Problem with a car repair

What are my rights?

If I don't pay the repair bill, is the garage allowed to keep my car?
  • Yes
  • No

If you’ve had a problem with a car repair, the best thing to do is negotiate with the garage to work out the best solution. If your negotiations don’t work, you can take further steps to get your problem resolved.

What you should know 

If you think you’re being overcharged

When my car started making a knocking noise, I took it to a nearby garage. The garage inspected the engine and said that it needed a new transmission. The garage estimated the repairs would cost $1,000. I agreed to the work being done. When I picked up the car, I got a bill for $2,000. I complained to the garage’s owner. I said that it is an unfair practice for the garage to provide an estimate that is materially less than the final bill. The garage agreed to reduce the bill to $1,200.

– Andrew, Surrey

When you bring your car to a garage for repair work, the garage may provide an estimate or a quote of how much the repair will cost. 

If the garage provides an estimate before beginning the work, they can charge you more, within reason.  

It can be difficult agreeing on what is reasonable. It would be reasonable, for example, to be charged more if the garage needed a bit more time for the repairs or they needed more parts. You can get a second opinion from another garage if you’re not sure what is reasonable.

It is an "unfair practice" for the 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. 

Tip

A quote is when a business promises to do work at an agreed price — the quote should say what work will be done and the price. If you accept the quote, the business can’t charge you more than the agreed price. It’s a legally binding contract. 

An estimate is a business’ best guess as to how much certain work will cost. The end price could be less — or more. Whether an estimate is a binding contract depends on the intention of the parties. When an estimate is found to be binding, a margin of error of 10% to 20% is commonly accepted. That means the business can charge 10% to 20% more in its final bill than its original estimate. 

If the garage provides a quote or you agree on an amount before the garage does the work, you’ll have to pay the full bill. This is because you’ve entered into a fixed price contract with the garage (even if you didn’t sign anything). You can ask for them to come down on the price, but they don’t have to.

If no price was agreed on before the work was done, you have a legal right to only pay a reasonable price.  

If the garage is charging you an amount you think is unreasonable, ask the garage to come down on the price. If the garage won’t come down on the price, you should take further action.

If the repair didn’t work or it created a new problem

If the repair work wasn’t done with reasonable skill and care, you have the legal right to get the work done again or get a price reduction. It can be difficult agreeing on what is reasonable, so it’s a good idea to get a second opinion from another garage.

You should ask the garage to fix any problems that:

  • weren’t repaired properly,

  • weren’t correctly found, or

  • didn’t exist before you took the car to the garage.

If the garage says it won’t do the additional work, you could negotiate with the garage to get a report from an independent garage or vehicle engineer to determine whether the garage’s work was done properly. You and the garage would need to agree on who provides this report, how the cost would be split and that you’ll both accept the findings. If the report shows that the work wasn’t done properly, then the original garage should fix the car.

You could ask another garage to give you a written quote or estimate for the work. This will prove that the repairs or service need to be done again, and could help you negotiate with the original garage for the problem to be fixed.

You can also ask the garage for a refund of some of the payment you made — you have the legal right to a price reduction if the work wasn’t done with reasonable care and skill. A second opinion can help you and the garage agree on what is reasonable.

If the garage did work you didn’t ask for

If you told the garage to do whatever needs to be done to fix the car, then you gave them the right to decide what work to do. You’ll have to pay if the work was necessary and the price is reasonable. Get a second opinion if you think the price isn’t reasonable.

If you only asked the garage to do a specific piece of work and they did extra work that you didn’t ask for, you can ask them to undo the work. If this isn't possible, you should insist you only pay for the work that was agreed.

If you were misled or pressured into doing business with the garage

Under BC law, businesses are not allowed to use "unfair practices" to convince you to do business with them. Unfair practices include any conduct or making statements, verbally or in writing, that have the capability of deceiving or misleading you.

For example, a garage must not:

  • tell you that their services or parts are of a standard or quality that they are not

  • tell you that a repair or part is needed if it is not

  • provide an estimate that is materially less than the final price they charge — unless you agree to the higher price before the repairs are done 

Another type of unfair practice is when a garage does something “unconscionable”. Examples of unconscionable practices include:

  • taking advantage of vulnerabilities that you may have that affect your ability to protect your own interests, such as any physical or mental disability, illiteracy or language difficulties 

  • charging a price for the repair or a replacement part that grossly exceeds the price other garages charge for similar repairs or parts 

  • putting “undue” pressure on you (that is, extreme pressure) to do business with them

If the garage does something “unconscionable”, any work order or agreement you sign is not binding on you. You can refuse to pay for the repair work.

If the repair is taking too long

Tip

If the repair is taking a long time, you can ask the garage for a courtesy car (this is a car that the garage will give you to use). Not all garages will provide a courtesy car. Keep a record of everything extra you spend on travel — you might need to prove this later on.

If the car is having body work done and parts are delayed, you could ask to take your car and continue to use it until the parts have arrived.

The other actions you should take will depend on whether or not you originally agreed on a date for the work to be finished by.

If you agreed on a date for the work to be finished and you want the original garage to finish the job, you should negotiate a new deadline for the repairs to be carried out. If you're not sure what the new deadline should be, you could get the opinion of another garage about how long the repairs should take. 

If you didn’t agree on a date for the work to be finished, you have the legal right to get the work done within a reasonable time. 

You can ask the garage for a refund of some of the payment you made (if you paid in advance) if they don’t do the work within a reasonable amount of time. A second opinion can help you and the garage agree on what is reasonable.

