How to protect yourself from unauthorized repairs at auto shops

Hands of auto mechanic repairing car

If you suspect there’s something wrong with your car, you typically take it to the shop and get a quote for a repair. If you’re lucky, your car will be fixed and soon you’ll be on your way again.

But what if the final bill is much more than the initial estimate?

That’s what happened to Michael Gibson after he finally got his dream car: a beautiful 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass. He took it to a local engine shop to finish the restoration.

“They were basically going to get the engine and transmission running and tuned,” he said.

The cost?

“We first were in the realm of $3,000 to $4,000,” he said. “With a max-out of $4,000.”

But he wasn’t prepared for a bill nearly double that.

“I checked my email, and that four grand two weeks later was $7,900,” he said.

A bill for almost $8,000, twice what Gibson claims they had discussed.

How To Protect Yourself

So could this situation happen to you? It could, depending on where you live.

It turns out that the rules regarding estimates vary from state to state.

For example, states including Ohio, Colorado and Maryland require customer consent to charge for work that exceeds the original estimate by 10% or more.

Other states, including Kentucky, lack similar regulations.

Melanie McGovern with the Better Business Bureau said no matter where you live, ask for a written estimate and understand what happens if repairs cost more.

“You should find out if they can stop the work if you can’t afford it, or is your car in a million pieces,” she said.

We contacted Gibson’s engine shop, where the owner told us, “The restoration work already done was not done properly. We had to rewire the majority of the car to get the motor to where it could be started and run.”

And he says there was no $4,000 limit on the job.

“The client never gave us a budgetary number they could not exceed,” the shop said.

But Gibson says this has never happened to him before. He’s now filed a complaint with the BBB and is talking to lawyers.

So make sure the shop knows you need to authorize all work, in advance, so you don’t waste your money.

About the Author
John Matarese

John's goal is to help as many TV viewers as possible save money, avoid bad deals, know a rip-off when one comes their way, and be educated consumers. His informative weekly consumer segment "Don't Waste Your Money" now airs on 45 TV stations from San Diego to Tampa to Houston and Cincinnati. More.