Can a repair shop keep your car if you do not pay? Probably not.

There are many valid reasons you might refuse to pay a repair bill for your car. The garage may have:

1.Overcharged you;

2. Done work you did not authorize;

3. Not fixed it correctly.

In Rhode Island, a repair shop generally must return your car – even if you have not paid the repair bill – unless the shop has an authorization ok’ing the costs of the repairs signed by the car’s owner.  (The law is RIGL 34-32-1.) In my experience, repair shops seldom have that so, if they keep it, I believe they are guilty of civil, and possible criminal, conversion.

Getting the car back does not mean you do not have to pay; once you have the car, the shop can sue you for what it believes you owe.

If a Rhode Island auto mechanic is holding your car hostage, consider: a) Asking for it back in writing – by fax, e-mail or overnight letter – so it is clear you want it;  b) Filing a police report if the shop will not return it; and  c) Hiring a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, consider suing the shop in Small Claims Court.

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