A mechanic made a repair without my permission. Who should pay?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I take my car to the dealer and agree to a $89 diagnostic fee. The dealer calls me and says, "You have a vacuum line that popped off, and the total fee, including diagnostics, will be $153." I say, "Wait. I need to think about it." I arrive at the dealership, find my vehicle and start it up. All seems to be fixed. I go to the service counter to pay my $89 diagnostic fee, and the dealer says fine, but wait here for a while. He proceeds to run out back with a mechanic to disconnect the vacuum line. After all, I am only paying for the diagnostic service. I catch him in the act and make him stop. Who is right? Do I allow him to intentionally break what he already fixed because he was not supposed to fix it? Is it wrong for a mechanic to intentionally break anything, even if it is to reverse something he will not be getting paid for? I suffered a lot of verbal abuse in this situation, and have been sifting through the ethical issues here. What do you think? -- Tom

RAY: I'm afraid we have to side with the dealership here, Tom. While charging an extra $64 is a little steep for reattaching a 64-cent vacuum hose, the dealership is correct in principle.

TOM: Here's the scenario. The mechanic does the diagnostic work and concludes that you have a vacuum leak. He tells the service manager, who presumably plans to call you to get your approval.

RAY: But while the mechanic's got the car in his bay, and he's got the hood open, and he's got the air filter off and wires pulled out of the way, he decides to go ahead and fix it. Not only is it easier to do it when everything is fresh in his mind, but by fixing it, he can confirm that he's correctly diagnosed it. And once he's confirmed that it's fixed, he's not going to "unfix it" until you call back and then have to "fix it" again. So he leaves it "fixed."

TOM: It's true, he fixed it then for his own convenience and took a risk. He didn't want to pull your car out, and then have to pull it back in and start over later. That was his decision, and you have the right not to pay him for the repair.

RAY: But if you decide not to pay for the repair, then he has the right not to give you his work.

TOM: Think about it as if it were a tangible item instead of a service he were selling. Let's say you needed a new headlight. If they plugged one in to make sure it fixed the problem, and then you decided not to pay for the bulb, they'd certainly have the right to remove the bulb and keep it, wouldn't they? Well, ethically speaking, the same is true for a service.

RAY: So while it was awkward, we agree that what he did was certainly within his rights. Otherwise, you'd be, in effect, stealing his services. So if you can take it from the diagnosis and fix it yourself, pay the $89 and Godspeed. If not, pay the guy for his work, and if you don't like the prices at this place, take your car elsewhere next time.

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