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Can repair shops drive customer cars without their consent?

Hello everyone. I have a question that I would really appreciate some feedback on. The problems with my car have been so stressful that I’m at my wit’s end. It’s wild how a car can cause so much stress. I know that it’s just a car, but it still rattles me. Ugh!

I posted earlier about the repeated problems with my Subaru Impreza’s fuel system. I purchashed the car last year from the Sub. dealership, and they had purchased it at auction. It had been a rental car before they got it. The dealership promised me up one side and down the other that I’d have no problems with the car, and I believed them for some reason. Instead though, there have been constant problems with the car, and it always seems to be in the shop.

Ten days ago, it went back into the shop because I had another incident with the fuel system. This is the 3rd time that the car has been at the dealership’s service department for the same problem. I thought that the shop was going to take the fuel system apart and examine everything more closely, as this is what had been discussed in the past. When I handed the key to the service manager, I asked him, “What is your plan?” He simply replied, “I don’t know yet. I will have to talk to my manager and then figure out what to do with it.” I clearly told him to call me when he knew what they’d be doing, and I then got in the loaner car and drove home.

I never heard back from them though. So I just assumed that they had taken the fuel system apart and were talking to the Subaru headquarters about how to fix the problem. Two days ago, however, I found out otherwise when I received an email from the service manager. In the email, he informed me that the car had been experiencing no problems ever since it was dropped off. He made a reference to someone driving it, so I quickly responded and asked if and when it was being driven. The service guy then replied that a technician had been driving it around as his personal car ever since I dropped it off. He’s been driving it home after work and out at night. He’s been taking it home on the weekend and driving it around. And, according to the technician that’s been driving it, he’s had no problems putting gas in it.

I was blown away when I found out that they’ve been allowing a tech. to drive it around without my permission. Plus, I was blown away because they know that the problems with the fuel system are intermittent. When it acts up, it is sudden, and it can be a very dangerous situation because gas comes flying back out of the tank when it is being filled. But, it can go months before the problem happens again. This is the problem with the car. I never know when it’s going to happen, and therefore, I am scared to drive it out of town because I know it could leave me stranded at any time because I can’t get gas to enter the tank.

I wish that they had let me know that this was their plan. It would be different if I had known they were going to allow the tech. to drive it around as his personal car. The plates are in my name, and of course, the VIN is associated with my name. Plus, as part of a clause in my insurance policy, no one can drive my car but me.

I completely understand that techs need to test drive cars, and perhaps I can understand that they may need to drive them over a more extended period when they don’t know what the problem is. But, in this case, they know what the problem is.

I have had to work very hard at my job to make the car payments on this car. It has really upset me that this tech. has been using my car as a personal car. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Clearly, the dealership doesn’t know what’s going on with my car. I have considered trying to declare it a lemon, and several lawyers have expressed a strong interest in the case. But, I hate to get involved in that type of mess. Yesterday, I emailed the owner of the dealership and detailed my case to him. I asked if he would work with me to trade my car and get me in a new one. But, I haven’t heard back from him. So, I assume that he’s not going to work with me.

Anyway, has anyone ever dropped their car off at a shop and then had a tech. drive it around as his personal car for over a week? Does anyone have any ideas of what I should do from here? I’m burned out from the stress of this entire situation.

Thanks so much, everyone.

It’s not unheard of, particularly if it’s an intermittent problem. I’ve heard of mechanics driving customers cars home before in an effort to try to get the problem that the customer described to manifest itself. They also have their own insurance.

Back when I had my Bronco I was having trouble with the fuel gauge, it would randomly move around sometimes sweeping back between fuel and empty for reasons unknown. They replaced the fuel pump/sending unit twice and had the cluster out for diagnostics once as well. They also put 300 miles on it while it was in the shop, Turns out they could only correctly diagnos the problem when it was happening. So they had to drive it around until it happened.

I think you’re overreacting.

I can make 2 points.
As far as the gasoline being sprayed back out when filling up that is an evaporative emission problem with the fuel tank and this should not be difficult to figure out nor should it require a week of driving around to diagnose.

As to mechanics driving a car in a situation such as you describe I would say that it depends on the complaint and in my opinion any situation that required something like this should have the approval of the car owner.

As a mechanic I’ve had to drive some customer cars home at times. Mechanics work on flat rate which means they get paid for an actual repair. Lengthy test driving is a chore that does not pay anything so any problem that requires that is best left for after hours.

Example. We had a VW in one time and the customer simply could not convey what the “no start” problem was with their car. They only knew that “it won’t start when driven as far as Dallas”. Since Dallas is 200 miles away I chose to drive the car home (lengthy commute) and when I stopped to put in gas the next morning the car acted up and the problem was discovered. Actually, 2 problems which made it the more difficult to diagnose.

In your case I don’t see why the test driving was necessary though.

I’ve never had a problem with technicians joy riding in my cars because most of my cars have not been a joy to ride in. When I have had an intermittent problem, I have asked the mechanic to take the car home or drive it to run a personal errand to see if he can make it misbehave. (I also had an intermittent problem with my lawnmower, so I asked the small engine repairman if he would come mow my yard so that he could experience the problem, but he wouldn’t take me up on it).

Didn’t the boys cover this problem on the show? I thought they said there was a bladder in the tank and it and the vent needs to be looked at?

