What state are you in? Laws vary quite a bit, but where I am in Wisconsin, there are three places to sign on the repair order. The first says, "I want an estimate in writing before the work is started". We rarely use that because it requires someone to look at the car and come up with a diagnosis without being allowed to charge for their time. Who else do you know who works for free? This choice is mainly used when the cost of a service is already known, such as an alignment or standard brake job with no surprises.
The second choice is "I want an estimate if the cost of repairs exceeds _______". Based on your conversation with the mechanic or shop personnel, you fill in the amount. This choice is used perhaps 95 percent of the time. If you allow, lets say, $100.00, the mechanic can work on it for about an hour to come up with a diagnosis, and a more thorough estimate, or he can fix it if it can be done for under $100.00. The shop people are usually pretty experienced and can suggest an amount to write in that is likely to get the diagnosis and repair done. If it is found the repairs are going to involve more parts or labor than first expected, they can't go over the written amount without approval from you. That can be done over the phone. We really hate having to tell people more parts or time is required, so we try to be accurate the first time. The problem is there can always be surprises that no one could have seen coming.
The third choice is "go ahead and do the repairs, regardless of cost". We hate that one because you're going to be hit with a surprise when you come to pick up the car. About the only time that is used is when the repair is going to be covered under warranty and the bill will be paid by the manufacturer. Even then, most dealership owners will push their service writers to have you enter "$0.00" in choice number two. That way they're safe knowing that you know you won't be charged for anything. They also know if the warranty charge is legitimate, they aren't going to have an argument with the manufacturer to get paid.
Once you agreed to a price, you should have been contacted before that was exceeded. I think there are some exceptions in some states for things like sales tax, environmental charges, and small things like that. I think we are limited to exceeding the estimate by ten percent to cover sales tax and other little things.
The issue is the shop will have a real hard time forcing you to pay more than the estimate once the repairs are completed. If they contact you in the middle of the repair and tell you they need more money, you have the right to tell them to stop, or you can allow them to continue. The problem is if you tell them to stop, you may get the car back in pieces. Obviously this is not in your best interest, and the shop owner knows that, but what is not so well-known is it's not in the shop's best interest either to leave you stranded with a disassembled car. Good communication prevents a lot of this heartache. Good service writers will go over some of the pitfalls they could run into so you're warned ahead of time.
In the case of timing belts and chains, when the engine has already stopped running because it broke, there's a real good chance serious internal damage took place inside the engine. Most import engines are of the "interference" design which means when the belt or chain breaks, the valves that were open when they came to a stop were hit and bent by the pistons as they coasted to a stop.
Some mechanics prefer to install a used engine rather than try to do a valve job, but that used engine could easily develop the same problem that you have right now. The best approach is to replace the bent valves. It's pretty easy to know if your engine is an interference engine. You can go to the Rock Auto web site, select your engine size, model, year, etc, then click on "engine" parts, then "timing components". Most of their suppliers will include "interference engine" in their part descriptions if that applies.
As for the theft charge, what would the police say if you called them saying someone's car was stolen? You have no right to do that and neither does the shop owner. The story is different if you take the car from their lot without paying the bill. That is called "theft of services". You can't be charged with stealing your own car, but you can be charged with theft of services, ... Except that you have the receipt in your hand, I assume marked "Paid". If you never agreed to any additional charges how can they add more on later? If that were possible, every car owner would have to worry about that every time they took their car to a shop.
If someone other than you took a phone call from the shop and authorized additional work and charges, that should have been noted on their copy of the repair order to include the date, time, name of the person contacted, and the initials of the service writer. I suspect that did not take place because you would have been presented with the higher bill when you picked up the car. Had you not paid the amount they asked for, they wouldn't have handed you the keys.
By the way, mechanics work for free every week on someone's car. Sometimes we can't know exactly when we're going to figure out the cause of the problem, and when we think we have it solved, we stick on a new part to verify our diagnosis. At that point we may have gone over the allotted time but it would take even more time to take the part back off. Typically at a dealership the service manager will see to it the mechanic gets paid for his time, but you aren't charged for it. This is a goodwill gesture on their part and it eliminates the arguing and sniveling over a relatively few dollars.
Monday, February 15th, 2016 AT 5:15 PM