When you take your car to the local mechanic to get it fixed, you may have an idea of what’s wrong with the car. You might even think you know how much it’ll cost to fix it. But, what if you get there and find out the problem’s a lot bigger than you thought it was? Can a mechanic refuse to give your car back? Well, the general answer is no. There is really only one situation in which a mechanic can refuse to give your car back. We’ll talk about that a little later.
Generally speaking, a mechanic doesn’t have the right to keep your car, no matter how unsafe the car is to drive.
For example, if you take your car in for an oil change, the mechanic may discover that you need brakes. He may even take the car for a test drive. If he believes the brakes are really dangerous, he may tell you that he’s required to fix it. He may even tell you that, legally, he can’t let you have the car back without fixing it. If he says this, don’t fall for it.
There is no law that says a mechanic can keep your car and require you to make repairs. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to take your car without getting the repairs. It just means that you do actually have a choice.
There’s No Law Allowing a Mechanic to Keep Your Car Until Repairs are Done
Just because there’s something wrong with your car, the mechanic doesn’t have a right to keep your car. If they tell you they do, they’re not telling you the truth. It doesn’t matter what state you live in, you can’t be legally forced to pay to get your car fixed. Now, there is a big caveat to that.
While the mechanic can’t force you to get the repairs done, they may require you to sign a release before you leave with the car. If the problem with your car makes it unsafe to drive, the mechanic’s shop isn’t going to want to be on the hook.
Let’s say that you refuse to get your brakes replaced and drive off the mechanic’s property. Two blocks later, you get into an accident because your brakes failed. You kill the other driver and you end up paralyzed. The mechanic is going to want to make sure you can’t sue him for damages. This is why they ask that you sign a document saying that your mechanic made you aware of the car’s dangerous condition and you chose to not get the repairs done.
What if the Mechanic Does Repairs that You Didn’t Authorize?
When you drop your car off to the mechanic, you usually authorize certain work. You may ask them to do specific repairs. Or, you may tell them that they can only do repairs after you authorize them.
Finally, you may give permission for them to do repairs up to a certain dollar amount. Once you leave the shop, the mechanic discovers that there are repairs needed that you didn’t talk about. They decide to do the repairs and don’t call you for authorization. When you return to pick up your car, they tell you the bill is twice as much as you thought it would be. They tell you that, if you don’t pay the bill, you can’t have your car. What are you supposed to do in this case?
Well, in almost every state, there is something called a mechanic’s lien. This basically means that a mechanic can keep your car until you pay your bill in full. Even if your car is worth $100,000, if you have a bill for $20, they can keep your car until the bill is paid. And, in some states, they can even charge a daily impound cost. Since your car is taking up room in their garage, they can charge you additional fees.
To avoid this, just pay your bill. However, the mechanic’s lien only applies to authorized repairs. So, if your mechanic does work that you didn’t authorize, agree to pay the portion that was agreed upon. This should clear the matter up. But, if it doesn’t, you may run into serious problems.
What Should You Do if Your Mechanic Refuses to Release Your Car?
If your mechanic refuses to release your car, you have a few options. It really depends on why they refuse to give you back your car. If it’s because you refuse to let them do certain repairs, you really only have two options.
First, you can call the police. Let them know the situation and ask them to talk to the mechanic. Usually, if it gets to this point, the mechanic is just going to give your car back and document the fact that you refused to make the repairs necessary to keep your car safe. This is to protect their shop in the event that you get into an accident later.
Your second option is to take civil action. You can file an action with the municipal court asking that the garage be ordered to give back your car. The problem is, this can take weeks to resolve. You can’t afford to be without your car for that long.
If the reason they won’t release your car is because of non-payment, a civil action is your only option. In fact, odds are, the mechanic will have already filed a civil action against you for non-payment. You may be better off paying the bill and then taking legal action later if you don’t believe the payment was warranted. Legal action is always the last resort – both for you and the mechanic. They’re not going to want this kind of trouble and neither will you. Try to work something out with the mechanic. This way, you get your car back and you don’t have to ruin a relationship.