran a restoration shop in CA for 20 years. An estimate is just that-An estimate of visible damage/work required. An estimate is subject to change upon teardown & inspection. Now a REPAIR ORDER, that's a different thing. i never had a customer sign an estimate, but I DID have, and the state required, a signed REPAIR ORDER, based on that estimate. Before the scope of work exceeded the estimate and the total on that repair order, the customer was called, and I insisted they come down to the shop to inspect & OK any charges over the original signed repair order. No surprises, they are kept informaed every step of the way. But in CA, an estimate was always that, just an estimate, and was subject to change with a supplement, and in about 80% of the cases, it did change. Sometimes it was more, but also at times it was less. There were times where I'd have to make a guess as to what the mximum amount might be, and I made sure that was clearly stated on the repair order. But here, a signed repair order was a must...never had a problem.

  17. 42grasshopper
    Joined: Feb 20, 2010
    Posts: 5

    from washington

    Something I have noticed that I left out was the fact that our contract in which he signed stated we do not give written estimates do to the nature of modifications for the customers preference. I have over 30 years in the industry (collision, restoration, and customs) and I am not just a technician, I have managed my share of those shops as well. My point that I am trying to make is that we are not an auto repair shop but a custom shop. I agree that I am still learning and will continue to learn. Keep in mind as well there is no estimating programs for custom work so it is all really a guess.
    Thank you for your response.
  18. You are still catagorized as "auto repair".
    Get a lawyer, they will help you keep your shorts in this case.
    Sorry for the bad news...
  19. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 29,116


    You do have a written and itemized list of all the repairs and modifications that the customer requested?
    That is the original list and all of the changes there after written down and documented.

    You are going to need a hell of a good lawyer but you are also going to have to document each modification you made on the car and the time and material that went into that specific modification. If you took photos along the way, so much the better for your case. If there was hidden body damage or shoddy repairs under a layer of bondo that didn't show up originally that needs to be documented as for the extra time it too to repair along with any extra material involved.

    Still without having given the guy a written estimate that turned into a contract you are probably going to come out on the short end of the stick and have some expensive education in the process.
  20. ironandsteele
    Joined: Apr 25, 2006
    Posts: 5,334


    Seems like common sense, to protect you and the customer.
  21. I'm unclear about what you are being sued for. Did your customer request a estimate at the time the repairs were discussed? Did you then go over by 10% and not notify him?
  22. brad chevy
    Joined: Nov 22, 2009
    Posts: 2,627

    brad chevy

    The guy thats sueing you. Has the work been done,hes got the vehicle and hes paid you already or what?

  23. Unfortunately the law looks at all automotive repair shops the same way regardless of what type of repairs they are specializing in. They wouldn't even cut the speedy lube places any slack . I know that automotive machine shops here must abide by this law even though the engine may not ever have been in a car . Get in touch with you state automotive association or state licensing body . They should be able to provide you with good solid answers to your situation.
  24. safari-wagon
    Joined: Jan 12, 2008
    Posts: 1,457


    Uncle Bob's advice on the use of signed Change Orders is something that ALL of the guys & gals in the business should heed. They're a firewall for BS later on.

    Sorry to hear of your hassles Grasshopper.
  25. metalman
    Joined: Dec 30, 2006
    Posts: 3,280


    I'm unclear also what the lawsuit is over. Did you go over an estimate or did a guy have you do work without an estimate and now using the law just to get the work for free?
  26. flathead fred
    Joined: Jul 18, 2006
    Posts: 298

    flathead fred

    I work in the marine industry doing refits and new commisions on yachts. Same thing in our industry. All of our work, from a minor fix to a half million dollar refit starts with an estimate. It's a pain, but a necessary evil. The 10% rule applies to us as well, that is what change orders are for. And weekly updates to customer, and progress billing. Keeps everybody on same page. I've had jobs come in for minor fixes turn into $100,000 plus refits. Change orders and new estimates kept them smooth. Also getting the owner more involved. My 2 cents
  27. Boones
    Joined: Mar 4, 2001
    Posts: 9,665

    from Kent, Wa
    1. Northwest HAMBers

    so did you do alot of work and have a bill that shocked the owner (no or poor communication between the two parties along the way can do that). A shop assumes the owner has money, the owner never realizes just how expensive it is to build a car..

    its a bad situation that only upfront discussions or constant discussions along the way with weekly or twice a month billing will overcome..

    Now I do not know the full situation on your situation but my guess its one of the above..
  28. Scarebird
    Joined: Sep 26, 2006
    Posts: 882

    Alliance Vendor
    from ABQ, USA

    Before I did the brake gig I was hanging tin commercially: schools, Boeing stuff, hospitals, high rises, etc. Change orders were rigorously detailed and usually a source of significant and sometimes the only profit.
  29. voodoo1
    Joined: Jun 27, 2007
    Posts: 452


    Great post Uncle bob! Mike
  30. oldolds
    Joined: Oct 18, 2010
    Posts: 3,153


    Seems like the law is about the same in Wash. as here in Pa. ( as per Uncle Bob in post 13)
    Here in Pa. we are supposed to have the customer sign a work order. The work order states the work to be done. Any additional work has to be ok'ed.
    If you state that you are going to diagnose a problem that is all you do. If you fix the problem without contacting the customer they really don't have to pay for the additional work. You should state diagnosis and repair.
    Contact should be a new signed work order, although there are forms for phone authorization.
    This makes a real hassle for the rod builder, ie. changing a rear in an old car. Work order stating change rear in 1950 Chevy may not be good enough. It should state. Change rear end ass. ( with type of rear stated) , You should also state what additional parts like driveshaft, shocks, brakes ect. As well as a statement saying that you can do what has to be done to get the car into the condition the customer wants, ie roller, moveable or driving. There should also be an estemate for parts and labor. Also a range for additional price changes. Call if it is going to be $50.00 more ect.
    It's a pain, but the lawyers need work too!

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