ImprezaStress, I think they did you a favor. By letting the technician drive the car for personal use, they don’t have to charge you an hourly rate for the technician’s time.

How else are they supposed to spot an intermittent problem? He could come into work, clock in, drive your car around for three hours, and then charge you $450 for the technician’s time, or they can just let him drive the car home. Which would you prefer?

Did you sign any paperwork when you dropped off the car? Did you read what you were signing? You probably already authorized the technician to drive the car without realizing it.

“But, I hate to get involved in that type of mess.”

Why? You’re already in a mess. Might as well be in a mess that results in you getting a better car.

Gee…sounds like the dealership is doing a good job to me. You drop off a car that is having intermittent problems…They can reproduce it…so they let one of the techs drive it for a day or so to see if any problem arises…Sounds like good practice to me…

I do agree the tech shouldn’t be joyriding with the car…but there really isn’t any other way to diagnose a problem like this.

I agree with the others who have stated that you are over-reacting to what sounds like necessary driving in order to try to duplicate the intermittent symptoms that you described.

Yes, they have implied permission because they move the car into and out of the service area. If you don’t want them driving the car around now that you know about the practice you can refuse to let them drive it and return the loaner and pick up your car. Then you can look for another Subaru dealer to try to resolve your issues.

It is very hard to fix “intermittent” problems. Tearing apart a fuel system isn’t helpful until you know what the problem is that you are trying to fix. I think you need to take a deep breath and relax. Make sure the dealer’s insurance will be used if there is an accident, not your insurance. Ask that the dealer’s driver be respectful of your car and not use it to carry wet dogs and puking infants. Most dealer drivers are aware that they are driving a customer’s car and are careful not wanting to cause more issues.

For an intermittent problem this does not seem unreasonable, but they really should have advised you that this was going to be his personal driver for a few days when you dropped of the car. My Dad had a situation many years ago when he dropped off his car for some work on a Friday (routine maintenance) and when he picked it up on Monday it had 300 miles on the odometer. He was able to used his SLB to prove his case, but it is so long ago I cannot recall if there was any consideration by the shop on the matter.

It is always good to watch out for behavior like this though, even if the shop and driver have insurance you do not want to lose a perfectly good car if an accident happens on the mechanic’s drive home, at least I wouldn’t.

That was somewhat standard practice for me. Of course the customer should know up front. I had an array of indicator lights connected to various circuits and appropriate gauges that were in view while driving and drove problem cars whenever it was possible, including to lunch and home at night. The charge was 1 hour for hooking up the contraption and on occasion the time spent broken down on the side of the road waiting for the wrecker.

Thanks everyone for your feedback. I forgot to mention that this car is still under warranty. It is a 2009 car.

The problem has been diagnosed in the past as a faulty tank pressure valve, and it’s been replaced twice. Also, in the past when the problem happened, the dealership took the car to the service station to attempt to fill it with gas when the problem arose, and they witnessed the gas spray back out of the tank both times. So, it’s not like they don’t know what’s happening when this problem arises. They’ve witnessed it twice, so I’m just baffled as to why they felt the need to use it for personal use to see if they could witness the same problem happening for the third time.

Last week when I was at work, one of my co-workers told me that he had seen my car across town. Then he remarked, “I just want to warn you, but you need to be really careful and not go so fast in that area because there are lots of cops in the region.” I explained that I was in a different car and that he must have seen a car that just looked like mine, but he remarked that it had a plate wtih the exact same three letters on it. I just brushed it aside and figured that another Impreza must have the exact same combination of letters on the plate. Now I realize that this co-worker may have actually seen my car.

Perhaps shops need to consider fully disclosing to car owners that their cars will be driven by technicians as their personal cars when they’re dropped off. I never signed anything to this effect, but it would seem like a good idea for car shops to fully disclose that this could happen.

I spent a lot of money on this car. I just would have appreciated it if the dealership had said to me, “Hey, when you drop your car off, we’re going to give it to the tech to drive as his personal car until the valve fails again.” That way, I would have known what was going on when my co-worker approached me with the comment that he saw it speeding very fast in another part of town.

I just never knew that this happened when cars were dropped off. My eyes have been opened.

Did you receive an invoice every time you took the car in for this problem? The invoice is only to say that they looked at the car. It is a record of your visit. If you have enough of them, you may qualify under the lemon law for replacement. Search the internet for the lemon law in your state and do everything they say. You just might get a new car out of it.

I don’t have a problem with a mechanic driving a customer car home if that’s what it takes to try and resolve an intermittent problem.
The issue with this one is that you were not told in advance and that a co-worker apparently saw your car being driven very fast. Very fast may not mean exceeding the speed limit but it could mean unsafe driving.

Any mechanic who drives a customer car in a situation like this should handle it like an egg and my opinion is that you should bring this matter up to the service manager, NOT a service writer.
Keep it cordial but let him (or her possibly) know that you do not like your car being flogged on the public roadways by anyone other than yourself.
The SM should be professionally polite with you on this matter and later that day about quitting time he may bring the mechanic who was driving it into his office and lay down the law about things like this; or maybe even can the guy if the mechanic is on thin ice anyway.

He’s probably just driving to and from the bar and “that part of town”. No need for you to worry.

The dealership has SEEN the OP’s issue happen. If the tech sees it happen on the way home from the bar or wherever, is he suddenly going to do a super duper repair job? No. The dealership is screwing the OP.