Kersten provides insight on motor vehicle repairs

He urges consumers to review information with Bureau of Consumer Protection
Luke Reimer

The Bureau of Consumer Protection appeared at the Birnamwood Library March 7 to give guests tips, tricks and advice when looking at buying or servicing an automobile.

Agency liaison Jeff Kersten lead the seminar, touching on topics including safe purchasing of vehicles, advice on quotes from dealerships and consumer protection. Kersten opened the lecture talking about what someone should do if they decide to fix a problem with their automobile themselves.

Kersten said that if someone is looking into fixing their vehicle by themselves, they should be careful of searching for parts or help online, adding that the first indicator should be an “S” after “http” in a website URL. The “S” stands for security and indicates that the website is safe to use and encrypted.

“If you are buying something from a website that you have never heard of before, there are some things to watch out for,” said Kersten. “It could be a fake website, where they are offering parts that are too good to be true. People send over their debit or credit card information, lose money and never get the parts that they ordered.”

If someone is unsure about a website, Kersten recommends to copy and paste the website’s URL into a search engine, like Google, and add the words, “scammer” or “fraud”.

“A lot of people like to complain about stuff online today and if they lost money or didn’t get parts they are probably going to be complaining about it — it is kind of a tricky way to get to the bottom of if it is a real website, or not,” said Kersten.

Kersten also explained that another option for collecting information on suspicious websites is to contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection, where they will provide any information that they have on the website in question.

“We have a huge database of all of the complaints that have been filed with us,” said Kersten. “Right over the phone, we tell you how many complaints we had over the past three years.”

When buying parts, Kersten said that consumers should be aware of the warranty on them. He added that understanding warranties can be difficult for those who are not prepared.

“Warranties get crazy — full, limited, express, implied — I thought warranties were simple until I started working here,” said Kersten. “Look at the parts and see what the warranties say to help you make a better choice on what parts you might be buying for your car.”

In regards to taking a vehicle to a repair shop, Kersten noted that an estimate has to be presented in writing before work starts on the vehicle if the charge is over $50.

“I really urge people to read these contracts and take them seriously,” said Kersten. “Do not just initial where the person will indicate — know what you are signing.”

He noted that consumers also have the right to request parts of the vehicle that were replaced.

“The idea with that law is that it makes it harder for shops to say that they did all of these repairs and give you bill after,” said Kersten. “At least now, if you ask to see those parts, they have to give them to you, or at least let you see them.”

For anyone having problems with a vehicle at a repair shop, in regards to issues with estimates, the shop keeping the vehicle, or issues with requested parts, they can file a complaint with the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

When looking into buying a new car or replacing an old vehicle, Kersten warned about the dangers of buying from a private seller. He said those vehicles are almost always sold “as is.”

“Hopefully the seller is disclosing what is potentially wrong with the vehicle, but if not, it is between you and them,” said Kersten, noting that the Bureau of Consumer Protection has little ability to help in those situations. “If not, it is between you and them and you may have to go to court to prove that something was wrong with the vehicle before they sold it to you — that is all a mess.”

He added if possible, the customer should meet the seller in a bright, public area, due to the fact that the customer will probably be carrying a lot of money at the time of the transaction.

“Lots of police stations offer areas where you can hold these transactions,” said Kersten.

Kersten ended his seminar by informing consumers on how they can file a complaint with the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“Consumers can start out by just calling our hot line (800-422-7128) and they can email out the complaint form or we can mail the complaint form for free, or we can talk people through filing a complaint on our website,” said Kersten. “We will get that to one of our mediators in three days. They review it for violations or potential violations of state law or administrative code. Even if we don’t find a violation our process still is to send a letter to the business with the full complaint. We then give them a two-week window to give us a written response. Then it can go in a number of different avenues.”