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Faxxis
12-08-2006, 05:22 AM
My fiance took her car to an auto-repair shop for an alternator replacement two months ago when all of the gauges in her dashboard started having seizures. She was understandably upset by the incident (she had been doing seventy on the interstate when her car started telling her she was doing zero, then forty, then eighty, then fifteen and all of the warning lights proceeded to freak out). She wanted the problem fixed immediately, so she took it to the nearest garage without bothering to check whether they were reputable or not.

The amount the garage quoted us was exorbitant. Having neither the funds nor the inclination to hand over such a large amount of cash for a relatively simple operation, we checked around online and with other garages to see how much would normally be charged. Needless to say, it was much less that we had been quoted. We informed the first shop of this, and wow, hey, it turns out they had made a mistake and it was actually going to cost much less than we had previously been quoted! :rolleyes:

So we pay them. The car runs fine. Months pass and we get on with our lives.

But no, not quite. I receive a letter from them just yesterday claiming they had "forgotten" to add in the price of towing and manual labour to my bill, so the total was actually ninety dollars above what we had paid two months ago AND if we didn't pay within the next ten days they were going to report us to collections. Unless the previous requests for payment were lost in the mail, they immediately escalated their entreaty for our hard-earned cash by threatening to send our outstanding bill to a collection agency.

As I've said before, we're poor. We're both full-time college students and what little money we had this month was spent buying Christmas presents for our families. So even if we wanted to pay them, we couldn't.

My question is this: is this legal? Can they change the price over a month after we had already paid and then demand we make up the extra? If so, what recourse do we have?

A.R. Cane
12-08-2006, 05:32 AM
My fiance took her car to an auto-repair shop for an alternator replacement two months ago when all of the gauges in her dashboard started having seizures. She was understandably upset by the incident (she had been doing seventy on the interstate when her car started telling her she was doing zero, then forty, then eighty, then fifteen and all of the warning lights proceeded to freak out). She wanted the problem fixed immediately, so she took it to the nearest garage without bothering to check whether they were reputable or not.

The amount the garage quoted us was exorbitant. Having neither the funds nor the inclination to hand over such a large amount of cash for a relatively simple operation, we checked around online and with other garages to see how much would normally be charged. Needless to say, it was much less that we had been quoted. We informed the first shop of this, and wow, hey, it turns out they had made a mistake and it was actually going to cost much less than we had previously been quoted! :rolleyes:

So we pay them. The car runs fine. Months pass and we get on with our lives.

But no, not quite. I receive a letter from them just yesterday claiming they had "forgotten" to add in the price of towing and manual labour to my bill, so the total was actually ninety dollars above what we had paid two months ago AND if we didn't pay within the next ten days they were going to report us to collections. Unless the previous requests for payment were lost in the mail, they immediately escalated their entreaty for our hard-earned cash by threatening to send our outstanding bill to a collection agency.

As I've said before, we're poor. We're both full-time college students and what little money we had this month was spent buying Christmas presents for our families. So even if we wanted to pay them, we couldn't.

My question is this: is this legal? Can they change the price over a month after we had already paid and then demand we make up the extra? If so, what recourse do we have?

Do you have a receipt showing the charges and indicating it was paid? If so then I don't see a problem. If they treatened to send it to collections on the invoice it sounds like they're just trying to intimidate you.

yelimS
12-08-2006, 06:33 AM
If you don't have the receipt, keep the letter as it seems to be indicating that you've already paid what you initaially were asked to pay.

Keeve
12-08-2006, 07:02 AM
My fiance took her car to an auto-repair shop ... she took it to the nearest garage ... they had "forgotten" to add in the price of towing and manual labour to my bill, ...
Did she drive it to them, or did they tow it?

Una Persson
12-08-2006, 07:04 AM
You're going to need to talk to a lawyer to get the Straight Dope, because there's a couple of things at play here.

First, there's the issue of whether or not the bill as submitted to you represents the full contract of services, or whether it only represents a part of the contract of services. Very often the tow company adds its bill onto the shop bill, and these are sometimes forgotten - nothing nefarious at all about it in many cases, just a paperwork screwup. It's happened to me at least once, on both sides of the bill (I worked as an import auto mechanic as part of my college days).

Then there's the timing of the bill and their negligence in collecting it. One could argue, probably unsuccessfully, that their laxity in billing you represents a burden to you due to budgetary issues - when you paid them originally, you had the money, and you were unable to budget looking-forward for this additional cost., and that you should not have to pay it. More likely, you can argue for a much longer length of time for payment.

Then there's the moral issue - it sounds like the bill is not fraudulent, just mismanaged. You have to ask yourself if you make a contract for goods and services, should you pay for said goods and services if they are provided. The fact that the bill was late means you were actually floated an interest-free loan, in effect.

Then there's the asshole issue - a company which doesn't bill you for months and months, then sends a bill with a short payment period and a threat for collections, is a company which is, either intentionally or not, looking to be combative and oppositional.

If you morally believe you owe the bill, I recommend you send them a letter back explaining formally that you believe their billing practices were negligent since they delayed for so long, and that you will pay the bill within 45 days of your receipt of it. Tell them if they harass you over the bill before that 45 days have expired, you will dispute the bill on the grounds that given their mismanagement of the billing process and apparent ineptitude, you have questions about the accuracy of the bill in whole and think that some sort of arbitration is called for, etc.

Rick
12-08-2006, 08:29 AM
Where are you? Depending on your location this might be flat illegal. In California an estimate has to be given before work is done. If the estimate is not updated, the shop is shit out of luck on any additional charges. If you are in California call the Bureau of Automotive Repair. If you are not in California check your states web sites for either Attorney Generals office, consumer protection office, department of motor vehicles, or bureau of auto repair. (No clue what they might call it where you live)

beckiemoriello
12-09-2006, 08:31 AM
Then there's the moral issue - it sounds like the bill is not fraudulent, just mismanaged.
If this is true, the mechanic shop made the mistake, so they should have to pay for their mistake.


The same thing happened to me once at the dentist. I paid my bill in full, then a month later the dentist claimed that they'd made a mistake and hadn't charged me enough. ($100-->$190)

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