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I took my car in for specific repairs. The garage did additional work, and it cost three times what I expected. Is there anything I can do?

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I took my car in for specific repairs. The garage did additional work, and it cost three times what I expected. Is there anything I can do?
I took my car into a garage and asked them to do three things: fix my rear brake pads, change the oil, and diagnose a problem with the heating system. They gave me an estimate of $500. When I picked up my car, the bill was $1,500. The mechanic told me they found my brakes needed to be flushed, and an expensive part broke when they were diagnosing the heating system issue. I reluctantly paid the entire bill, even though I was confused by the explanation of the additional charges. Is there anything I can do to recover some of the repair costs?

I took my car in for specific repairs. The garage did additional work, and it cost three times what I expected. Is there anything I can do? - Mario Garcia

When you take your car into a garage for a repair, your rights depend on the instructions you give them.

If you tell them to do whatever needs to be done to fix the car, you give them the right to decide what work to do. You’ll have to pay if the work was necessary and the price is reasonable. 

If you tell the garage you only want a specific piece of work (or pieces of work) done, they must follow those instructions. If the garage does work outside the scope of what you asked for, they can’t charge you for it. 

When a garage provides an estimate of how much a repair will cost, they’re allowed to charge more — within reason. For example, if the repair required extra parts it might be reasonable for the garage to charge a bit more. Generally, an acceptable range is 10-20% above the estimate.

But it’s an unfair practice for a garage to provide an estimate that is materially less than the final bill (unless you agree to the higher price before the repairs are done). If a garage charges you three times their initial estimate, there is a strong argument this is an unfair practice or deceptive practice.

If you’ve been overcharged by a garage, or they’ve done work you didn’t ask for, you have options. One is to send the garage a complaint letter, so you have a record of the problem and your correspondence with them. Your letter should include:

  • a description of what was agreed to when you brought the car in for repairs
  • details of the problem
  • what you’ve done to try to resolve the problem
  • what you want the garage to do to resolve the problem

Another option is to contact a consumer protection agency. Ask the garage if they’re a member of the Better Business Bureau. If they are, you can contact the Bureau’s office in your area to file a complaint.

Written June 9, 2019

We have a template letter to complain about excessive garage charges. You can modify the letter template to suit your situation.