Overview on BAR's Investigation and Discipline Process
In support of its consumer protection mandate, the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) mediates complaints and investigates violations of the Automotive Repair Act (Act) and related laws and regulations. Depending on the nature and seriousness of confirmed violations, BAR may utilize educational tools to address noncompliance, or refer the matter for formal disciplinary action. Through investigations and the formal discipline process, BAR's enforcement operations aim to support business activities by ensuring a fair and competitive automotive repair and Smog Check marketplace for all stakeholders.
BAR employs a variety of investigative methods and sources to monitor licensee compliance and, when necessary, initiate investigations. Those methods and sources include:
- Complaint trends revealing a pattern of violations
- Auto Body Inspection Program results
- Anonymous tips
- Smog Check inspection data
- Other available resources
Investigations are conducted by BAR representatives responsible for gathering evidence through various techniques such as undercover vehicle operations, video surveillance, advertising review, and a review of the licensee's records. After a review of all evidence, the investigation may result in one of the following enforcement outcomes:
- Proactive conference – used when BAR's concerns are minimal and the licensee can likely address the concerns through minor changes to current business practices.
- Office conference – used when BAR has more serious concerns regarding the licensee's business practices and more substantive changes must be made.
- Issuance of a citation – Health and Safety Code violations (i.e., violations related to the Smog Check Program) and unlicensed activity may result in a citation that may contain an order of abatement and/or fine.
- Formal discipline – egregious violations, such as fraud or an action that may threaten the safety of consumers, are referred to the Attorney General for the filing of an accusation to revoke the registration/license.
The formal administrative discipline process is governed by the Administrative Procedures Act (California Government Code beginning with section 11500). BAR initiates the process by referring its investigation to the Attorney General. If the Deputy Attorney General (DAG) finds the evidence to be sufficient, an accusation, which is the legal charging document detailing the findings of BAR's investigation, is prepared, filed (i.e., signed by the BAR chief), and served upon the licensee.
An important document included with service of the accusation is a notice of defense (NOD). The licensee responding to the accusation (respondent) has 15 days to submit the NOD to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) or request a settlement. If the respondent either fails to file a NOD or, having filed a NOD, fails to appear at the hearing, BAR will issue a default decision. If a respondent chooses to settle, a stipulated settlement will be determined through mutual agreement. If the case goes before an ALJ, the ALJ will hear evidence from all parties and then issue a proposed decision, including proposed discipline. The accusation resolution (i.e., default decision, stipulated settlement, or proposed decision) is then submitted to the director of the Department of Consumer Affairs for review and a final discipline decision.
BAR's Guidelines for Disciplinary Orders and Terms of Probation (Disciplinary Guidelines) are used by ALJs, DAGs, and other interested parties throughout the formal discipline process to promote consistency in disciplinary orders for similar offenses on a statewide basis. The Disciplinary Guidelines establish the following possible disciplinary outcomes:
- Revocation – the registration/license is revoked. The respondent can no longer perform automotive repair or activities applicable to the specific license (i.e., brake, lamp, and Smog Check services)
- Revocation (stayed with probation only) – the registration/license is revoked; however, the revocation is stayed. The respondent is placed on probation for a set period and is subject to terms and conditions of probation as specified in the disciplinary order.
- Revocation (stayed with probation and suspension) – the registration/license is revoked; however, the revocation is stayed. The respondent is placed on probation and the registration/license is suspended for a period of time as specified in the disciplinary order.
- On rare occasions, an accusation may be dismissed or withdrawn.
The formal discipline process, while complex, ensures each case is evaluated and negotiated based solely on the facts and circumstances of the individual case and that discipline outcome is in alignment with the violation. Probation orders are offered for the respondent to demonstrate compliance with the Act and related laws and regulations. A suspension order, which is limited to no less than three days and no more than 30 days, provides the respondent an opportunity to evaluate and reset business practices that contributed to the violation(s).
To learn more about BAR's enforcement operations, use the Enforcement Actions search tool, view BAR's quarterly enforcement statistics reports available on the BAR Advisory Group page, and visit our Enforcement page at www.bar.ca.gov.