Auto Repair Basics
Proper repairs and regular maintenance are essential for vehicle safety and reliability. Taking good care of your vehicle can extend its life by years and potentially save you thousands of dollars.
The Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) recommends the following tips and resources to help consumers care for and protect their vehicles.
Find a licensed auto shop
All auto shops must hold an automotive repair dealer license issued by BAR to perform vehicle repair and maintenance services in California. When seeking repairs, try our Auto Shop Locator to find a licensed shop in your area and be sure to verify the license.
If you decide to use a mobile repair business, make sure the business’ name, license number, and telephone number are displayed on the business vehicle or any online advertisement before committing to using their services.
Know Your Rights
When taking your vehicle to the shop for repairs or service, it’s important to know your rights. Under California’s Automotive Repair Act, you are entitled to:
- An estimate – Before beginning any repairs, the auto shop must provide you with an estimate showing the estimated price for parts and labor and obtain your authorization.
- An invoice – After completing all repairs, the auto shop must provide you with an invoice showing the final price for parts and labor.
- Return of replaced parts – You can request the shop return any parts it replaces on your vehicle, but be sure to ask for those parts before authorizing the estimate.
Read our Consumer’s Guide to Auto Repair for tips on repairing your vehicle and what you can do if you have a problem with an auto shop.
Maintain your vehicle
- Read your vehicle owner’s manual for important information on your vehicle’s maintenance and service needs, including fluid requirements, help with interpreting warning indicator lights, and details concerning your vehicle’s warranty.
- Review available maintenance resources, such as those offered by the Car Care Council.
- Check the recommended oil change interval for your vehicle and recycle used oil at a collection center. To find a collection center near you, visit the California Department of Resources' CalRecycle website.
- Follow our tips for preparing your vehicle for summer and winter driving conditions.
Learn about vehicle warranties
Most new vehicles come with an express manufacturer’s warranty that gives you certain rights if the vehicle does not perform as promised. These warranties are included in the price of your new vehicle. Dealerships may also sell service contracts—sometimes called extended warranties—for both new and used vehicles. Refer to your vehicle owner's manual or the vehicle manufacturer for specific warranty coverage.
To learn more about vehicle warranties, see the following resources:
- California Lemon Law: Covers new and used vehicles sold or leased in California that come with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. If the manufacturer or dealer can’t repair a serious warranty defect in your vehicle after a “reasonable” number of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either replace the vehicle, or refund its purchase price (whichever you prefer).
- California Vehicle Emissions Warranty Periods: Check warranty requirements by vehicle type.
- Extended Warranties and Service Contracts: Consumer advice from the Federal Trade Commission on how to determine if an extended warranty or service contract is right for you, and how to report problems.
- Guide to Automobile Service Contracts, Extended Warranties, and Other Repair Agreements: Information from the California Department of Insurance on buying and using a vehicle service contract or similar agreement to cover the cost of future vehicle repairs.
- Magnuson Moss Warranty Act: Learn about your rights to have repairs and maintenance services performed by your trusted auto shop – not just the dealership.
Check for safety recalls
A safety recall is issued when a vehicle manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a vehicle or any of its systems or components creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Vehicle manufacturers are required to fix the problem by repairing or replacing the recalled part(s). The repairs are made at no cost to the consumer.
If you receive a safety recall notice for your vehicle, ensure the safety of yourself and your passengers by scheduling to have the necessary repairs made as soon as possible. Here are some simple steps:
1. Access your vehicle’s recall information – Enter your 17-character Vehicle Identification Number at www.NHTSA.gov/recalls to review any recall information for your vehicle, including important repair instructions.
2. Schedule the recall repair – Contact your vehicle manufacturer or your local dealership to schedule the repair. The recall repair will be made at no cost to you.
3. Signup for recall alerts – Subscribe to NHTSA’s Recall Notification Email System to receive alerts about any future safety recalls.
Not sure if your vehicle has open recalls? Visit www.NHTSA.gov/recalls and enter your 17-character VIN in the easy-to-use lookup tool.
Request a collision repair inspection
Collision repairs are often hidden by the vehicle’s panels, so it can be hard to tell if repairs were performed correctly—or if they were done at all. The same can be true for total loss vehicles that are repaired and returned to service under salvage title.
BAR’s Auto Body Inspection Program offers a convenient, no-cost inspection of collision-related repairs to help ensure the safety of you and your vehicle.
File a complaint
Most consumers have a generally positive experience when taking their vehicle to an auto shop for repairs or services. But, if you have concerns about a shop’s work or service and cannot resolve those issues with the shop's management, we encourage you to file a complaint. A BAR representative will work with you and the licensee to try and resolve the issue.