Yes. Some states (such as California) have rules that regulate the inspection and repair of certain vehicle systems such as brakes and emission control components. There are also federal rules that prohibit tampering or disconnecting emission controls. But for general types of repairs, there are no official regulations, standards or guidelines in most instances.
This is changing, however. In an attempt to "clean up" the auto repair industry, "voluntary" standards have been developed and are now being adopted by many service facilities. But these voluntary standards are by no means universally accepted.
Until very recently, there were no such standards or guidelines for inspection or repair procedures. When a mechanic inspected a vehicle or made a repair, he more or less did it his own way. He usually followed "industry accepted practices," but the truth of the matter was that industry accepted practices varied widely.
To address consumer concerns over this issue and head off threatened legislation that would have dictated inspection guidelines and repair procedures for the automotive repair industry, the Automotive Parts and Accessories Association (APAA) spearheaded a coalition of automotive parts suppliers, service providers, retailers and vehicle manufacturers in 1992 to create the "Maintenance Awareness Program." The coalition eventually became its own nonprofit organization and was renamed the "Motorist Assurance Program" or MAP (see related question 133).
The "Uniform Inspection Guidelines" that MAP hammered out cover the following areas of automotive service and repair:
* ABS brakes
* Exhaust system
* Steering & suspension (includes tires & alignment)
* Engine maintenance & performance (includes cooling system, ignition, fuel and emissions control)
* Engine repair (internal mechanical components)
* Electrical systems (battery, starter, charging system)
* Heating, ventilation and air conditioning
* Transmission & driveline
Each set of guidelines describes in great detail the items that need to be inspected, how each item should be inspected, and criteria for determining if a component is good or bad. The bottom line in most instances is if a component is damaged, broken, failed or exceeds the vehicle manufacturer's specified wear limit, it needs to be repaired or replaced. The guidelines clearly specify when certain types of repairs are required, and when such repairs that are not absolutely necessary can be "suggested" or recommended.
According to the MAP guidelines, a "required repair" is necessary when:
* A component no longer performs its intended purpose (meaning it is broken or has failed). This would include things such as a brake or coolant hose that is leaking, a muffler with a hole in it, a broken drive belt, fouled spark plugs, a failed engine sensor, etc. Your engine may not run, drive or brake properly (or safely) unless such repairs are made.
* A component does not meet a "design specification" regardless of whether it still works or not. This includes parts that exceed the vehicle manufacturers wear or operating limits. Examples here could include things like worn brake shoes or pads, loose ball joints or tie rod ends, a wheel that is out of alignment, etc. If something is worn out, loose or out of adjustment, it needs to be replaced or corrected.
* A component is missing. This might include emission control components that someone removed (like the catalytic converter) or other parts that perform a vital function or are necessary for the vehicle to operate properly, meet government emission and/or safety requirements.
MAP says certain types of repairs may be suggested or recommended if:
* A component is near the end of its useful life, is very close to the manufacturer's wear limit or discard specification, is on the verge of failure, or will need replacing soon (even if it still works or meets specs now). The rationale here is why wait to replace something that's about to fail if it can be replaced or fixed now?
Two issues are involved here: reliability and convenience. If the part that is about to fail is not replaced or fixed, it may fail and leave you stranded or cause other problems or damage. For example, a radiator hose is eight years old and has never been replaced. It may look okay, but be full of cracks that can't be seen on the outside. If the hose fails, the engine will overheat (which besides causing a break down may also cause heat-related damage to the engine!). So the technician may recommend replacing your old hoses as preventative maintenance.
As for convenience, having a repair done now may eliminate the need for a second appointment if the vehicle is already in for other service or repairs. In some cases, this may actually save you money by reducing labor costs if the part(s) that need to be replaced is one that is related to another part which is being serviced or replaced. For example, replacing the clutch requires a lot of disassembly. It usually makes sense, therefore, to replace all the major clutch components (pressure plate, disk and throw-out bearing) when the job is done so it doesn't have to be redone if one of these parts isn't replaced and later fails.
* It would be of benefit to the customer or the customer requests it. For example, let's say your brakes work fine but are noisy. A technician might suggest replacing the brake pads and resurfacing the rotors to cure your noise problem. Another type of repair that would fit into this category would be "upgrades" you might request, like installing different springs or heavy-duty or air-assist shocks if you're going to be towing a trailer, replacing your existing tires with performance tires, all-season tires or snow tires, etc.
* It is necessary to comply with the vehicle manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. To keep a new car engine or powertrain warranty in effect, the vehicle manufacturer says you must have certain maintenance performed at specified mileage and/or time intervals. This includes things like changing your oil and filters regularly, replacing the spark plugs, and so on. If you don't do the required maintenance, they don't have to honor your warranty should you have a problem later on -- and that can be a very expensive mistake!
* If the technician thinks a repair or adjustment would be beneficial based on his own experience. The implication here is that the technician often knows best. If he thinks replacing or adjusting a certain component would help solve or prevent a problem, he probably has good reason for saying so. It doesn't necessarily mean he's right, but it is based on past experience with similar conditions in other vehicles. An example here might be a recommendation to replace your existing battery with a larger one for improved cold starting reliability. Your old battery might still be working fine. But if the technician has seen cold starting problems in other cars with a battery the same size as yours, he may have a very good reason for recommending a more powerful battery.
In any event, don't be afraid to ask the technician or service why when a certain repair or adjustment is suggested. The should be able to give you a satisfactory explanation. If they can't, then you might be well advised to ask someone else for a second opinion.
A final point about the MAP guidelines: The guidelines say that before any service is performed on a vehicle, an inspection of the appropriate system must be performed. The findings of this inspection must then be explained to the customer and documented (written down) on a form (work order or inspection form) to indicate the condition of the items inspected. Furthermore, the form should clearly indicate which parts need attention, what parts or services may be required,
and which are suggested.
Copies of the MAP guidelines may be obtained from:
808 17th Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20006