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Today was supposed to be quiet and I was going to put in some extra time on the hot spots in the living room since I did that in the kitchen yesterday. Instead, we had crazy drama.

A $950 car repair estimate becomes an $1100+ invoice...

Two days ago, Vogon dropped off the car at a local car shop because he suspected it had a leaking heater core. The shop gave him an estimate of $950 to repair that, replace the thermostat and flush and fill the radiator. He agreed to that.

This morning, he walks over to pick the car up and moves it because the shop's parking lot is often crowded. He goes in to pay for the work and is now told he owes just over $1100 for the work. He tells them he's going to pay $950 and hands them an already filled out check. They photocopy the check and tell him they aren't going to accept it. He repeats that he agreed to pay $950 and leaves.

He comes home livid and starts calling lawyers to ask if what the car shop did is legal. About ten minutes after he comes in, someone knocks on the front door. I can't see anyone standing in front of the peephole, so I tell him that someone knocked but I can't see them. (Delivery people and building maintenance often do that but announce "UPS" or whatever when they knock. If I can't see someone and they don't identify themselves, I don't open the door.) He comes over and opens the door to a police officer, who asks him to step outside to talk. Vogon walks outside and closes the door behind him.

...then the police arrive.

Several minutes later, I hear a scuffle and a thump. I go outside to see Vogon lying facedown on the concrete breezeway floor, handcuffed and bleeding. He looks confused and angry and smells like he's in ketosis, which clues me in that his blood sugar is crashing. I tell the police officer that Vogon is hypoglycemic and becomes argumentative when his blood sugar is too low, then ask if I can get him a glucose tablet. He agrees and I return with a sealed tube of tablets, open it in front of him and give Vogon (now sitting up against the wall) one. He's already shaking and gagging so much that he drops it on the ground after a few seconds, so I give him a new one and dispose of the dropped one inside.

I sit down outside and talk to the officer, then assess Vogon's injuries and ask if I can clean him up. (Note here that I'm not a medical professional; I used to be certified as a wilderness first responder and I was concerned about a possible head injury because he had a concussion last year.) The officer agrees, so I go inside again to get the first-aid kit. When I come back out, a second officer is there. I use an antiseptic wipe to clean the laceration on the bridge of his nose and a rising abrasion/lump on his left temple. I open an adhesive bandage to put on his nose, but the officer asks me not to because they've called an ambulance crew to check him out. Vogon expresses embarassment that they've done that, but they say just to sit tight.

While we wait, the first officer briefs the second one on the situation and I understand that the officer immobilized and cuffed Vogon because he thought he was behaving erratically and smelled of alcohol. (I watch his alcohol intake like a hawk, so I was able to tell them the last drink he had was a bottled hefeweisen the night before.) It turns out the responding crew is not from any of the closest several stations to us, so we have about a ten-minute wait for the responding crew to arrive from a Dallas FD station down on Beltline. (There are two DFD stations, two Carrollton FD stations and an Addison FD station closer to us. Yes, I keep track of things like that; no, I didn't volunteer that knowledge at the time.)

A fire engine and an ambulance arrive and we go downstairs for them to check Vogon out. I give his medical history and contact information to one responder, another cleans his nose laceration again and then checks his glucose level with an extremely slow meter (it counted down from 60 seconds before displaying the result, no kidding).

The police take us to the bank...

More discussion between the officers and responding crew ensues; the fire engine and ambulance leave several minutes later and the police officers ask if I can go get cash out of his account to pay the auto shop. I reply that no, we keep separate accounts, but he does have the funds in his account and I'm willing to cover the remaining balance the shop wants with funds from my account. They decide to escort us both to the bank in separate cars, then take us down to the car shop to settle.

The car I'm riding in winds up behind after being stopped at a stoplight and my cell phone rings while we're at the light. I guess I was subconciously transmitting distress signals because -- no surprise -- it was saarlander, who kindly listened to me recount what had just happened. When we get to the bank, the officer suggests I wait in the car, so only Vogon goes into the bank. We go down to the car shop and again only Vogon goes in with an officer and comes out with the receipt but not the car keys. He waves and smiles at me before getting back into the car he's riding in so I hope that's a good sign.

...and the car shop "can't find" our keys when I return later to pay off the balance.

We're returned home, I thank the police officers and gently redirect Vogon to say thank you and go upstairs to eat before he gets wound up again. They leave and we head upstairs.

