I want my car back!
August 25, 2006 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Can I have my car towed from an auto repair shop?

I have a Volvo wagon. The engine went out on the wagon, so we took it to our Volvo repair shop (not dealer), and was told the engine needed replacing, which it probably did. So we told them to go ahead with the repairs, which involved getting a used engine, running about $4K.

Little did we know that our normal Volvo shop had just lost one of the two owners. Now it's THREE months later, and still no car. Every time we call, the guy is basically feeding us a line of bull. "I've got horrible headaches","I've been up all night working on the car"

We've been hearing for weeks, how it'll be ready at the end of the week. But it never is.

What we want to do is come one morning and have the car towed to a different shop. Can we legally do this? And if we can, any suggestions on how?

A complication is, the car might have the Volvo shop's engine in the car.
posted by patrickje to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Three months have gone by, it's time to play some hardball. I am not a lawyer, but this is what I would do.

1. Go to the shop and assess the state of your car for yourself. You haven't said whether you have done anything like this yet, but I would be REALLY suspicious about what's going on here after about 2 weeks.

2. If it looks like no work has been done, have it towed. I've had my car towed out of a shop when I couldn't afford to have the work done on it. I paid for labor up to that point for determining what the problem was, and left it at that; the repairs were later done elsewhere.

3. If it looks like work has been done, or there has been some other ambiguity or they drag their feet, either call the cops or a lawyer. This is stupid - 3 months is about two months past the "I've been more than patient" mark in terms of car repair, even for engine work. I had an engine swapped in my car in 24 hours!

I am not a lawyer, but this is how I would handle this. Showing up in person and saying, I am taking the car away from you, and being firm on that, is probably best. I would NOT want this guy working on my car anymore at this point.
posted by autojack at 9:39 AM on August 25, 2006

Of course you can have it towed. It's your car, isn't it? Go there and tell them you want to settle up for whatever they've put into the car, without delay, and that you're having it towed THAT AFTERNOON. If they try to prevent you in any way from doing that, call the cops. (Make sure you have the title to your car in hand.) If they can't produce a bill, tell them to send it, but take the car anyway. Pay only what you think is reasonable. They can take you to small claims court for the rest if they want, but their headaches will probably prevent that too.
posted by beagle at 9:40 AM on August 25, 2006

Just a thought: the cops may pawn this off as a civil matter and refuse to show up, so it might be worth having a contingency plan.
posted by hodyoaten at 9:47 AM on August 25, 2006

I'd call him up and tell him you're going to be coming to get the car at X time and date so you know ahead of time if this is going to be a problem. If it is you may need to involve the Seattle attorney general's consumer protection group, who has information about your rights and protections with regard to auto repair.[pdf]

You can call the Seattle consumer protection center at (206) 464-6684 with questions.(number from this pamphlet)
posted by phearlez at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2006

whoops, bad edit - the 2nd link is NOT a pdf, it's largely the information from the pamphlet (which IS a pdf) in a normal webpage...
posted by phearlez at 10:41 AM on August 25, 2006

i have done this very thing*. just show up, settle whatever bill there is, and then make arrangements with the new shop to have the car towed there. if they don't give you your car, call the cops--that's theft. it's only a civil issue if there's a dispute about payment or ownership, which this isn't. yet.

but man, i have to ask: 3 months? there is something wrong here. i'm guessing that they majorly fucked up your car, and can't figure out how to fix it. the problem then is that they're going to want to charge you for the work they've done--and you will be paying for an incomplete job.

* but I did it after 2 weeks, not 3 months
posted by lester at 10:47 AM on August 25, 2006

wait--i missed something: did you already give them the 4k for the new engine?
posted by lester at 10:53 AM on August 25, 2006

Uhh, no you can't just have your car towed from the mechanic's shop if work has not been paid for yet. Most likely, your state provides for something called a "mechanic's lien" which allows a mechanic to retain possession of a vehicle if the owner has not paid for the work done on the car.

Now, you have an ambiguous situation, since some work has probably been done, and you haven't told us if you've paid anything. If you try to get the vehicle back before paying your bill, I guarantee the mechanic will file a lien. Also, it may be tough to convince a tow company to do this for you (because tow companies know about liens as well).

I would definitely go down and look at the car (unannounced), and take photographs of the car and the engine. Beyond that, talk to your lawyer. However, just the act of stopping in and collecting evidence will probably be enough to light a fire under him.
posted by MrZero at 11:15 AM on August 25, 2006

IANAL, but here's an interesting case from your state. The customer in this case was exonerated from the charge of stealing his own car, because he picked up the keys from the counter and drove off without paying the bill.

I still say it's your car, they have no lien because they have not completed the work, you don't want them working on it any more -- so take it away.

Anyway, let us know how it turns out.
posted by beagle at 11:32 AM on August 25, 2006

No tow truck operator will tow your car off the lot of a service station without their permission. I've tried this for other reasons. They could get in serious trouble for this. If you want it done, you will need permission from the service station.
posted by JJ86 at 12:19 PM on August 25, 2006

I wouldn't give them advance warning before dropping by -- that'll just give them time to tear it apart and make it look like they've been working on it, so you get the hassle of moving a bunch of parts as well as the car. Or worse, they'll finish it but do a half-assed job.
posted by kindall at 12:36 PM on August 25, 2006

Just an update, no we haven't paid any money, and we haven't been pushing it, because we've used this repair shop for years without a problem. We have also had a loaner car from a relative. But the loaner car is going away.
posted by patrickje at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2006

Keep in mind that while your car is sitting there, other cars are coming and going.

Why are you, as a long term customer, getting the lowest priority? You NEED your car.

Ask the mechanic that question. It's not offensive, but I've had mechanics give low priority to my car for major work when everyone else is turning up crying about how they need their car for the weekend. Tell him you're not going to have your loan car for much longer.
posted by tomble at 5:21 PM on August 26, 2006

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