Garage should disclose storage fee upfront

Friday, September 16, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray: Last winter, my dad got an itemized bill from a garage repair shop that included charges for storage and for moving his vehicle when it snowed. The truck was outside, in the garage's parking lot, because they were waiting for a part. Also, when his pickup truck needed to be moved, the battery had gone dead, so the garage charged him for testing the battery (it was dead) and putting in a new one. My father didn't mind the battery bill, but wondered if the storage charge was a fair charge.

Christine

Ray: Well, Christine, our policy is that if you don't pick up your car within 24 hours after being notified that it's ready, then we initiate an exorbitant storage charge to "encourage" you to get it out of our way.

Tom: The reason we do this is because, in urban areas, it's a burden for garages to have to store extra cars. It usually involves constantly moving them around to get access to other cars, and it sometimes involves getting them in and out of the garage at the beginning and end of each day to prevent theft, vandalism or parking tickets.

Ray: And things are even worse when it snows. Then we have to constantly move the cars around to allow the snowplows to work. And once the snowplows have been by, we have to dig the cars out because the snowplows have buried them. Then after we do this every day for a week, the owner comes back with a beautiful, dark-bronze, Puerto Vallartan suntan. That ticks us off!

Tom: So, in general, storage fees are not for making money. They're there to discourage people from leaving their cars at a shop for the long term.

Ray: And that's why I don't really understand why your father was charged while they were waiting for a part. It sounds like he would have been happy to pick up the car as soon as it was ready.

Tom: If the garage had a space problem, they should have disclosed that at the outset. If they knew the part was going to take a week -- or whatever -- to arrive, and they didn't have room for the car, they should have said: "Look, Fred, you'd be better off just keeping the truck, and we'll call you when the part comes in. Otherwise, we'll have to charge you a storage fee."

Ray: Or if the truck didn't run, they could have asked him if he wanted it towed somewhere else until the part came in. If he belongs to a roadside-assistance program, he might have been able to do that for free.

Tom: So it sounds, at worst, unfair. At best, it's a case of poor communication. Since they're meant to encourage or discourage certain behaviors, storage-fee policies should be clearly posted. And in special cases -- like your father's -- they should be discussed in advance so that no one's surprised when the bill comes.

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