Repair estimate vs. final bill: how do i contest an overcharge?

My '91 Civic broke down a little over a week ago. I’m new to the area (near Boston), so on recommendation (and against my better judgement), I had it towed to a Honda North, a dealer garage a couple miles away.

The service dept. called me in the morning. I told them what had happened and they told me to do the repair diagnostic would cost $104. I agreed to the diagnostic. Later, the service department told me my distributor was faulty. Replacement would cost $900, or replacing the worn parts inside the distributor (coil and something else) would cost $650. I told them I would call them back.

The distributor had been replaced once before in May 2008. Hoping for luck, I called my trusted mechanic where I lived before (Seattle). He had done the work last May and I wondered if the part was under warranty. He told me it was and that he would ship me a replacement part, no cost, if i returned the defective part to him.

I then called an independent garage closer to where I live now (Beverly) to get a quote for the same work. The independent garage estimated at $450 - $550, depending on the cost of the replacement part. When I said the old part was under warranty and a replacement could be delivered without charge, he said he’d then only charge me for diagnostic and labor. His words, “You have no idea how much work I get from dealerships where the problem was mis-diagnosed …”

Honda North’s service department called again, asking me to return their call immediately. I called. The service rep. directed my call to the mechanic working on my car. The mechanic tells me he’s replaced the worn parts with used parts and gotten the car running, the repair will only cost $500, but I need to make the check out personally to him. I explain that I have a new replacement after-market part being delivered for no charge, that another garage has quoted me a full replacement for $450, and that I’m no longer certain that I want Honda North to complete the repair.

These conversations have been over the last week or so.

Yesterday I called Honda North to tell them I would be picking up the car at the end of this week to have the work done at another garage. They returned my call this morning to thank me for the update and to tell me “… your total bill for the diagnostic is $314.89, however for $100 more we could fix it …”

1. How does the charge for a “diagnostic” jump from $104 to $315?

2. How do I contest my bill that’s now 300% over the original estimate?

  1. What the heck is going on with the mechanic asking me to make out the check PERSONALLY to HIM??

I’ve heard plenty of bad things from Honda North…This is the worse so far.

First off…I NEVER heard of a mechanic saying he’ll fix it, but to make the check out to him personally…AND the dealer knows about this. What kind of cr*p is that.

Contest the bill…Tell them you refuse to pay it. You were quoted a price of $104 for diagnosis…NOT $315. This place is nothing but crooks.

No idea on what you should do. Sounds like bad communication going on and what to do.

A highly recommend this garage in your locale>>>> for future needs. I no longer work locally to them as I used to use them however only hear good things to this day about them.

You will have to ask these questions to the service manager or owner, when you go pay the part of the bill you owe. I suspect that you will find that there was more to the diagnostic than just the $104. On the other hand, it also sounds like the service advisor or mechanic took it upon himself to do work without your proper authorization, either by phone or in writing.

Note, though, that the intitial estimate was for either $900 or $650, so your bill not not 300% over the original estimate provided.

As for paying the mechanic directly, I suspect he got aftermarket parts, and possibly worked “off the dealer clock” & on his own time to do the repair; hence, the payment can’t go through the dealership’s accounts. I would not be a party to that unless I agreed to it beforehand, with an explanation of what was going to happen, not after the fact. There are also labor and parts warranty issues attached to doing business this way, and I want no part of it.

My response to the question, “for $100 more we could fix it”, I would have probably agreed to a bill of $415, and a repaired car. There are times when just forgoing the old parts warranty and getting the car up and running is worth the cost.

I would also not be doing business with Honda North in the future, though – too many shady actions and confusion on who to believe.

Note, though, that the intitial estimate was for either $900 or $650, so your bill not not 300% over the original estimate provided.

To clarify: the service rep. told me the repair diagnostic would cost $104, but the final charge for only the repair diagnostic is $314.89. That is where I find the %300 discrepancy.

At what point is the shop obligated to tell me their costs are running higher than what I originally agreed to pay?

How do I contest whether or not the work performed was authorized?

Understand where you got the 300% overcharge, but I wanted to point out the technicality involved with the phone estimates you got from the service advisor.

First make them detail for you what the $315 is for, and you determine whether you actually authorized the work, or not. As I recall, each state law may be different, but estimates above 10% or more require either telephonic or written approvals. You probably need to do a little research on Mass law/guidance in this area before you confront the service manager. I would keep my temper, provide my argments logically and see how the situation develops.

Maximum estimate variation is $10 in MA unless you sign a waiver.

Here?s what I learned from Asking a Librarian at the Mass Trial Court Law Libraries website ( :

[list]Verbal agreement to a verbal estimate constitutes an enforceable contract: [/list]

If you authorized work at an original quoted price, and nowhere in that quote were there terms or clauses that allowed the price to rise “x” amount for unforeseen circumstances, then you can hold the service provider to the estimate. It’s an enforceable contract.

