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

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.

There use to be a time in NY where safety inspection stations could refuse to return your car if they deemed in unsafe. So basically your car was held hostage until it was fixed to THEIR satisfaction. Some states still allow this. But those states have state run inspection stations. NY and NH and MA the inspection stations are private. And there were many of these gas stations that had inspection licenses that were very unscrupulous and took full advantage of this law. The law changed, but not until they raked MILLIONS from people.

 The car is not seized.  I think it's wrong too... but in some states, they'd drive the car away, have the wheel bearing fall out and crash, and just consider it normal to sue Sears for "allowing" them to drive off in this car with a known safety fault.  Some states as a few have said, have state vehicle standards, they may actually not be permitted to let a car out on the road (under it's own power) with a fault like this.  What state is this?

 Seriously, just get the bearing fixed, or get it towed.  It IS unsafe to drive if the wheel bearing is so lose it's making the whole car vibrate -- the wheel could drop off at any moment.

can a airplane be “red taged”?
Well, yeah it can. If a plane does not meet minimum FAA standards, it does not fly.

Jiffy Lube or any other garage is only as good as the owner. Many of the JL shops are franchises, like the one I use. I’ve use dit for most of the life of my 1998 Regal and all the oil changes on my 03 Silhouette and 05 Accord. I haven’t had any problems yet.

I know there’s a difference here but is it enough of one to discount the analogy? I’ve come to like watching a show called “Parking Wars”. IIRC, it covers the Philadelphia Parking Authority. When they impound your vehicle for parking violations, in order to release it to you to drive away, they require proof of license, insurance and registration. Even if you’ve paid all your fines, they can legally withold your vehicle until those requirements are met. Unless, of course, you hire a tow truck to haul it off their lot. I’ve seen this happen quite a few times. The tow truck pulls it across the road and drops it for the owner.

In MA, if a certified inspection garage detects a safety violation, they have the same obligation. I’m not so sure that any mechanic can do this however. I doubt Sears has any right to seize or withhold your vehicle from you but they can require you to sign a waiver of liability or perhaps make you tow the vehicle off their lot to minimize their liability.

If the cops pull you over and your sticker is expired, they can (and likely will) impound your car and assess 2 demerit points against your license.

Actually, I have no problem with that kind of treatment for safety issues. I’ve seen too many idiots driving unsafe vehicles. I had one guy with the brake drum worn in half so that the outer rim was loose and riding around the hub. He refused to let us fix it and drove off. This was back in the late 70s however.

They can absolutely do this. The mechanic is liable. They can be sued if you get injured killed or kill someone else. That’s similar to a bartender giving your keys when you are drunk. Needs to be clear that the car cannot be driven. They teach us mechanics this in school. This is a civil issue, I dont think police can do very much. You gave the car to the mechanic he didnt steal it. People always think mechanic is being shady. Usually not the case. Just becasue you just replaced that component does not mean it cannot fail again. Why didnt you return to the original place you worked on the car. If it is the wheel bearing they can warranty the parts and wouldn’t cost you anything. I would personally reccomend taking your vehicle to the dealership. You will pay more money but you will pay for what you get. Wouldnt you rather have a certified master technician who knows the vehicle inside and out working on it. Rather than someone who works on all makes and models who does not have proper special tools and equipment. Dealerships are most trust worthy. Another thing I dont understand, why did you take it to Sears if you were just gonna question the diagnosis afterwards. If they get the repair wrong then they own that car until it’s fixed. If they just handed you the keys and said have a nice day. It would really seem as though the mechanics are implying you can just drive the car when that’s not the case. Technicians have been sued for this before when deaths and injury take place. Not just looking out for the customer more so looking out for our own family who are driving on the same roads. How else are you gonna get that car to another shop with out towing it? Or without risking many other lives. For you to wanna drive the car says alot. You obvious dont care about your own safety or anyone else’s. Not worth the risk. Alot mechanics dont have the balls to do this. Props to this guys for sticking to his guns.

11 year old thread so the problem has probably been solved by now.

1 Like

And wrong, at that. If no repairs have been done, and no money owed, the mechanic can’t seize the car.


I’ve worked as a bartender. If a customer walks in already drunk, and you refuse to serve him because he is visibly drunk, you’re not going to get sued if he then drives away and kills someone without you having served him any alcohol. It’s only if you serve that customer a drink that you incur any liability.

Which school did you attend? I ask because this is usually a matter for management to contend with, not a mechanic.

Sears automotive service isn’t exactly known for being reputable. They could have just written on the bill for diagnostic work, “advised customer not to drive car due to unsafe condition - recommended tow truck instead,” have the customer sign it, and rid themselves of liability.

I still appreciate that it’s unsafe to drive on a bad bearing. Anytime someone asks, “How far can I drive on a bad bearing?” the answer is, “all the way to the scene of the accident.”


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.

1 Like

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.

1 Like

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.

1 Like

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?