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, we have 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 major repairs listed that come as a surprise to you. You can even request an explanation of the unexpected price difference in writing.
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. 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 percent without explicit permission from the customer to complete the additional repairs.
If you can’t or won’t pay for repairs that you did agree to, the shop is legally entitled to keep your car under a “mechanic’s lien” (also known as an “artisan’s lien”). 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 he or she refuses to return your car, you may need to call the police to report the dispute. (Note: Do not report your car as stolen. Explain that the shop is holding your car 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.)
After that, you will need to file a consumer complaint with your state’s consumer protection offices (usually the Office of the Attorney General). You may also want to notify the Better Business Bureau and call a lawyer to help you resolve the issue. A lawyer can help you by sending a demand letter to the mechanic or, if necessary, initiating a lawsuit. If you have an estimate in writing, the law should be on your side.
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. We do not recommend nitpicking small charges on your bill, but, if the mechanic has made a major repair unrelated to the original issue without your consent, you most likely have a case.
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, communicate your concerns about any repairs clearly, 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 it needs to. Be clear when accepting or denying the repair(s) and charges.
While the mechanic is working on your car, he or she may find other problems. It is the shop’s responsibility to call you to let you know about the additional concerns and to ask your permission to fix them as well. 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 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 actual repair work is done. Before you drop off your car, 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. Don’t assume that a verbal agreement will hold in case of a dispute.
Mechanic fixed a car without permission? What now? A mechanic should not repair anything on your car without providing an estimate and getting your consent, especially if it’s an expensive repair. To avoid this problem, communicate clearly with the mechanic about the problems you’ve noticed and get your estimate in writing. If you have charged for something you did not agree to, you may need to file a consumer complaint with your state Attorney General or take legal action. As long as you have a written estimate, the law should be on your side.
Want to work on your own car from now on? Check out our article: What to Know About Renting a Garage to Work on Your Car, like Where to Find One