Reader Question: My car broke down, and the tow truck driver referred me to a repair shop to fix the fuel pump and wiring. He chose a well-established shop in town. I signed a blank work order, and the shop took eight months to fix it. Now they're done, and they gave me an inflated bill for $1819.75 (the parts cost around $400, and labor was $1400 for 25 hrs.) I know they didn't take this long to fix. I called a few consumer agencies, and found out their business license has been delinquent for one and a half years, and they have a bad rating with the B.B.B. The owner isn't willing to negotiate the bill. What can I do? What are my rights? Help!!
Man o man... that is going to be a tough one. I have been on the suing side (thank God) in small claims court, and it was an ordeal! The judge for the most part does not decide if the deal was fair or not, he looks to see if any laws were broken, and what contract or agreement you and the mechanic entered into. When you signed the blank repair order, you entered into an agreement - a written contract with the mechanic. In my shop, the service order states that you are solely responsible for payment when the job is completed, you waive your rights to stop payment, you give me authority to test drive the vehicle on public roads, and I am not responsible for theft or fire to your vehicle while it is in my care. It also states that I will repair your vehicle within a reasonable amount of time.
My service order does not say I have to repair your vehicle quickly, or by the end of the day, or I have to give you a loaner car, or that it will be ready when you want it to be ready.
I am not a lawyer, and I think you are going to need one, but you did sign the repair order... and the judge will definitely remind you of that. I don't think there is a law about how long it takes to make certain repairs, as long as they reasonably tried their best to repair it in a reasonable amount of time... so what is reasonable????? Obviously 8 months is not reasonable, but in all honesty, you should have saught legal action after the second week without your vehicle.
It is very hard to negotiate the bill once the work is completed. You signed a blank work order, then wanted to pick your price after the repair was made. I do not see the logic here at all. It is like deciding whose football team you want to play on after the game has ended…it's too late! If the mechanic could not give you a written or verbal estimate in two or three days, then that should have been your second clue. The first clue was having you sign the blank work order.
One thing that you did not mention in your e-mail was what type of vehicle this was. If this is a one-of-a-kind Aston Martin, and just to get the oil changed you have to special order the filter from Italy, then 8 months might be acceptable…and expected. If this is a 5 year old Chevy, then 8 months is not reasonable. I spend the first 3 chapters in my ebook detailing the importance of finding a reliable and honest mechanic before you really need one, and this is exactly why it is so important.
If it were me... I would chalk it up to "never deal with those *J&^#% guys again"... and consider it a lesson learned. I bet you will spend more than the repair cost trying to fight it out in court. My suit was for $500... and it cost me about $3500 to get it. So did I "win?"
On a side note. You mentioned that the bill was inflated, and you were charged for 25 hours of labor. You are in disagreement that they actually spent that much time on your vehicle. I ran some quick calculations, and I think maybe you actually got a "deal" after all. The going rate for vehicle storage in Texas is $17 a day, which in your case would total $4080. You were billed $1819.75, so actually you saved $2,260.25. There is a flip side to every coin, and believe me the judge will remind you of this when you visit him in court.
I have tried to be as honest and impartial as possible, but I know it was not what you wanted to hear... sorry.
Austin C Davis
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