Don't Lose Sleep Over Repairs
The iATN website post said: "The ABS light is on." The tech explained that diagnostics revealed a faulty ABS modulator. Excessive noisy operation also indicated an internal defect. The conclusion: "Sent owner on his way because he declined repairs."
This post example is scary to me because of my work over the past 15 years. After I sold my shop, which I had owned 24 years, a lawyer asked if I would inspect a vehicle repaired by a national chain. The vehicle suffered brake failure after brake repairs and was involved in a major accident.
Now, understand, I am not a lawyer and am absolutely not qualified to give legal advice. But I did work more than 50 years in the automotive aftermarket industry. So I would like to share my thoughts on where we independents are in respect to liability.
Since I sold my shop, I have inspected a variety of vehicles for lawyers, insurance adjusters, rental car companies and others.
By far, the safety-related systems of a vehicle create the most possibilities for litigation.
As a shop owner, we are responsible for all of the repairs, maintenance and service performed by our techs and also in part for the work vendors perform when repairs are sublet.
How do we survive in this environment? Whew!
One thing we can't do is tell a customer, "Oh don't worry about it, just bring it back if it acts up again," - especially if a safety system is at issue.
We are the experts and we should always be upfront about the need for repairs. Even so, repairs are sometimes declined. What can we do in that case?
Certainly, in regard to a particular situation, you can ask your lawyer how to protect your shop from liability. Also, I believe documentation is a good way to make sure the car owner is informed there is a safety issue.
The documentation I am suggesting is a simple statement on the repair order describing the safety-related defect and the customer's decision not to repair at this time. This needs to be signed by the vehicle owner. It does not have to be confrontational or intimidating to the customer; it's just a statement of fact.
In my day, I had a red ink stamp with the words "Vehicle Unsafe," which I admit was somewhat intimidating to the customer and no doubt did not make me many friends. All copies of the work order were thus stamped. It was used at times, especially when a consumer started arguing whether something like an inoperative speedometer was unsafe.
The world is now, more than ever, aware of unintended acceleration and brake system issues, but let's not overlook brake lights, windshield wipers, seats and their mountings, speed control, parking brake, fuel and other gauges, SRS/airbag restraints, steering systems, fuel pumps and intermittent stalling or engine shutdowns. So it goes, but if there are safety issues involved, people's lives will be at risk.
Let's not expose ourselves to liabilities regardless of the fact we have insurance coverage. Let's inform the car owner of the risks they are taking by operating an unsafe vehicle. Let's explain in a professional and businesslike way what the situation is. This is what we are paid to do.
We ASA members have established a standard for managing our mechanical and collision shops and there is no reason to lose sleep over the risks we take in performing repairs. We should just follow our Code of Ethics. It spells out our responsibility to our customers.
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