troubleshooter: who pays what when your vehicle is damaged at the mechanic

We drop our vehicles off at the shop to get them back better than we found them, but incidents happen. It’s not a common occurrence, but when it happens things can go from bad to worse quickly. Damages can range from a fender scratch from a less-than-careful employee or visitor, to a content theft, to the total loss of a vehicle. But it was in their cars, so it’s the shop’s responsibility, right? Not necessarily.

When you drop your ride off at your regular repair shop for any type of work, you’ll likely sign a document in the form of a repair or work order. You may think you’re just giving the shop permission to diagnose, make repairs, and road-test to confirm, but that small print usually contains the phrase, “We (the shop) are not responsible for any theft or damage to your property that may occur while your vehicle is in our possession.” While that printed declaration alone might not necessarily relieve your shop of liability, the notion of reasonable care and custody may. Care and custody means someone else, looking after your property, takes care of it as if it was their own. In the case of a repair shop it usually means keeping the keys secure, locking the vehicle with its windows closed when parked outside, providing a relatively safe parking area with lighting, and clear pavement markings. In certain isolated or high-crime areas there might be cameras, fences with lockable gates, or other additional security measures.

Damage can occur from three common sources; employees, visitors, or acts of God. In the case where another customer hits your vehicle with theirs while moving in the parking area, trying to get the shop to cover it would be akin to asking Costco to fix a dent that happened in its parking lot. If a shop employee was driving that vehicle that hit yours, that may be another story — especially if it could be shown they were negligent. Just remember: you gave them written permission to operate your vehicle.

Thefts, committed by persons other than shop employees or operators, are pretty much another ‘your insurance company, not ours’ story if they took reasonable care to protect your property. But if the doors were left unlocked by the shop while it was parked outside on their property or parked in a dark secluded corner of their lot, you and your insurance company might be off the hook. A well-publicized case happened this summer when a customer’s catalytic convertor was cut off their auto while it was at the shop and the shop denied liability.

If your vehicle is staying at a shop overnight or longer, remove anything of value and take it home. Ask some questions at the counter. Have there been any thefts in this area? How are vehicles secured? Can your vehicle be parked inside at night? If it has to be kept for longer periods due to part delays, can it be made mobile to keep at home?

Keyword: Troubleshooter: Who pays what when your vehicle is damaged at the mechanic

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