Another Auto Repair Dispute That We Can All Learn From

The scenario is familiar: you took your car to an auto repair shop to have some work done, you got an estimate, and you approved the estimated repair work before leaving the shop; days later, you return to discover that the repair bill is higher than you had approved. What can you do?

To answer that question, here's a story about a guy in North Carolina (Landon) who found himself in that exact scenario after a car accident necessitated some body repair on his car.

Dispute timeline

We'll start with a quick timeline of events leading up to the dispute. Then we'll flesh out the narrative of how Landon handled and resolved the dispute.

August 30, 2018

Another driver hits Landon's car. It's the other driver's fault.

September 1, 2018

Landon's car is still drive-able. So, after calling the other driver's insurance company (Geico) to inquire about the claim process, Landon drives his car to Geico's claims office. Geico's adjuster (Patrick) surveys Landon's car and then hands him a repair estimate (the amount of which is around $1,400). Before he leaves, Landon obtains a list of Geico's "recommended" repair shops.

September 4, 2018

Landon calls one of the recommended repair shops and schedules a time to get a repair estimate from the shop. Then he calls Enterprise Rent-A-Car to arrange to be picked up at the repair shop and driven back to the Enterprise lot to rent a car for a few days, while Landon's car is being repaired.

Landon arrives at the repair shop as scheduled, obtains a written estimate from the manager (Scott), and approves the estimated repair work. Then the Enterprise driver arrives, and Landon leaves to go pick-up a rental car.

Landon drives home in a rental car (which incurs a daily rental fee of around $50).

September 5, 2018

The repair shop begins work on Landon's vehicle.

September 11, 2018

Geico's adjuster calls Landon and leaves a voice message:

Hello, this message is for Landon. This is Patrick, the Geico adjuster that's been assigned to supplement your [Landon's car make and model]. I spoke with Scott at [the repair shop]. Everything has been taken care of: alignment and repairs have been performed for the damages found. Basically, you just need to cover the cost of the tire once you pick up the vehicle. They are ready for you to pick up. If you have any questions, please give me a call. Thank you so much.

Upon listening to this message, Landon was thinking to himself: Why would I be covering the cost of any of the repairs? The other driver was at fault. So Geico should be covering 100% of the repair bill.

But because Landon had not, by that time, seen a final bill from the repair shop, he emails Scott to request a final bill. Scott replies with two files attached; both appear to be scans of paper invoices, but neither scan appears to show all parts of the invoice; the margins are cut off in places. More importantly, though, neither the invoices' descriptions nor line-item totals match the estimates Landon had previously received from Geico and the repair shop; indeed, these invoices appeared to contain repair work not previously discussed or agreed to.

September 12, 2018

Landon calls the repair shop to inquire about the repair work performed, and, ultimately, to try to figure out why Geico would be trying to omit certain repairs from their bill. The repair shop routes Landon's call to a service manager named Hassan. Hassan explains that the repair work done on Landon's car fell into two parent categories: mechanical and body. Hassan's shop, he explained, had performed the mechanical work, including replacing a damaged tire, balancing all four tires, and performing an alignment.

When Landon compared the two invoices Scott had emailed him the day before to the description of work Hassan was now giving, Landon determined that the repair work not previously discussed or agreed to seemed to be the mechanical work Hassan's shop had done.

Hassan's characterization of "his shop" struck Landon as odd, though. What did he mean? What other shop was involved here? As it turned out, the repair shop manager who had given Landon the written estimate on 9/4/2018 (Scott) was in charge of a separate shop that only did body work. In contrast, Hassan was a service manager at a nearby shop that did mechanical and service work. As Hassan would later explain, both Hassan's shop and Scott's shop had the same owner; but they were two separate businesses located in two different places, one down the street from the other.

Scott had failed to disclose that his shop could only perform the body work, and that the mechanical work could only be performed if Landon's car were towed to another shop. Despite this lack of clarity, though, Landon might not have had a problem with two repair shops being involved, if a consequence of this non-disclosure were not that Landon would have to pay for additional costs that Geico would not cover.

Anyway, after a series of email exchanges with Scott that day, during which Scott begrudgingly provided Landon with a little more explanation and, after some unrelenting pressure from Landon, another bill containing almost (but still not) all of the items being charged to either Geico or Landon, Scott eventually told Landon that he would have to be an additional $287 before the repair shop would release his car to him.

In addition, sensing that Landon was reluctant to pay this $287 of charges resulting from work not included in the 9/4/2018 estimate, Scott told Landon that Scott's repair shop would tack on an additional $45/day for storage of Landon's vehicle, for each day that Landon had not yet paid the $287 (and, in the same message, Scott reminded Landon that he would also incur additional rental fees of around $50/day, given that Geico would not cover rental car fees once the repairs to Landon's car had been completed):

Just be aware, Geico I believe is cutting off rental coverage as of today and Enterprise would be charging you additional rental. In a nutshell, Geico is paying (has payed you already), and as per the VM the adjuster left you yesterday, for the alignment, the wheel cover and the body repairs.
You will be responsible for the tire and mount and balance. I am comping the $75.00 tow bill to take the vehicle from here to the service department to do you a favor. Geico would not pay for that.
Hope that clarifies whatever information your needing. Vehicle is ready-You will owe $287.00 at pickup. I am requesting all vehicle that are ready are picked up by Thursday at 4 pm so we don't have them on our lot for this storm, after that point they will be stored inside and we do charge $45.00/day for inside storage-we can't leave them outside due to possible damage from nearby debris/etc.

So, in essence, Landon's auto repair dispute entailed the repair shop trying charge Landon $287 more than discussed, estimated, and agreed to.

What it takes to dispute an auto repair bill

In a word, you need evidence--ideally, four types...