Can a mechanic refuse to allow you to drive your car away because it's deemed "unsafe"?


A friend of mine recently took his 2001 Taurus to Sear’s to determine what was causing the car to vibrate when driving at highway speeds. The service center determined the issue was the front left wheel bearing and quoted a price of $385 for replacement. Since the same wheel bearing had been replaced less than a year prior, my friend wanted to take his car to a different mechanic for a second opinion. Sear’s said they would not allow the car to be driven away and would allow it to be removed only by tow. I’ve heard this complaint from other’s before (not only at Sears but other franchise tire and auto repair shops) and would like to find out if this is legit. Is there any protection for the consumer who doesn’t understand cars but understands when they are being taken advantage of? I’m not sure if this varies by state, but this was at a Sear’s located in Minnsota.


Not here in AZ,some mechanics from NY spoke of being able to"red tag" cars.Perhaps the situation depends if the car is in for a State mandated safety inspection.

How did the situation with your friend turn out? when push comes to shove does Sears beat people down when they want to leave with their cars.


Sears does not have any legal right to confiscate your property in any state at any time. I would have called the police and complained that Sears was trying to steal my car.


I think it’s the intimidation game, a friend was told at a Midas that she had to replace the 2-year old shocks on her car or she would crash and die! If it were me, I’d say fine, let’s call the police and let them decide!


Consumer laws and automobile laws vary from state to state, but this sounds suspicious. Check with your state Attorney General’s office, Consumer Affairs Division.

I’ve also heard of a shop stamping “UNSAFE TO DRIVE” in huge red letters to scare the customer. Shops that prey on people’s fears to get business are, in my opinion, crooked and immoral.


Please allow me to play Devil’s Advocate for a few moments.

Suppose for a moment that the diagnosis from Sears is correct, and that Sears allows her to drive away with that car. Now suppose that your friend does not actually take the car to another mechanic, but chooses to drive it, as is. Now, suppose that the front left wheel bearing seizes up at high speed, the car loses a wheel, an accident results, and that serious injuries and/or deaths take place.

Knowing that we live in a litigious society, do you doubt for a moment that your friend would file suit against Sears for “allowing her to drive a dangerous vehicle”? Even if it did not occur to her to file suit against Sears, someone–a friend, a neighbor, a relative, or an ambulance-chasing attorney–would put that bug in her ear, and she would wind up filing suit against Sears. And, she would likely win some kind of settlement out of court, just so that the case “goes away”.

If we did not live in a litigious society, this scenario might seem bizarre, but in the good old USA, circa 2009, the reality is that a suit would undoubtedly be filed, and that is why Sears managers have probably been advised to take the course of action that has been described.

And, before I am accused of being a marketing shill for Sears, or for the automotive repair industry in general, please allow me to dispel that notion.

A whole other topic that is ripe for discussion is “Why would someone take their car to Sears for maintenance or repair?”, but I will leave that discussion for another day or another thread.


Tell your friend to call the cops. Or maybe better, call the local TV station.


Sears hasn’t confiscated or stolen the car. They are willing to give it to the owner if the owner is willing to call a tow truck.

Although I am not a fan of Sears’ automotive service, I can understand why they won’t let the owner drive away in an unsafe car. The owner should thank Sears for being prudent and safe and should call a tow truck.


I would let you take it because it is your car. My brother does this at his shop. It doesnt happen very often but if he deems a car unsafe to drive he will notify the owner, take the owner into the shop and show the owner why he deems it unsafe. If the owner still wants to take his/her vehicle, he will stamp unsafe vehicle on the ticket, have the owner sign under the stamp so the customer understands he as the shop owner is not liable for any damages or injury from the unsafe vehicle. This in no way is a scare tactic, this is smart business. People will sue for anything now a days.



I think that Sears could provide written documentation of their safety concerns. The mechanic, shop manager and owner would sign it. Sears would keep the original and the owner would get a photocopy. If the owner is properly warned, then he should be able to drive away.


No private entity, like Sears, can legally restrict your access to your property. No private entity can place restrictions on the use of your property. If they felt strongly enough about it, Sears should have called the police to notify them that there was an unsafe vehicle on the road. Sears telling a person that they can’t drive their car away unless they pay for a service is called extortion, plain and simple.


It is called “signing out against medical advice”! Now when someone is drunk we don’t let them go. In this case the only reason Sears can keep the car is if they are concerned that the said driver will cause an accident and hurt OTHER people.


Sears, if they feel strongly about it, could request that the unsafe vehicle owner sign a liability waiver before driving away. If the owner refused that, then Sears would be smart to have an ongoing policy requesting a liability waiver in such cases.

Otherwise, it’s covered by business insurance as are potentially defective vehicle repairs. You can be sure that Sears would haul out the big lawyer guns if someone tried to scam them after refusing a repair judged needed for safety.

In this case, the action by that particular Sears store seems clumsy.


I understand the part about Sears playing it safe, and they should in a sue-happy society, but I don’t think Sears has a legal right to prevent the owner from taking the car.

Tell Sears to show them where in the law, not their policy, that says they can do this.
If it is their policy to hold a car then Sears should show them where the car owner has put their John Henry authorizing Sears to do this.

This could also be a blown diagnosis and someone is assuming that because the wheel is loose this automatically means the wheel bearing is bad. It could very well be a loose tie rod or ball joint causing the movement instead.


Sears could, at any time including after a lawsuit is initiated, put together all of the paperwork they want and sign it among themselves to their heart’s content. The vehicle owner,if he refused to sign it could refuse or throw his copy away and claim that he never saw it. If Sears put together a defense in reaction to one particular case after the fact, a trial lawyer could expose this with pointed questioning under oath.

An ongoing policy with liability waiver forms in stock is what is needed to defend themselves to keep their business insurance costs under control.


When you leave your car at a repair shop, only give them a single, spare, key. When you go to pick up your car, bring another key…


You don’t even know what state the OP is from, let alone the applicable laws in that state. Sears didn’t say this person had to get the repair. Sears gave this person another alternative. If he/she called her/his chosen towing company, he/she could get the car without having to pay Sears one red cent.

I agree there is a fine line between what Sears is doing and extortion, but if Sears is giving this person an out that doesn’t involve giving money to Sears, how is that extortion?

By the way, I also agree Sears is unwise for doing this. They could easily recommend a competitor that is close by so the owner can drive the car slowly on side streets and get a second opinion. However, as long as the driver can take possession of the car without giving Sears any money, that isn’t extortion. It is bad customer service and might even be illegal, but it isn’t extortion as long as the owner has other options.


What state this is in doesn’t matter, seizure of property is covered by federal law. Also it is not within Sears rights to name terms of the release of ones personal property. Anyways, at least we can agree that it is wrong…


Business is slow and desperate times call for desperate actions. I know of no law that allows a private business without court action to impound a car for whatever reason. Even an illegally parked car requires a ticket to be issued first before it can be towed. Simply call their bluff and call the police-at least you would get a second opinion on the legitimacy of the repair.

Regardless of the insurance risk and so on, it is very common for repair shops to add their dire warning on their estimates for work they recommend, legit or not. No court would let a mechanic at Sears impound a car and it would be beyond belief for any legislature to ever pass such a law.


30 years ago mechanics in NY use to be able to do that…The real unscrupulous places would basically hold your car ransom until you agreed to get the car fixed. They finally passed a law to ban that practice.

I’d be very surprised if it’s still allowed in ANY state. If it is…I’D MOVE.