A few minutes later he realizes I hadn't gone into the bank and asks if I want to go. I do, so we go and I get more than enough to pay the remaining balance listed on the receipt, which is noted with the balance due today. Vogon still does not want to pay them, so I tell him it's fine if he waits in the car while I take care of it. I go in and pay the balance, get my change and receipt and take it back out to the car when I realize they hadn't given me the keys, so I go back in with my receipt to ask for the keys. Vogon follows me in and is rather upset that they didn't give me the keys, so I repeatedly tell him he needs to be quiet or stand outside. He's quiet for a bit, then gets angry again because I've been waiting five minutes in an empty lobby without any update from the manager on the keys. He finally tells Vogon he needs to step outside or he will call the police and Vogon is rather cranky about it but finally agrees. The manager leaves the lobby to ask a mechanic about the location of the keys and I turn to the customer that has been in the lobby the entire time and apologize to him; he replies, "I totally understand, I'm not satisfied with them either!".

A full ten minutes after I asked for the keys, they're found and we leave. I ask to go through the Taco Bell drive through to get a snack and something for Vogon because I know he hasn't eaten today and it's almost 2 PM (!). He says he's not hungry but agrees, so I make a small order and we head over to the school, where he seethes for a bit while I eat, then he eats what I ordered for him and we return to our regularly scheduled day.

Bottom line: Vogon's pissed and we are Not Amused.

Vogon is ready to take them to small claims court, but I don't know about how that works here. (I've only done that process in Virginia when my ex-roommates refused to repay me the cost of the refrigerator lease that they agreed to pay me for so they could keep it when I moved to another room.)

As a small consolation, I've bought their business name in .com, .net, .biz and .info with private registration all for $20 thanks to a package deal from my registrar and plan to use them for something akin to What's Wrong At Jiffy Lube? because that's how I deal with disagreements I don't think court would help.

For whoever asked me this summer whether police cars have TollTags, they do. Carrollton PD cars have them mounted right below the rearview mirror with the car number screened onto the side of the tag facing the windshield.

edit 2019: Well, I just figured out why Vogon's neck's been sore all afternoon. I missed one injury in my initial assessment -- he also contacted the concrete about an inch into his scalp from the hairline above his left eye, hard enough to take off a n approximately 1x1cm patch of skin and hair. Grah.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
popcornoblivion
Nov. 4th, 2006 12:34 am (UTC)
I would've asked for the reason the estimate was so much higher than the actual cost. Were there additional parts or labor needed that weren't noted in the original estimate? Is the original estimate itemized & in writing, signed by someone at the repair shop? Without reasonable cause for hiking up the cost, I'd say you should be able to get back the additional fees. Of course, now that they've got the money, it'll be a lot harder to get it back - but you had to pay them to get your car. Mechanics suck. :(

If there's a major discrepancy, I'd definitely sue in small claims, but since the difference is $150, and you'll lose $50 in court costs, I'm not sure it's the best solution. If you have any attorney-friends in Texas, get them to write a threatening letter & hope that'll help.

How did Vogon end up bleeding with the cops? Did he fall or something?
oddharmonic
Nov. 4th, 2006 01:16 am (UTC)
I asked them why the invoice amount was higher this afternoon and didn't get an answer. I'll call again on Monday to ask.

The invoice I have is not itemized beyond listing services; it does not list out parts or labor. It lists an oil change (which he specifically said he did not want when we dropped off the car), oil disposal and the three services he had requested (flush/fill, heater core and thermostat). The price lines next to each of the services rendered lists two sets of numbers, the estimate we were given in parentheses and the invoiced amount.

Oddly, there was an estimate price for the oil change he asked not to have and no estimate price for the thermostat and the invoice price for the oil change is 2.5 times the estimate price. I can see why that must have upset Vogon when he went to pay for the car.

Vogon ended up bleeding because his head came in contact with the concrete breezeway floor when the police officer pushed him into a prone position. Once I explained he was hypoglycemic and his blood sugar was too low, the police officer apologized and said he thought that Vogon was under the influence and behaving erratically. I understand why he did that and Vogon's none the worse for wear (small bruises on his temple and shoulder, a 1cm laceration) so that's a non-issue at this point.

Thanks for your advice. I really appreciate it!
polyhymnia
Nov. 4th, 2006 01:54 am (UTC)
You may have already found this, but in case not, it seems useful:

http://www.oag.state.tx.us/AG_Publications/txts/carepair.shtml

Unfortunately it appears that Texas is not among the states with strong requirements about estimates vs. actual costs. But you can file a claim with the AG's office instead of small claims court -- I don't know which is better.
oddharmonic
Nov. 4th, 2006 03:02 am (UTC)
We'll be filing with the AG's office.

