Should I have to pay a re-stocking fee for parts I didn't end up needing?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray:

I took my car to a mechanic to have a leak checked out. It was losing radiator fluid, and I was concerned (naturally). The mechanic said that the problem was with my radiator and that I would need a new one, along with a new thermostat and sensor, which would run about $600. I told him fine. He ordered the parts, but said it would be a few weeks. While waiting, I had another mechanic look at my car. He said all it needed was a new radiator cap. He replaced the cap, and now my car is fine! The problem is with the first mechanic, who now says I need to pay a restocking fee -- 20 percent of the cost of the parts -- because he feels he shouldn't have to. After all, I wanted the work done. I told him I only wanted the work done because he said it was the only way to fix my car. Do I legally have to pay this fee? I feel it was his mistake. I don't know if he was trying to rip me off, or if he is just a bad mechanic, but either way I think this was his fault, and I shouldn't have to pay for his mistake or incompetence. What do you think? -- David

RAY: We agree with you 100 percent, David. Mechanic No. 1 should be embarrassed to have almost cost you $600 when a $20 radiator cap was all you needed. He should be falling over himself apologizing for failing to check something as obvious as the radiator cap.

TOM: But I guess he's already figured out that you won't ever come back to his shop, so now he's trying to milk you for whatever he can.

RAY: I'd tell him to chase you for it. You'd win, hands down, in any small-claims court.

TOM: And by the way, he might not even be telling the truth about the restocking fee. My regular parts suppliers will take parts back if I don't use them, without any charge. Sometimes you make an educated guess and it turns out to be wrong. Or maybe the customer changes his mind and decides to wait on the repair. So you send back the parts you ordered and get credit or different parts.

RAY: The only thing they're wary of is electrical parts. They don't want you to stick a new, thousand-dollar computer in a car, fry it, and then send it back to them and say, "Well, that wasn't it!"

TOM: Yeah. We tried that once. They wanted a 100 percent restocking fee.

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