Having dealt with automobile law for 23 years now, I have heard all the scams. One which pops up more often than you might think is one where a brake shop tells a customer, “Your brakes are so bad that legally, I cannot let you drive this car until you get them fixed.”
It goes like this: You bring your car into a brake shop. After inspecting your brakes, the mechanic comes out with a grim look on his face. He quotes an astronomical figure for getting all of your rotors, drums, bearings, gimbals, neeners and bliskets replaced, resurfaced, rebalanced, reharmonized and re-gimbalized. When you balk at the price - and the fact that some of those things aren’t real - he shakes his head and says, “Here’s the problem. Your car is unsafe to drive. Legally, I cannot let you drive that car until it is fixed.”
This scam works because there seems to be some underlying logic to it: If the brakes are dangerous, then the brake shop is removing a hazard from the road by refusing to let the dangerous car leave. Of course, that flies in the face of the obvious fact: The car got to the shop safely. It can just as easily leave safely. But, their hands their tied. It’s the LAW.
Is there a law that says a brake shop can’t let you leave with dangerous brakes? It’s hard to disprove a negative. I could list every law known to man here - which Kinja might not allow - and point out the absence of such a law, but most readers wouldn’t like that. Hey, I’m surprised any of you made it this far. But, if it was the law in Michigan, it would be somewhere in here. Between MCL 1 and MCL 830.505, I challenge you to show me the “I can’t let you leave until you pay me to fix your brakes,” law. If you are in another state, show me that state’s law.
Michigan’s Secretary of State website offers advice on brake repairs and notes that if you do not like an estimate given by one shop, you can go get a second opinion. Pray tell: How could you do that if it was illegal for shop #1 to “let you” leave?
And, why would this law not apply to tire shops? “Your tires are so bald, they’re dangerous. I can’t legally let you leave until you replace them.”
And still, I hear from consumers who were told they had to get their homicidal brakes fixed ASAP at the particular shop because the shop was bound “by law” to do the repair and not let that car re-enter traffic until they had discharged their legal duty.
What do you do if the brake shop tells you this? Ask them to put it in writing. You know: “I, Brake Shop, am refusing to let Customer leave until Customer authorizes me to repair the brakes on Customer’s car.” Ha! I’m kidding. They’d never put that in writing.
Call the police. The car is yours and the brake shop has no right to hold it. (By the way, when the police show up the brake shop will say they were holding your car pursuant to a mechanic’s lien because you refused to pay for an inspection or some such - and they will deny having ever said anything about it being “illegal” for them to let you leave without the brake repair.)
The fallback argument, I suspect, is going to be that the brake shop is worried about getting sued by someone after the customer with the bad brakes goes out and kills someone. However, “I don’t want to get sued,” is not the same as “I am not legally allowed to let you leave.”
Still, if that is the concern they could write, “Customer declined repairs” on the estimate and hand it to the customer. A mechanic or two could witness it. After all, since the repair was declined the mechanics don’t exactly have a lot of gimbals to re-gimbalize at the moment.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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