I was smarting over the oil change he asked them not to do when he added that their outdoor signage reads "oil change $10.88" and we were charged $25 for it. I'm going by tomorrow to take photos of that sign.
king_chiron
Nov. 4th, 2006 03:12 am (UTC)
Wait, the car shop called the cops and then came over your house and made you pay?! That's insane, it's a civil matter not a criminal one, and it sounds like they were way over the line. Are you sure Vogon didn't do something like threaten them physically that might have caused the cops to get involved?
oddharmonic
Nov. 4th, 2006 03:37 am (UTC)
The car shop called the police and the police came over and notified us of our options. If we hadn't agreed to go over there with their escort and make arrangements, they could have charged Vogon with theft of service for taking the car without paying in full or agreeing to a payment plan, had the car towed and charged Vogon with resisting arrest on the single officer's word. By the time the second officer arrived, Vogon was sitting cuffed against the wall and had consumed a glucose tablet so he was just sitting there looking dazed.

Right now our next step is filing with the state attorney general's office because they performed and overcharged us for a service we did not authorize (the oil change).

I think the police officer overreacted with the amount of physical force he used because our walls are thin enough that I can hear conversation in the breezeway and I didn't hear anything out of the ordinary before he took Vogon down to the floor. There's a bloodstain outside where Vogon contacted the breezeway floor and I'm going to photograph it before I scrub it off because I don't want to see it again.
angelpez
Nov. 4th, 2006 03:49 am (UTC)
Wow! What a day! I don't have any advice, but I hope you all get it worked out!
blythewater
Nov. 4th, 2006 05:51 am (UTC)
wow, that's a mess. I still don't understand why the cops came to the house....I mean, he didn't take the car when he left, did he? So what was the reason for the police coming in the first place? There wasn't theft or anything....they still had the car.
oddharmonic
Nov. 4th, 2006 07:27 am (UTC)
They called the police because he moved his car out of their parking lot before paying and insisted he was only going to pay the estimated cost instead of the final invoiced cost.

I settled the remaining balance this afternoon so they cannot attempt to place a lien against or repossess the car -- aside from being our only car, it's been paid off for a few years and we like not having a car payment. We will be filing with the state attorney's general office because they would not explain to me why the final cost was so much higher than the estimate and they performed a service (the oil change) without our authorization /and/ overcharged us for it.
blythewater
Nov. 5th, 2006 01:26 am (UTC)
Ah, okay. Duh, got it now.

Hmm...sounds like they were definitely trying to take you for some extra money there! And then also the police overreaction. Sorry this all happened; Argh....hope you get it all worked out soon!
oddharmonic
Nov. 6th, 2006 01:04 am (UTC)
No problem. I didn't explain in the initial post how Vogon came to be bleeding, either.

I have found a few other complaints about the car shop online (the first Google hit for the company name in quotes is a complaint at ripoffreport.com) and they have an unsatisfactory rating with the BBB, although I don't put a lot of stock in the BBB because non-member businesses trying to contest unsatisfactory ratings are often pressured to become members.

I'm calling the police department in the morning to request a copy of the report, then the state attorney general's office to get started on filing a complaint with them. Thanks for your well wishes.
gamahucheur
Nov. 4th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)
In most or all of the states in which I've lived, a final price of such work cannot exceed an estimate by more that 10%.

It is obvious that there must be some constraint; otherwise a firm could ensure its prosperity the first time that Bill Gates brought in a car for repair: The final cost was $5 billion, sir.

The question is of how Texas (or your municipality) effects the limitation; it might set a threshold of 20% or higher, or it might leave each case for possible litigation, and the capricious decision of Judge Billy Pud Thornbrook.

I did find a PDF from the state on car repair. It did not look hopeful.
oddharmonic
Nov. 6th, 2006 01:02 am (UTC)
At the state level, there's not much protection for the excessive cost, but I can make a complaint based on the shop performing unauthorized services.

I still need to look into our city and county guidelines on car repair; we live within Dallas city limits but outside the Dallas County limits.
clemidia
Nov. 5th, 2006 05:34 am (UTC)
Have I mentioned lately what a wonderful person you are and how lucky any guy is to have you?
oddharmonic
Nov. 6th, 2006 12:59 am (UTC)
Thank you.

The initial officer thanked me for coming outside and "talking [Vogon] down" after I heard the scuffle. I can't imagine why someone would stay inside through suspicious noises like that! I look outside when I hear any unusual noises in the breezeway or on the stairs and I was already on alert he looked peaked when he went outside.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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oddharmonic
Melissa, starry-eyed soy-lovin' Expatriated Zulu

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