Can I go back on a verbal agreement to have work done on my car without negative consequences?
June 20, 2011 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Can (should) I ask my mechanic not to do a job we agreed they would do, after they've ordered the part?

Tomorrow a mechanic with a well-known local shop is supposed to replace something on my car. The repair is going to cost around $500. When they told me about it today, they noted they would have to order the part. I wasn't thinking and said they could go for it. However, I have now reconsidered because a friend has said they will help me find a part and do the labor, and a different shop also looked at the car and said the fix wouldn't need to be done right away.

I want to know if it is all right to go to my mechanic tomorrow, tell them I no longer want the work done there, and pay them the diagnostic fee (since I am not having anything done). How strong is this commitment? What am I risking by doing this?

Some other information:
I trust my friend to follow through and do a good job.
It is possible that the city would reimburse a repair as pothole damage.
I don't have $500 lying around ($300 would be all right, $150 manageable). The car is a '96 and while it is the best car in the world, it is only worth around $2500 or $3000.
I panicked when they asked about the repair and said "Yes" without thinking. I want to be able to go back to this place, so I need to maintain a good relationship.
I have a quote from another mechanic for around $500 and would love to check one more if I hadn't already committed.
This is a repair I would have done at some point if it seemed necessary; at this point, however, I'm not sure if it will be necessary! (It's for a gas pan dent, and the second mechanic said he thought the dent had been there for a while.)
posted by ramenopres to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
IANAL, but, technically, you have a verbal agreement with the mechanic. While this is pretty much impossible to prove (it'd be his word against yours, if he sued you), it is a legally binding contract.

Even if this wasn't the case, I think it'd be tough to maintain a good relationship with this shop by canceling the job after they've brought in the part. Remember, they had to pay for that part. If it's a part they don't stock, then it may be that they don't use them often and won't easily be able to make up their money by using the part for a different job (then again, maybe it's a very common part and they had run out of them before getting to your job).

All of this is to say that you could probably walk away from the job with no legal consequences (but maybe not), but you would probably do significant harm to your relationship with the shop in question.
posted by asnider at 10:18 PM on June 20, 2011

IANYL. If I was you, I'd contact the mechanic ASAP and say something has come up, and you can't afford to do the repair after all. Ask what you can do to keep them from being harmed by ordering the part. Maybe they can return it if they pay a restocking fee; if so, then offer to pay the fee. Or buy the part from them and resell it on Craigslist, or keep it until you actually do the repair.
On a $500 (total) job, it's not like you're going to make or break their month. Just let them know as soon as you can, and don't cheap out on making it right for them. As asnider says, if push came to shove, they might be able to force you to do the repair, or at least pay what they would have made from doing it. But relatively few businesspeople operate that way (or at least, they don't operate that way for long). And at $500, it's not worth anyone's time to fight over it.
posted by spacewrench at 10:33 PM on June 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

IANAL, but, technically, you have a verbal agreement with the mechanic. While this is pretty much impossible to prove (it'd be his word against yours, if he sued you), it is a legally binding contract.

Yeah, regardless of what the law says or what you think it says, your best bet would be to:

1. Own up to your own mistake of wanting something...then changing your mind AFTER someone has acted upon your words.

2. Tell them you will pay for the part (which you will get), but not the labor (which they have not started).

I'm guessing the labor is twice as much as the part(s). If that is the case, how much cheaper do you think your friend could get it for? $40 cheaper? Would that really be worth it for the hours of searching (think of it as work) he/you would be doing?

Get the part, have your friend do the repairs. Everybody wins.

Also...your mechanic may end up getting a better deal on the part than your friend. Plus, you know the part is new.

Good luck.

Also, next time...think before you commit.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:34 AM on June 21, 2011

I am not a lawyer, and I don't need to be one in order to tell you that you are morally obligated to meet the costs of acquiring the part (or returning it), because you told them to buy it (for you) and (at least implicity) agreed to have the work done there.

Providing you have agreed with them how the specially-ordered part is going to be paid for, I see no great problem in telling them that you will not be having the work done there (at least not right now). You do not get much for $500, so I don't think the shop was planning a major profit dividend on the strength of your job. If you do decide not to have them do the work, telling porkies is not the way to go, as I am sure you know. Just (wo)man up and admit that you haven't the budget to do it now.

Having said that, it is probably not a great idea to tell people you are going to spend some money with them, and then just pull out, so you may feel that you owe them something for stuffing them around ...
posted by GeeEmm at 4:39 AM on June 21, 2011

I agree- your two choices is to suck it up and pay for the repair, or to cal them and work out an agreement that will make the shop happy.

"Hey guys, I'm really sorry, but I wasn't thinking straight when I said it was OK to get that part. But I can't afford the job right now. I'd like to pay for the labor you have already done, and any restocking or shipping charges on the part. Or maybe I can just pay for the part and put it in myself?"

(Don't forget about the labor involved in the diagnosis, that's part of the bill too.)
posted by gjc at 4:45 AM on June 21, 2011

...your mechanic may end up getting a better deal on the part than your friend.

That may be true, but then he'll have to mark it up to cover his overhead. My mechanic, bless his heart, charges me double the price I'd have to pay for the same part. He'll happily install parts I buy but won't guarantee the part, only the labor.
posted by Floydd at 5:27 AM on June 21, 2011

It really may not be a big deal for the mechanic to return the ordered part, especially if it's a standard part ordered through a local distributor. I'd just tell the mechanic that you can't afford the repair now, but pay the cost for the diagnosis.
posted by ShooBoo at 6:00 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You would typically pay the restocking fee for the part. This type of thing happens often so don't feel like you are doing some thing special. Don't offer to pay anything else but if they insist you pay more then make a deal for what they think their loss may be.
posted by JJ86 at 7:24 AM on June 21, 2011

Don't worry about it, they will just return the part. Garages usually order from local distributors and they have drivers dropping off and picking up parts all the time. You won't get sued for a part that probably cost them around $200 and is returnable.

My niece's husband owns a shop and I've audited auto parts distributors in the past. I know how this stuff works.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 5:45 PM on June 21, 2011

Darn it... I had to decide this morning and at that time, most of you had told me not to do it. I wish I had had the extra time. In retrospect, given that I think they didn't really give me the information to make an informed decision (i.e. they told me I needed to replace it now and it could be dangerous, and didn't mention that it had rust and might have been like that for a while) and I didn't ask enough questions, I think I would have gone with the advice the second half of you prescribed...
posted by ramenopres at 7:18 PM on June 21, 2011

« Older What's this flash game called?   |   I'm tired of smelling like an alcoholic when the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.