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When can a mechanic impound a vehicle over a payment dispute?

I usually get along well with mechanics, but recently a shop in Connecticut threatened to hold my van over a payment dispute that’s a lot less than its value. Neither the state attorney general’s office website nor the statutes I can find make any mention of liens, but the shop claimed that it’s normal to do this “in all 50 states.” Does anyone know if that’s true?

(For whatever it’s worth nearly all of the bill was paid ahead of schedule. I only disputed fees that I’m pretty sure are illegal in CT.)

Mechanics liens are a legal way for trades people to get paid for the work and material they supply. You say you are disputing fees that you are ‘pretty sure’ are illegal. Pretty sure does not hold up in court. 100% supported by published laws, regulations etc do hold up. Make sure your documentation is in order. You might want to pay the disputed fees, note on the check or invoice ‘paid under protest’ or something like that. Then go to small claims court to recover the dispute if you can’t resolve it with the mechanic.

How much money and what are these ’ illegal fees ’ ?

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How much money are we talking about? How much trouble are you willing to go through? I’d probably do as @SteveCBT says, to get possession.

It depends on the state you live in.


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I think you may be right about that, so thanks for mentioning it.

The mechanics’ lien statute in CT seems to only cover building contractors, not automotive repair. But maybe there’s a separate statute covering it that I haven’t found yet…

Again I ask , what are the fees you dispute and how much money is involved ?

Here’s the paperwork the mechanic would use to file the lien on auto repair in Connecticut

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I was just writing the reply, and then I lost my connection and it looks like my post was never uploaded.

He substituted rebuilt parts for new ones without telling me, raised the price by a quarter at the same time and billed me for several shop mix-ups. (Originally I hired them to inspect the van to see if it was repairable and what parts were needed, but they did a general inspection instead and didn’t get the dimensions/part numbers. When that resulted in ordering the wrong parts and having to re-do a lot of the work, they billed me for it.)

It’s about $1k in labor and $2k in hauling costs due to leaving my van inoperable (which he may not be liable for).

Connecticut law may be an outlier, since in most cases the state seems to require signed change-orders for going over an estimate:

Connecticut law requires that a repair shop obtain your written authorization that provides an estimate of the maximum cost of parts and labor before performing any work which must be signed by you. In fact, a repair shop must get your consent before charging you for an estimate or diagnosis, and your consent must be in writing if the charge for estimate or diagnosis is $50 or more. The repair shop must also keep a written record of the specific repairs you requested or a brief description of the problem that requires repair.

Exceptions to this general rule include:

After hours: If you leave your vehicle at the repair shop at a time when the shop is not open for business, the estimate of the cost of parts and labor and your authorization to do the work may be given verbally when the shop is open but still need to be recorded on your invoice.

Unknown problem: Sometimes a repair technician will not know the cause or extent of a problem until after your vehicle is examined. In this case, the shop cannot give a complete written estimate until the problem is diagnosed. Once the shop learns what repairs may be needed, the shop must notify you, give you an estimate of the maximum cost for parts and labor and obtain your consent before making repairs. If consent is given verbally, the shop must keep a written record of your approval.

Consent: You may agree that the repair shop does not have to give you a written estimate. This is called a waiver and is only allowed if it is in writing, signed by you and sets a maximum dollar amount for the repair work.

Thanks a lot!

(I meant to include the actual statute.)

Yeah, not reading everyone else’s response but yes they can put a lien on your car for non-payment. Whether they can sell it on you or just prevent you from selling is a question. A note of caution that trades people can also do the same thing to your house. They have something like 90 days from the last work that was done to file it. We discussed one case in SD that the 90 days had expired but the electrician stopped by to put a switch plate on in a closet. That started the 90 days all over again and the lien was valid. So pay people first and then you can argue whether it was appropriate.

There are too many if’s and poor communication factors for anyone to say just what can be done. As for the 2000.00 hauling cost you would have that even if it sat in your drive way not running .

That was going to be my suggestion. Pay the bill, then sue in small claims court. In other words, get the van back so that part is resolved. You will be in a much more comfortable position and can take your time to do the research needed.

Keep reading. Vehicles are covered in 49-61. And it does say that the mechanic can sell the car, then take what he says you owe him from the proceeds and pay you the rest.

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It would be nice to hear the shops side of this story . I have a feeling that both are not doing what they should be doing about this dispute.

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Generally I have an set opinion in most cases but there is still a lot of murkiness in this complaint so I would hate to even venture a guess. That 2000 in hauling costs “which he may not be liable for”. Hauling from to or where for instance. There are also no details on the new vs rebuilt parts which would have run this disputable bill even higher. The complaint about not giving you the dimensions/part number is also questionable as that sounds like you wanted to do a DIY repair. And who ordered those wrong parts?Total lack of clarity.

Mechanics liens are common, legal, and there is a reason for it. Some people will get cold feet and decide the car is not worth it. That can lead to parking issues at a shop and at some point the herd must be thinned out.
When I lived in CA a friend who ran a shop there had to file liens on a dozen cars as he had no place anymore to park current customer cars. I’ve even done this a few times myself when weeks turned to month after month of excuses why the car was not being picked up.

This is why I use a credit card to pay for nearly everything, even if there’s a processing fee. If you feel you didn’t receive the quality of goods and services that you paid for, you can dispute the charge after the fact. Obviously you should be careful about not abusing it, but it’s a powerful tool for the consumer, especially if you can provide some documentation for your side of things.

I just did this the other week with a cleaning company I hired; paid them $500 to clean my house prior to move-in, and afterwards found a number of missed areas…like, obviously missed. The cleaners made a huge stink about coming back to fix things, so I disputed $300 of the $500 (they did do some cleaning, after all). CC company found in my favor, and that was that.

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Yeah, $2000 to haul the van must have been hundreds of miles.

Lol, I missed that. Yeah, was this mechanic in California and you moved the car to Utah or something?