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

I hope OP’s friend has gotten there car from Sears by now… If not, perhaps someone got a good EVERYTHING MUST GO kind of deal on it…

:smiley: :smiley: :smiley:


If @Skrublove would like some proof that he’s wrong, here’s what a lawyer specializing in automotive issues says:


Looking back at the folks over the last 11 years, either we have scared a lot of posters away or there is a high death rate at Car Talk.


My lawnmower guy said I cannot let this out of the shop. Wife usually mows the lawn, I did it, motor was loose. Broken mount and 2 bolts broke through the deck. Not that old in my life of lawnmowers, maybe 15, but no fix he would feel comfortable with… and that is only a lawnmower.

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Heh heh. I see no statute like a citizens arrest that give any mechanic or Tom, Dick, or Harry the authority to hold someone else’s property unless for a legal lien. Possibly for the short period of time to call an actual authority like in a cit arrest, but what certification would give them the ability to determine what is safe and what is not? Purely an opinion, valid or not. They certainly can refuse to work on it but then bye bye. As usual though check your state statues. Anything is possible.

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I am amazed that so many posters think an auto repair shop has the right to confiscate your car or demand you call a tow truck or even make you sign something.


Yup, old thread, but one that contains some lessons:

I noticed that not a single lawyer replied. I think that is important.

Further. the laws vary from state to state. Plus, we are talking about case law, not statute law - that is, what is the legal procedure when a mechanic deems a vehicle unsafe to drive: Can he hold it or not? Is he liable if the vehicle is involved in an accident due to the thing he deemed unsafe? Can the mechanic eliminate the legal liability by getting the owner to sign a waiver. (I think the answer to the last one is: A mechanic can NOT avoid his legal liability just be having a release signed - that the courts have held that he is the expert and has a legal obligation that he can not avoid.)

While I agree that what you said is an exceedingly likely scenario, the solution is not to steal the guy’s car. The solution is to make them sign a piece of paper that says they were told it was dangerous and they’re likely to crash if they drive it, and insisted on taking it against the shop’s advice.

If you’re really worried, call the cops and have them pull him over as soon as he gets on the road for a safety inspection.

Did you read the column by the lawyer who specializes in car issues, who called it a scam?

Also, does anyone here know of a law in any state that would allow the mechanic to hold the car? I’ve found nothing.

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Fear of litigation is not a matter of statute, it’s a matter of case law (stare decicis).


Of course, but refusing to give me my car is a matter of statute. Their fears do not give them the legal right to hold my car, right?

No, it’s a matter of law, and stare decisis is a kind of law.

There are three kinds of laws: statute, stare decicis, and administrative law. Any one of them can govern an action, depending on the jurisdiction.

For example, the Miranda Rule is not a matter of statute, it’s a matter of a Supreme Court ruling (Miranda v. Arizona).


OK, forget the vocabulary. Nothing gives them the right to hold my car, right?

Whenever I had to deal with someone who wanted to take an unsafe car I would make a notation on the repair order and have the customer sign under it.
If they refused to sign it then I’d add another notation about their refusal to do so. Most signed.

The thing is that there are a certain number of people out there with an unsafe car and who have no intention of spending one dime at a shop to fix it. They bring it in for a free diagnosis so they or their buddy next door can do it.

Never had a problem with doing this but maybe I was just lucky.


I am not a lawyer, but as far as I know they can not hold your car unless you actually owe them money for something. And the bill has to be in writing.

I can’t answer that question. There might be a state where the courts have affirmed a mechanic’s right to insist it be towed rather than driven, as a matter of public safety, particularly if the mechanic has the authority to revoke your inspection certification.

Strictly speaking, insisting it be towed off the premises, rather than driven, isn’t refusing to give it back.


Strictly speaking it is, if I ask for my keys and they refuse to give them to me. Only a law on the books would override my property rights. And I’m aware of none.

An actual lawyer agrees, see above.

…and lawyers always agree on matters of law, and are familiar with the thousands of jurisdictions around the US.

You’ve obviously never met an opinionated fallible lawyer before; I have, and they seldom agree on anything.

Ok. I’m still waiting for anything other than your opinion. Not one actual fact has appeared. Any law, any actual successful lawsuit, anything.

This is a common scam. Nothing more.

I’m not saying the OP’s scenario isn’t a scam, I’m just saying this issue probably hasn’t been settled at the national level, so it’s a legal question that should be put to a lawyer who shares the OP’s jurisdiction.

The facts that support my position are:

  1. Laws vary by municipality.

  2. Laws vary by county.

  3. Laws vary by state.

Who knows? You might have stumbled onto a correct assumption, but you haven’t proved it, and until someone does, citing the statute or case where the question was decided, I think it best to consider the question unanswered.

Until someone who has knowledge of the laws in all 3,007 American counties and all 50 states chimes in, we’re going to have to settle for “I don’t know.”