Sorry for the length.
tl;dr version: do I have any recourse when a mechanic seems to be dragging his feet completing a job and initiates billable work without first seeking my approval?
I began taking my aging car to a local auto repair shop that I thought had a good reputation. The shop has four lifts just to give you and idea of its size. It’s a family owned operation that seems to have two to three employed mechanics working at any given time.
For most of the life of this car (a 1997 Mazda Protege which I bought new) I took it into the dealer for service. I’m use to making a service appointment, and, if it was minor stuff, having it done within an hour or two. If it was more extensive, it might be a couple of days if they had to wait for a part, but nevertheless they would give me a good estimate of when the repairs would be done.
The first time I took my car to this local auto repair shop it was because I needed a new battery. Most places I have taken my car to in the past (like Sears) can do this the same day. This guy took three days to change the battery without giving me any indication that it would take him that long. That should have given me pause.
Well, then around 5-6 months later I had a car problem come up. I noticed that my engine temp started heading up to high at highway speed. I turned on my cabin heat to bring the temperature down. When I got closer to the house and was on slower roads I moved the slider back to the cool setting and the slider jammed so it would only go so far to the left.
The local auto repair shop had sent out a coupon for a general inspection, oil and air filter change, so I decided to take the car in. I called ahead the day before and took it in the next day. When I took it in I told him about the rising engine temp and the stuck cabin temp slider and also that I thought I had a bad oxygen sensor because the engine light had come on occasionally in the past with that code. I said, so I’ll call you tomorrow to see whether the car is ready, and the owner said something like, sounds good. I called at the end of the day over the next two days and he would say that they didn’t have time to get to the car that day. Finally he did the work on the third day.
One of his mechanics diagnosed a leaky radiator and they said the controller was unfixable and the best he could do was to prop open/close (depending on season) the blend door. I took the car home (cause I needed it), and I called him the following Monday to say I would bring it in the Monday after that for the repairs I needed, giving him time, I told him, to order the parts he would need, for which he thanked me - for the lead time.
I brought in the car that next Monday. This is what I wanted done: New radiator, new oxygen sensor, prop open the blend door. Also the AC had not really been working right so I said if it is something easy like it just needs some freon then go ahead and do it; otherwise forget about it. And also sometimes I would hear a rattle under the car, which they thought could be a loose heat shield. I said if it present a danger then take it off; otherwise leave it.
I had asked one of the mechanics the previous time if all of this could be done in one day and he said, yes.
I called once on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and each time they had not started it yet. Finally Friday I went over there and it was on one of the lifts being worked on. I walked over to the mechanic and what I initially thought was the radiator cast aside was my AC condenser. They said it was damaged and that they had ordered a new one but it was the wrong one or something so they had to order it again. Now this is work that I did not ask for, but I saw that everything else was getting done finally and I asked whether the car would be done by the following Monday and they said that it depended whether FedEx came early or late Monday.
So Monday I called, but FedEx had been late, and I also got the news that the rattle was not a heat shield but it was my catalytic converter and that he was looking for a replacement. I asked for an estimate and he said he could not give me one till he found one. OK. Now most places I assume would call you with an estimate. Nevertheless, I called him Tuesday to see whether he had found one. He said yes and he had ordered it, and that it would arrive Thursday. Again, he was proceeding without seeking any approval. (And an EPA laws says he and I - owner and installer - have to sign a form for installation of an out of warranty 3rd party catalytic converter.) I asked him how much it was. He said he’d have to look at his email and that he would call me back. He never called back. I called twice Thursday. No one answered the phone. I let it ring for 3 minutes long each time till I got disconnected.
So what should be my next step and what options do I ultimately have here. I don’t like that he has initiated work, particularly without providing an estimate nor seeking my approval first. I have no idea when my car will be done and he doesn’t seem to be accountable for providing estimates, returning calls or even estimating when a job will be done.