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Do you take a credit card approval before doing a repair job?

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  A shop owner in Fuquay Varina, N.C., writes:

“I've gotten burned twice in the last couple of years with customers approving repairs over the phone then when they show up to pick up their repaired cars, present me with a copy of the North Carolina law stating they do not need to pay for repairs if they did not authorize them. I am then forced by law enforcement to release their cars.

“My lawyer indicated the only way I can really avoid that is to act like a hotel, by asking for a credit card imprint when customers check in. I can't imagine someone dropping a car off for diagnostic service giving me a credit card imprint.

“Operating a transmission shop, I'm not just looking at losing a $400 repair bill—I've lost a $2,300 and a $2,800 repair bill with this crap. Needless to say, this is a hit in this economy that I can't afford to take.

“What do you guys do?”

  Tom Ham replies:

“Try checking with another attorney. Something about this does not sound right. It goes like this: Start with a customer signature authorizing initial testing, etc. It can be done in-person, or with an after-hours form, or via fax.

“Additional amounts are normally done over the phone and include: Who called whom, phone number called, date, time, brief description of added items, and dollar amount. Other methods would be in-person with another signature or email.

“Last time we had an issue was several years ago. Sheriff was called by a customer and told the customer to pay up if he wanted his car. If you can confirm that your state is different as you describe, then just pay close attention to each customer. If they seem a bit odd (90 percent of the time, you can tell), then tell them that they have to come in to sign in-person for additional work.

“Even though I do not have to do so, I do that now with jobs in the price range you refer to. Plus, I get a deposit for maybe half the estimated final bill. This is not common, but when they seem flaky, it clarifies things.”

  A shop owner in Oregon, Ohio, answers:

“Clients are very street smart, as my brother used to tell me. Yes, we only have a few but it cuts into the bottom line. I agree with getting an email, fax or written text authorization.

“We ask how they plan to pay on big jobs.... We had a gentleman come in after all the work was done. When signing the work order, he told us to call his wife since he's too hard to get a hold of, then left her number and his. He started to barter with the service advisor, did not have a warranty, and said he would not have agreed to the job if he was contacted and that we took advantage of a woman by calling her instead of him.

“We reminded him: 'Did you not say to call your wife?'

“His response: 'You did not try to call me; your number would have come up.'

“We gave him a discount and told him we would take him out of the system. Let him scam the next guy. Life is too short.”

  A technician in Kamloops, British Columbia, replies:

“We have had customers say they did not agree (to certain repairs) when they came to pick up the car. Not sure what my manager does but no cops have been involved—and no car has left without being paid for.

“We do have a big problem with customers leaving a big job till they can afford them. But I would just solve that by charging a fee for each day the vehicle is left after being diagnosed or repaired.”

  A California shop owner answers:

“Out here in the Inland Empire of Southern California, the economy got really bad. We started asking for a deposit—either by phone or in-person—to help keep the crooks away. We also send them a fax or email so they could approve repairs in writing.

“Old relationships we once had with good customers do not seem to apply to today. If they won't give you a deposit, turn them away.”

These questions and responses are posted on the Automotive Management Network website, which is operated by Deb and Tom Ham, owners of Auto Centric (formerly Ham's Automotive) in Grand Rapids, Mich. The comments—used with permission—have been edited for clarity and brevity. This column first appeared in Service Zone, Tire Business' auto service e-newsletter. To subscribe, visit
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