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Per Se Violations of the N.J. Consumer Fraud Act: Car Repairs & Authorization

New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (the “CFA”)is among the most powerful consumer protection statutes in the country. The CFA provides for treble damages and attorney’s fees in cases where the Defendant is found liable for an unlawful practice. One method of establishing liability for an unlawful practice is by showing a violation of a regulation promulgated under the CFA. Car repair and body shops are subject to CFA regulation. Consumers who believe they have been harmed or “ripped off” by a mechanic or body shop should be aware of these important regulations.

N.J.A.C. ยง13:45A-26C.2 (the “Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations”) sets forth an extensive list of what practices are deemed deceptive and therefore unlawful under the CFA. Many of the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations control conduct related to what a consumer is entitled to know and authorize before a mechanic or body shop undertakes a repair. Failing to inform the customer as required by the regulations can expose a mechanic or body shop to significant liability.

Subsection “2” of the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations requires that no work for compensation be commenced without securing either:

i. Specific written authorization from the customer, signed by the customer, which states the nature of the repair requested or problem presented and the odometer reading of the vehicle; or
ii. If the customer’s vehicle is presented to the automotive repair dealer during other than normal working hours or by one other than the customer, oral authorization from the customer to proceed with the requested repair or problem presented, evidenced by a notation on the repair order and/or invoice of the repairs requested or problem presented, date, time, name of person granting such authorization, and the telephone number, if any, at which said person was contacted.

Essentially, this means that no mechanic or body shop can repair a customer’s car without receiving specific written authorization (unless the car is dropped off when the shop is closed). That authorization must also be specific. To understand what specificity is required, consider the case of Jiries v. BP Oil, 294 N.J. Super. 225.

In Jiries, Ms. Jiries (the car owner) asked that a mechanic make some mechanical and body repairs to her car. When she was unhappy with the repairs, Ms. Jiries sued under the CFA and the Auto Repairs Deceptive Practices Regulations. At trial, the only written authorization the repair shop could offer was two credit card receipts. One receipt was stated “Deposit” and the other “Body Repair.” To cure its fairly obvious violation, the repair shop offered an invoice after the fact.

In holding that the shop’s practices violated the CFA, the court stated: “The superficial details provided on the credit card slips, whether completed as charge slips or not, do not meet the regulations’ requirements. A completed invoice only provided after the work was completed also does not satisfy the requirements.”
Consumers dealing with repair shops should keep this important requirement in mind: The shop must inform you and receive your specific authorization before commencing work. A failure to do so can be a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act.

Consumers must be aware that since every case is different, solutions are rarely “cut and dry.” Since the facts often vary, a consumer should consult an attorney with their specific case. Offit Kurman enforces consumer’s rights under the CFA throughout New Jersey ensuring that those who engage in deceptive business practices are held liable. The Firm’s geographic practice area includes Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Hudson County, Newark, Essex County, Woodbridge, Middlesex County, Patterson, Passaic, Passaic County, and Union County. The Firm invites you to visit the “Promises” page for our new way of doing business. Contact us today for a guaranteed free initial consultation.