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On lookout for shady repair shops

Next week, state investigators will check to make sure Pinellas auto businesses are registered and complying with regulations.

By TOM ZUCCO
Published February 17, 2006


Operators of unregistered auto repair shops in Pinellas County beware. Beginning Monday, it's sweeps week.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Thursday it will conduct a sweep next week of each of the county's 998 auto repair shops. Investigators will check to make sure the shops are registered and complying with state regulations governing estimates and invoices for repair work.

Although it may seem as if announcing a sweep to find unregistered auto repair shops several days early is like finding out there will be a surprise test before it's given, state officials insist that's not the intent.

"Yes, we're giving everyone the courtesy of a couple of days notice," department spokesman Terence McElroy said Thursday.

"What we're trying to do is make sure the shops are doing what they're supposed to do."

During the past six months, the department conducted similar sweeps in Collier, Seminole and Bay counties. Investigators found 112 shops violating estimate and invoice requirements and uncovered 13 unregistered shops.

Besides checking shops that are on their records, McElroy said, investigators will go through phone books and county records looking for occupational licenses. And investigators will search the old-fashioned way: driving up and down streets looking for backyard auto shops.

Among the 30,315 consumer complaints the department received last year, more than 2,100 involved auto repairs.

"But there's probably a whole lot more people who had problems," McElroy said.

"Auto repairs was No. 4 among all written complaints, but we got four to five times that number of calls or inquiries about it."

Under Florida law, auto repair shops must be registered with the state, or they face initial fines of as much as $300.

And the law requires that customers be provided a written estimate for any repair that exceeds $100 and a complete invoice listing all charges after a repair has been made.

Tom Zucco can be reached at zucco@sptimes.com or 727 893-8247.

[Last modified February 17, 2006, 02:15:35]


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