The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

California Bill Seeks to Tighten Regulation of Body Shops

March 03, 2009

SACRAMENTO, CA --- California State Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod on Feb. 26 introduced a bill (SB 427) designed to reduce "parts switching" practices by some in the state's auto collision repair industry.

SB 427 would require an automotive repair dealer who included replacement of a deployed air bag on a written estimate to repair and fully restore the airbag to original operating condition. Failure to do so would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $5,000.

Further, SB 427 would require a notification to the consumer at the time of estimate and final invoice that "parts switching" is unlawful. The bill would create a new consumer right to copies of parts invoices that show new parts were installed.

The new measure seeks to enhance California's Automotive Repair Act, which regulates body shops. This existing law already requires all auto repair work to be recorded on an invoice that describes the work and parts supplied. In addition, the act already requires the invoice include a statement indicating whether any crash parts are original equipment manufacturer parts or aftermarket parts. This information must be provided to a customer in an itemized written estimate when an auto repair dealer is performing auto body or collision repairs. Existing law requires that the body shop must obtain authorization from the customer before performing work and imposing charges.

The proposed bill would authorize the customer to receive copies of invoices for all auto parts installed for a charge of over $50. The bill would also require that the first page of the itemized written estimate include a notice stating that installing parts other than those described on the estimate without prior customer approval is against the law and that the customer is entitled to receive copies of all invoices for each specified auto part.

In addition, the bill would require that the first page of the final invoice include a statement that installing parts other than those described on the estimate without prior customer approval is unlawful, and that any customer-requested copies of invoices are attached.

The proposed legislation is similar to a bill that the California legislature approved last year but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Everyone who owns a car will eventually find themselves in need of auto collision repair services," Sen. Negrete McLeod said. "Wrecks happen to even the safest drivers, with well over 1 million accidents occurring in California each year, or about 1 accident every 30 seconds. Unfortunately, some 40 percent of these individuals may become the unsuspecting victims of auto body repair fraud."

Auto repair fraud is difficult to detect, Negrete McLeod noted. Auto "parts switching" is particularly hard to uncover and among the most common forms of fraud. Some repair shops never actually replace parts they bill for, and some switch parts out for cheaper parts.

"A particularly disturbing form of 'parts switching' involves air bags where the repair shop stuffs foreign materials in the air bag space instead of a new air bag. The consumer never knows until he is in an accident and the air bag does not deploy," Negrete McLeod said.

Negrete McLeod added, "While most auto body shops are honest, some bad actors in the industry can cost California consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. In the case of a missing air bag, it could cost a life."

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