[list]Code of Mass Reg. 940 Title 5.05 ? Motor Vehicle Regulations: Repairs and Services stipulates:[/list]

(4) It is an unfair or deceptive act or practice for a repair shop to fail to inform a customer, prior to obtaining oral or written authorization to perform repairs on the customer’s vehicle, of the following information: (a) The conditions under which the repair shop may impose storage charges and the daily or hourly amount of such charges; ? © The amount of any charge to the customer for an estimate or diagnosis.

[list]The same Regulation stipulates three paragraphs later:[/list]

(7) It is an unfair or deceptive act or practice for a repair shop which discovers in the course of repairing a customer’s vehicle that the vehicle needs repairs other than those authorized by the customer, or that the price for performing such repairs will exceed either the price authorized by the customer or the price noted on a posted schedule of repair charges by more than $10.00, to fail to inform the customer of such fact and to obtain the customer’s authorization to continue with the repair work before proceeding with the repairs.

Thanks everyone for the helpful advice.
If Honda North doesn?t resolve this when I pick up the car, I think I?ll file in Small Claims and bring it to the Attorney General?s office.

Clarify something.
You state this mechanic at the dealer “replaced the worn parts with used parts and got the car running”.
Does this mean the roughly 300 dollar bill includes a charge for replacing those parts? If so, this bill could be about right because diagnostics does not necessarily include the repair.

I’m also at a bit of a loss about this mechanic having you pay him. No way on Earth will a dealer allow this to happen and a mechanic who works off the clock on his own time while dragging work away from the dealer will be unemployed very quickly. Is there more to this story?

As to the comment about “how much work I get from dealerships” that cuts both ways.
Techs at dealerships face butchered up cars every week due to an uninformed/careless independent shop or car owners who throw in the towel after mangling things beyond recognition or having tired of replacing parts to no avail.

I agree they are acting like crooks. Makes me all the more concerned about this:

(4) It is an unfair or deceptive act or practice for a repair shop to fail to inform a customer, prior to obtaining oral or written authorization

It’s now a he said, she said argument. They can just lie and say they told you it would be $315. How in the heck do you prove an oral agreement?

To clarify:
I did not authorize any work on the car except the diagnosis.

The mechanic must have proceeded without permission because what he told me was “I replaced the worn parts with used parts and got the car running …”.

In addition, when the service rep. states in the voice mail she left me “… your total bill for the diagnostic is $314.89 …”, saying nothing about repair.

I might have been inclined to authorize the repair for $300. They’re last offer was $500 ($100 diagnostic + $400 used parts and labor). Now they’re saying $400 ($300 diagnostic + $100 parts and labor).

It just feels shady.

I don’t know that I can.

But if it ends up in Small Claims, they’ll need to demonstrate that it’s common practice to charge $315 for the simple diagnosis of a faulty distributor to prove they would quote the work at that rate.

I, on the other hand, might be able to demonstrate from the estimates I got elsewhere, that if I had been quoted $315 just for diagnosis, I would have taken the car somewhere else.

“It just feels shady.”

It sure does. Before you pay anything, they must explain in detail why the diagnosis rose from $104 to $314, and why they did not contact you for authorization. That clearly exceeds the $10 overage allowance you quoted from MA code. I would also not pay for any unauthorized work they did. How do you know what they really did, and whether it will last more than a few days? You would have no warranty for the work done, since it does not appear that the dealership actually did anything. If you cant get satisfaction from the service advisor, talk to the service manager. If you can’t get satisfaction from the service manager, talk to the dealership manager.

Sounds as if you ran into a nest of crooks.

They will not release the vehicle without payment so you could pay with a check, not a card but a check, and as soon as you get into you car call you bank and put a stop payment on the check. When you get home mail the jerks a check for the original amount.

I would also not be doing business with Honda North in the future, though – too many shady actions and confusion on who to believe.

This place as a very bad reputation. I’ve delt with them ONCE. I don’t work too far from them and ran over there at Lunch to look at New Accords a couple of years ago when my wife was looking for a new car. One of the WORSE experiences I ever had. People I work with have bought cars from them and regret every time they had to go back there for warranty work.

Careful with that. Could be considered fraud. Even if you’re in the right.

There’s still something odd about this story.
I’m of the belief there is a miscommunication going on in the chain of command or something. There is a disconnect between the car owner and the tech doing the work because of the middlemen; a.k.a. service writers, service managers, etc.
This not just a rare thing either; it’s very common.

The part about the mechanic getting it running and wanting to be paid personally is the strangest part of all.
If this story is as you say it is, then sit down with the service manager and have a face to face chat.
Keep it firmly civil and relate to him the bit about cutting a check to the mechanic.

The service manager has the authority to refund any or all of the amount due and he also has the authority to can the tech who did unauthorized work and who allegedly wants to be paid by you.

What I don’t understand is how an amount due to the tech for this unauthorized repair winds up on a due bill at the front counter.