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When Subletting Repairs, Who Is Responsible?

Repair shops often get business by their reputations, but a shop may have to sublet some specialized repairs. By subletting, you are relying on the expertise of another shop. If you've done your homework, you use a quality shop, and there is no problem. However, sometimes that other shop can let you down. Of course, the shop you sublet to does not have to talk to the angry customer.

Consider this scenario. A customer has his or her 1996 Chrysler minivan towed to your shop. It was involved in a moderate to heavy front-end accident. You write up an estimate and provide it to the customer and the customer's insurance company. You can do most of the repairs, but the windshield was cracked in the accident and you don't install glass at your shop. The airbag was also deployed, and your shop is not equipped to diagnose and replace the air bag system. So, you sublet the windshield repair to a glass shop and the air bag repair to an air bag specialist. 

The Automotive Repair Act of 1971, which was developed jointly by the auto repair industry and consumer groups, states in Business and Professions Code Sections 9884.7(a)(9) and 9884.9(b) that you may sublet repair work to another shop. If you are planning to have the work done by someone other than you or your employees, you must include a written statement of that fact with the written estimate and obtain your customer's authorization.

After getting the customer's consent, you start making repairs. The additional repairs are done at the glass shop and with the air bag specialist. When the repairs are finished, the customer picks up the car. A few days later, after the customer drives through a local car wash, he returns to your shop with a complaint of water leaking from the windshield. The air bag specialist did a reputable job, but the glass replacement was not as successful. The customer wants satisfaction.

The question you ask is: "Am I responsible for the repairs to the windshield even though neither I nor my employees made those repairs?"

According to Business and Professions Code Section 9884.9(b), you are responsible. This provision clearly states that you are responsible for the work, just as you would be if you or your employees performed the work. You must treat the job the same way you would treat a rework for repairs performed by your shop.

In other words, correct the situation for the consumer who paid you by having the repairs done right.

Be sure to write up another estimate for the inspection and repair of the water leak, even if there is no charge to the consumer. Include a statement that you will sublet the repairs to the glass shop. Always get the customer's authorization to repair his or her vehicle. And remember, you are still responsible for any work that is sublet out.

After the repairs are made, the customer picks up the vehicle and drives away satisfied. You knew what your responsibilities were and you took care of them. Your reputation is intact. Maybe it is even enhanced by the quickness with which you took responsibility for the problem.

The Smog Check Program has additional regulations which limit the type of emission related repair work that can be sublet, and under what conditions emission work can be sublet. California Code of Regulation 3340.15 (i) states:

"A licensed Smog Check Station shall not sublet inspections or repairs required as part of the Smog Check Program, except for the following:

(1) Repairs of a vehicle's exhaust system which are normally performed by muffler shops, provided that the malfunction has been previously diagnosed by the Smog Check Station originally authorized by the customer to perform repairs to the vehicle.

(2) Repairs of those individual components that have been previously diagnosed as being defective and that have been removed by the specific Smog Check Station originally authorized by the customer to perform repairs to the vehicle".

Should licensed technicians or shop owners have questions regarding emission related sublet regulations, they can contact their BAR Field office for clarification, prior to actually subletting an emission repair.