YOU'RE IN MASTERkit:

manage a mechanic

LEARN MORE
+

manage a mechanic

Communicating with a mechanic can be difficult – and intimidating. It can be hard to describe the problem, understand potential solutions, and make sure you're getting a fair deal. This MasterKit has you what you need to talk shop like a pro and stay in the driver's seat – literally and figuratively.
Handshake with a Mechanic
Article / 5 MINS

Know Your Rights: How to Regain Control When a Car Repair Goes Wrong

When a repair goes wrong, you don't have to feel like you're at the mercy of your mechanic - armed with a little knowledge, you can confidently address uncomfortable situations and avoid a lot of hassle.

Most of the time, auto repairs work out. But there will also be times when you come across a mechanic whose work is not so great. Problems will arise regarding quality of work, completion of the job, repair costs and fair compensation. You'll want to pay the mechanic fairly, but tempers can rise and everyone gets frustrated by a disagreement. So what do you do?

Here is a step-by-step explanation of how to calmly deal with the top questions and frustrations customers have with mechanics. Use the Q&A guide below to know your rights so you can assess the situation and make the best strategic move for your car, your wallet and your peace of mind.

Question: How can I spot a bad repair job?
Answer: Most bad repair jobs fall into one of three categories: fixes that didn't work, work that wasn't done at all, and inflated bills. The first type of work tends to be obvious — you take your car in for service, and within a few days, the problem is back. The other two, though, can be harder to detect. Sure, that's cause for concern, but if you follow these tips you can be confident you're getting the best repair job:

  • Get quotes from several mechanics any time you're facing an expensive repair, and make sure the work includes a warranty or a guarantee on the quality of service. You can also use YourMechanic's online calculator to get an instant quote. When the work is done, compare your final bill to the price you were originally quoted. Review all the line items for surprises before you sign off on the work and pay your bill, and ask for an explanation of anything you didn’t expect or don’t understand.
  • To ensure that your faulty parts really were replaced, ask the shop for your old parts back. This serves as proof that they were removed from your car and that they were actually damaged or worn in the first place. Some states even have laws on the books that entitle you to keep your old parts.
Question: What do I say when I'm not satisfied with the job?
Answer: If you're disappointed with your service or its price but don't suspect fraud, your best bet is simply to talk directly to your mechanic. If it's a larger shop, you can also take your complaints to management. We understand that it's a difficult situation, but if you follow these helpful tips you're far more likely to have a productive conversation:

  • Communicate calmly and professionally. No matter how frustrated you are, avoid starting off with accusations or threatening lawsuits. Once you put the shop on the defensive, you'll have a hard time bringing the conversation back around to something more productive.
  • Instead, remain assertive but polite. Compare the work that was done to the contract or work order you signed for the repair.
  • Note any discrepancies, and explain exactly why you’re dissatisfied.
  • Specify the outcome you're hoping for, such as a reduction on the bill or a second, no-charge attempt at the repair. Remember: If you're completely dissatisfied with the work and not confident that the mechanic can address your complaints, you could ask for a full or partial refund. If the shop refuses, you may be tempted to dispute the charge with your credit card company. If you do, you'll need to document that the shop did not provide the services you paid for — but you also run the risk that the mechanic will sue you for nonpayment of your bill, which could damage your credit rating. Be aware of the trade-offs and choose wisely.
If you're dissatisfied with work on your car, it doesn't hurt to ask for a refund. Here are more tips for dealing with worst-case car repair situations.
Question: Should I refuse payment for incomplete or faulty work?
Answer: No. And here's why: Most work completed in the United States is subject to a legal concept known as the mechanic's lien. If a customer refuses or otherwise fails to pay for repairs, the shop can file a lien against the car, which legally entitles them to keep it and do with it as they see fit.

This can seem like a particularly customer-unfriendly law, but in almost all cases, the shop legitimately completed at least some of the work listed on the bill and is entitled to compensation for that work. That includes the cost to diagnose the problem, the value of any parts installed and any other work that really was done. So you're better off disputing the specific charges through your local consumer protection agency and asking for a full or partial refund rather than refusing to pay.

Question: Can the mechanic refuse to release my car?
Answer: If you refuse to pay your bill, your mechanic can legally refuse to release your car to you. But, once you've paid, you're completely free to take the car home or to another shop, and the mechanic has no grounds at all to keep it. So, if you reach a complete impasse in your negotiations, pay your bill and take your car, calling a tow truck if it's not in working condition or safe to drive. Keep your receipt for the tow if you're considering legal action — you may be eligible for a reimbursement.

Paying your bill and taking your car elsewhere probably sounds completely counterintuitive, but it's one of the best ways to build a case. Another shop (or two) can take a look at your car, evaluate the work that was done and recommend a course of action. Thoroughly document everything and keep all the paperwork to support your side of the story if you end up having to go to court.

Pro Tip: Insurance repairs can come with more legal leverage than repairs you pay for on your own. Insurers often step in and help, especially if the work has made your car unsafe. Liberty Mutual guarantees repairs for as long as you own the car, as long as the repairs were performed at a shop within its Guaranteed Repair Network.

Question: Can I take legal action if I suspect fraud?
Answer:
Your first step will be to determine if the mechanic actually did anything wrong. If the technician legitimately tried to solve the problem and couldn't, there was no negligence or fraud involved — and in many states, one or the other is necessary to collect damages.

Laws vary from state to state, so your best bet is to consult a local attorney who's experienced in these types of situations. However, if you can't afford an attorney or don't think the cost of your claim is worth outside legal help, you can file in small claims court on your own. You can also file a complaint with the Attorney General in your state.

Question: Should I get help from the Better Business Bureau (BBB)?
Answer: The BBB is an organization that helps settle service-related disputes between customers and businesses. As a mediator, it can review your complaint and ask the business to respond.1

The shop might respond to your complaint, which will open up the lines of communication and give you another chance to get things worked out.

However, the mechanic or shop may choose not to respond, in which case, the BBB isn't going to be able to do much to help. The BBB's leverage comes from the fact that businesses generally don't want a poor BBB rating, but the organization can't compel a business to take any particular action.

Regardless of whether you contact the BBB, you can also contact other third-party organizations, such as consumer protection agencies or the licensing board that regulates the business, for assistance or advice.

Question: How can I avoid this situation in the future?
Answer: Starting over with a new mechanic can be daunting, especially if you used to have a good relationship with this one. Ask friends and family for their recommendations, and follow our 5 Steps to Find a Mechanic You Can Trust. When you do move on to a new mechanic, thoroughly read over the authorization to begin work before you sign it. Make sure it clearly details the job and specifies that you will be contacted before any changes are made, especially if they will increase the cost of the work. Check your invoices, ask questions, and take home your old parts (greasy and dirty as they might be). This communicates to the mechanic, in a clear yet subtle way, that you're paying attention and will notice if things start to go astray.
WAS THIShelpful?
UP NEXT IN THE

manage a mechanic

MASTERkit
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE THESE MASTERkits
Hand using wrench
9 ITEMS  /  29 MINS

conquer car care

Find a trustworthy mechanic, know maintenance costs and avoid unexpected problems –whether your car is new or old.
Arm hanging out of car window
5 ITEMS  /  13 MINS

stay safe on the road

Be sure to prepare yourself and your family to deal with any roadside emergencies.