Take further action if you can’t agree on a reasonable date to finish the work, or if the work doesn’t get done by the new agreed date.

If the garage damaged your car

When you leave your car with a garage, the garage has a responsibility to take reasonable care of it. If they fall short of this, they’re responsible for any damage or loss incurred while your car is in their possession.

It’s best to point out the damage as quickly as possible, or you could be seen to have accepted what’s happened.

The maximum the garage is obliged to offer you is the cost to repair any damage. For example, if they’ve scratched the door of your car, they should pay the cost of repainting the door, not necessarily for buying a new door.

If you don’t pay the repair bill

Tip

It’s a good idea to keep a record and receipts of any extra money you have to pay for travel while you’re disputing a bill. You might need to prove this down the line.

The garage is allowed to keep your car if you don’t pay the repair bill. The law gives the garage a lien on a vehicle the garage has repaired. A lien is a legal claim made on someone else's property — in this case, your vehicle — to make sure they pay a debt — in this case, the repair bill. 

If the repair bill is still unpaid 90 days after it was issued, the garage is entitled to sell the vehicle to pay the bill. 

If the garage agrees to return the car to you, they can preserve their lien by having you sign an acknowledgement of debt (for example, by having you sign the invoice) and registering the lien within 21 days. 

The lien will continue to exist for 180 days after it is registered.    

At any time while the garage holds a lien and your bill is more than 90 days overdue, the garage can have your car seized (that is, taken from you) and sell it to pay the bill. 

Paying under protest

Tip

If you need the car back but aren’t happy with the amount you have to pay, you can pay “under protest”, and then continue with your dispute.

If you need the car back but aren’t happy with the amount you have to pay, you can pay “under protest,” and then continue with your dispute. This means you are paying the full amount but letting the garage know that they can expect further action.

Write the words “paying under protest” clearly on their copy of the repair work order and any copies of receipts that the garage makes. If you don’t say you’re paying under protest it may be difficult to get compensation later on, because the garage could argue that by paying the bill, you were accepting the charges.

If you can’t afford to pay, offer to pay what you consider a reasonable amount in exchange for getting the car back, then dispute the rest of the bill separately.

Work out the problem

Step 1. Decide what outcome you are seeking

Once you understand your legal rights and options, decide what outcome you are seeking. Do you want the garage to complete additional repairs? Reduce their bill? Pay for additional repairs to be done by another garage? 

Step 2. Negotiate with the garage

Contact the garage as soon as you notice the problem.  

Speak with the garage in person or over the phone. Ask to speak with a manager or owner. 

Clearly explain your problem. Let them know you understand what you’re entitled to. Let them know the outcome you’re seeking. Keep a record of your conversations. 

If you’re not getting anywhere with the garage, you have options to help you get the work done or claim compensation. But you should always try to negotiate with the garage first.

Step 3. Send a complaint letter

If the garage doesn’t agree to make things right, the next step is to write or email the garage so you have a record of the problem and your communication to them.

The letter should cover these points: 

  • a description of what was agreed to when you brought the car in for repairs (include the date) 

  • details of the problem, including when you first noticed it 

  • what you have done to try to resolve the problem

  • what you want them to do to resolve the problem

You can use one of these template letters to help complain about poor servicing of a vehicle or being overcharged for a car repair — what you put in the letter will depend on your situation.

Keep a copy of the letter for yourself. If you can, send the letter by registered mail or courier. That way you will have proof that the garage got it.

Step 4. Negotiate through a trade association

If the letter doesn’t resolve the problem, ask the garage if they’re a member of any trade association such as the BC Automobile Association or the Automotive Retailers Association

Contact the trade association and explain your circumstances to them — ask if they provide assistance with complaints about member organizations.

Step 5. Contact a consumer protection agency

Ask the garage whether they are a member of the Better Business Bureau. If they are, contact the Better Business Bureau serving your area to file a complaint. 

If you are concerned you were misled or pressured into doing business with the garage, contact Consumer Protection BC. That agency investigates possible violations under the BC law that prohibits businesses from using "unfair practices" to convince you to do business with them. 

If you cannot solve the problem with the above steps, your next step may be to take legal action. This step can be costly and time-consuming. You should look at all other options before suing. If you decide to sue, note that there are time limitations on filing lawsuits. If you don’t have a lawyer, there are options for free or low-cost legal help.

Common questions

I got the leak in my car fixed at the local garage, but two weeks later it started leaking again. The garage refuses to fix it. What can I do?

First, talk to the manager or owner of the garage. Tell them what the initial issue was, what you expected from the repair work, and why you’re not satisfied. 

If discussing the problem doesn’t lead to a resolution, send a complaint letter. You can use our template letter to complain about poor servicing of a vehicle.  

If the letter doesn’t result in action, find out if the garage is a member of the Better Business Bureau. If they are, contact the Better Business Bureau serving your area to file a complaint.  

As well, find out if the garage has a social media presence, such as a Facebook or Twitter account. Social media has become a very effective way for customers to get the attention of service providers. There are many examples of dissatisfied customers posting their concerns to a company’s Twitter feed, for example, and getting resolution.

Who can help

If the garage is a member of the Better Business Bureau, contact the BBB serving your area

Consumer Protection BC investigates possible violations under the BC law that prohibits businesses from using "unfair practices" to convince you to do business with them. 

Better Business Bureau
Receives complaints about local businesses that are members.
Consumer Protection BC
Investigates possible violations under BC law prohibiting "unfair practices"

  • Reviewed in July 2019
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 12 minutes

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