Do You Have to Pay If They Fix Your Car Without Permission?

Mechanic fixing a car without permission

Mechanics shouldn’t conduct any repairs without your permission, but sometimes it does happen.

After being charged for an unauthorized repair, you should inspect your bill closely, should report the issue to your state’s consumer protection offices, and may even need to file a lawsuit against the mechanic.

In some cases, paying the mechanic’s bill will cost less than solving the dispute legally; however, many states protect consumers from paying for unauthorized repairs.

Below are the steps you can take when a mechanic has fixed your car without your permission, as well as tips to avoid this problem in the future.

Can a Mechanic Fix Your Car Without Permission?

Your mechanic should always inform you if additional repairs are needed on your vehicle and should never conduct repairs without giving you an estimate and getting your approval.

If a mechanic has fixed your car without permission, there are a few steps you can (and should) take to address the issue and, in many cases, avoid paying for the unauthorized repairs.

Inspect Your Final Bill

When you pick up your car from a mechanic, the final bill should be close to or the same as the estimate provided before the repair. If it isn’t, you’ll need to figure out why.

To start, check your invoice for a summary of charges. Ask the mechanic about any significant repairs listed that come as a surprise to you. You can even request an explanation of the unexpected price difference in writing.[1]

If you got an estimate in writing and did not agree to additional repairs, the shop may have to cover the cost and return your car — meaning you will not pay for the unauthorized repairs.

Laws vary by state, but some, including Illinois and Wisconsin, require that mechanics give estimates for every repair and follow those estimates closely.[2][3]

Under Illinois’ Automotive Repair Act, for example, not only are estimates required, but the final bill can’t exceed the estimate by more than 10% without explicit permission from the customer to complete the additional repairs.[2]

If you can’t or won’t pay for repairs that you did agree to, the shop may be legally entitled to keep your car under a “mechanic’s lien” (also known as an “artisan’s lien”).[3]

Laws regarding mechanic’s liens vary by state. You may need to contact a lawyer in this instance.

Report the Issue

Billing disputes are never easy exchanges. If you cannot come to terms with the mechanic or shop owner and they refuse to return your car, you may need to call the police to report the dispute.

Note that you shouldn’t report your car as stolen. Explain that the shop is holding your vehicle and ask for police assistance in solving the dispute.

A report of a stolen car will likely be considered a false police report, which is illegal to file.[4]

After contacting the police, you’ll need to file a consumer complaint with your state’s consumer protection offices (usually the Office of the Attorney General).[5]

You may also want to notify the Better Business Bureau and call a lawyer to help resolve the issue.

A lawyer can help you by sending a demand letter to the mechanic or, if necessary, initiating a lawsuit.[6] The law should be on your side if you have an estimate in writing.

Pick Your Battles

Taking legal action against a mechanic can be very costly — even more than the cost of the repairs — so depending on the total of the bill, you might want to pay the mechanic instead and vow never to go back to that particular shop.

It isn’t usually a good idea to nitpick small charges on your bill. Still, you most likely have a case if the mechanic has made a major repair unrelated to the original issue without your consent.

Avoiding Disputes on Future Repairs

In the future, you can avoid disputes over repairs by finding a mechanic you trust and communicating openly with the mechanic.

Ask friends or coworkers for repair shop recommendations rather than going in blind or relying on online reviews.

When visiting the repair shop, clearly communicate your concerns about any repairs, get a copy of any documents you sign, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

If it’s a bigger shop, try to get an opportunity to speak directly with the mechanic — instead of the office staff — to discuss the issue you’ve noticed in detail.

Make sure you give the shop a phone number where you can be reached, and try to answer the phone when the mechanic calls so your car isn’t sitting at the shop longer than necessary.

While the mechanic works on your car, they may find other problems. It is the shop’s responsibility to call you to let you know about the additional concerns and ask your permission to fix them.

At any point, you can decide to have the mechanic fix only a few things or nothing at all if you want to take your car to another shop for a second opinion. Be clear when accepting or denying the repair(s) and charges.

Be aware that you may be on the hook for a diagnostic charge — or the cost for the mechanic to look at your car and determine the problem(s) before any repair work is done. Before you drop off your vehicle, you can ask if there is such a charge.

Some dishonest shops may go as far as removing parts from your car in what they may call a “diagnosis” process. A dishonest shop may refuse to put the car back together unless payment is made.

To avoid this, make sure to get any repair work and price estimates in writing.[1] Don’t assume that a verbal agreement will hold in case of a dispute.

Want to work on your own car from now on? Check out our research on renting garage space to work on your car.

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