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How to Deal With a Bad Deal

Written by Matt Jabs - 17 Comments

Have you ever paid in advance for a service you had yet to receive, only to get screwed over in the end? Those of us who have been on the short side of this stick know that it’s never a fun experience! Fruh-strey-shun!

As some of you already know, my wife and I have been a one car couple for over 8 months now. After an auto accident, my 2001 Jeep Cherokee was hurtin’ for certain. The initial estimates were that the repairs would cost about $4,000 more than the Jeep was worth.

In other words, my car was totaled. This did not stop me. I found a “friend of a friend” that could do the whole job, parts and labor for $3,500. This body mechanic had done some work for me before, was a little slow, but always came through without any major problems. Then I gave him my Jeep…

Did I pay him in advance?

Yes. Well… partly. I only gave him enough money to buy the necessary parts, which ended up being $2,500. He was able to do the repairs for so much less than the other body shop because he was picking up a majority of the parts from local junk yards, and charging less than half for labor.

Before proceeding further I should mention a few things for the record:

  • I was not fully insuring the vehicle against collision damage; at the time of the accident I was carrying only personal liability and comprehensive coverage.
  • The cost for repairs at the other body shop was over $9,000 which I was simply not going to pay.
  • The body mechanic I ended up using works out of his home in his spare time and does decent work, but has turned out to be incredibly unreliable.

Did I get a receipt?

Yes. I have a written receipt from him stating that I gave him $2,500 for car parts that I have not yet received. I have checked up on the mechanic many, many, many, many times to ensure that he is continuing to make progress and that he has indeed used the money to buy the parts for the Jeep.

I have dropped by his house a few times to see the progress with my own eyes, and have called him at least 25 times over the last 8 months (which is nearly once per week). We’ve both become very frustrated with the whole situation. Me for obvious reasons, and him because I keep pressuring him to get the work done. I believe he’s frustrated by his own lack of work ethic and performance. He winds up giving me a different excuse every time I talk to him.

I am a patient man, but I have no use for this type of behavior — especially when it comes to a business transaction. I’m trying very hard to remain patient and calm through the whole matter and cut the guy more slack. At the end of the day, however, I need to my truck back along with something to show for my money spent.

The other day he blew up at me over the phone – swearing, ranting, and raving. He even told me to come over and “kick his a$$” if I wanted my truck back. He apologized soon after his outburst and said that he was under a lot of pressure and on some new medication.

I told him that I’m sorry if I’m annoying to him, but that I really want my truck back. My hands are tied since I’ve already paid him such a large portion of the repair costs, so I’m at the mercy of his poor work ethic.

So what’s the answer?

I have learned four very solid lessons through this whole ordeal that I will take with me through the rest of my life, and will also gladly pass on to you…

  1. Pay for quality. Don’t shop solely based on price. A low price is a good thing, but sometimes the trouble that can come along with it far outweighs the money saved.
  2. Don’t rush into business with the unknown. Before you “strike hands” or agree to do business with someone, make sure you’re confident that they’ll uphold their end of the bargain.
  3. Always get a receipt. If you are paying for parts or labor in advance, make sure you ALWAYS procure written and signed documentation of the transaction.
  4. Prepare yourself emotionally for the worst. There’s always a chance that you’ll end up getting screwed over in the end. Remember that it’s only money, and that it’s not the end of the world. Is it a pain? Most definitely, but you can always overcome.

“Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.” ~ Eric Hoffer

I was supposed to get my Jeep back by the middle of August, but I am still Jeep-less. The mechanic continues to give me excuses while assuring me that he’ll be done soon. At this point, I don’t really care one way or the other. I’ve emotionally separated myself from the situation, so if anything positive happens at this point I will view it as an unexpected blessing.

Published on August 20th, 2009 - 17 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is a thirty-something IT manager and blogger who wants to help himself and others get out of debt. He writes about personal finance and debt-free living at Debt Free Adventure.

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17 Responses to “How to Deal With a Bad Deal”

  1. 1
    Single Guy Money Says:

    Unfortunately, this happens when we try to cut corners to save money. Like the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for”.

    Sorry to hear about the problems with the mechanic though. 8 months is wayyyy to long.

    -SingleGuyMoney

  2. 2
    Foxie@CarsxGirl Says:

    I would be going insane!! Our S2000 has been in the body shop for three weeks now, and even THAT is frustrating beyond belief! (Especially when they said two weeks, and the insurance estimate said 11 days… Not a month.) We got good recommendations for the place, which made it worse for me. I wanted to go to one place, my husband ultimately decided to go here.

    We stopped by to see our baby yesterday, and she’s making lots of progress, finally! Had to get a new quarter panel, new door skin and the driver’s side is covered in bondo work… All that was left was to clean up the welds on the quarter panel and paint her, they were hoping to do paint either yesterday or today. Should be soon that we get her back. We can’t even handle being a two-car couple anymore, let alone one! (My DD is plagued with some sort of mechanical issue that’s been intermittent for 6 months and we have yet to figure out, so she has good days and bad ones. Not good when I go 25 miles to school and back starting today.)

    Good luck with the Jeep! It’s been almost two months since the accident happened for us, and I’m sorely missing our car!!

  3. 3
    Matt Jabs Says:

    Thanks for the support all… I have honestly readied myself for the worst. Now, anything positive from here on out is just that – positive! :-)

  4. 4
    fern Says:

    You’re in a tough situation which i totally sympathize with. My own is a bit similar. I hired a contractor highly recommended by a friend of mine to convert a screened porch into an enclosed sun room. His price was very reasonable and as it turns out, he does great work. The only problem is that after getting about midway through the project, he seemed to lose steam. What happened is that he started other jobs and sometimes only showed up 1 day a week to work on mine.

    This has happened to me before with contractors, so before i hired him i talked to him about this very thing happening, and he assured me he would work on the job steadily until completed. I even got him to agree in writing to finish the whole job in 3 weeks. He’s totally ignored that and i guess we’re now into week 5 or 6. It’s frustrating, but i don’t want to tell him what i really think becus i want to use him again; his quality of work is really good and his price, too, so i’m up against a rock and a hard place.

    I hadn’t wanted my sun room (and family room, which has all the furniture from sun room stored in it now) to be out of commission for the whole summer, but that’s basically what it’s turned out to be. Oh well.

  5. 5
    Bodark Says:

    Possible course of action (if you’ve got the time and desire):

    Pick up jeeep and parts (Uhaul, trailer from a friend, Home-depot truck etc..)

    Sell parts (ebay, local Jeeper’s Club)

    Sell Total vehichle (sometimes called a donar vechicle for guys doing a complete rebuild of another vehichle)
    -OR-
    Donate the whole lot to charity and wrtie off agains your 1040 (AGI permitting)

    All the best, but arguing with the mechanic at this point seems futile, and perhaps a segway to a fist-fight.

  6. 6
    craig Says:

    It’s a tough situation because it’s one where you get what you pay for. You knew going in this was a side gig and he was unreliable and since you didn’t want to take it to the shop and pay the ridiculous costs, you were left with no other option.

  7. 7
    ann Says:

    We had a kind of similar situation last year. Order 2 tons of wood pellets first week of October and was told to call back in 4 to 6 weeks for delivery date. Ordered over the phone and paid by CC ($600.00). Called beginning of November and was given delivery date of Dec 16th and winter was already on its way! After going back and forth with the office person for a few days, we canceled the order and were supposed to be sent a refund. Then found out this company had been taking orders and payment as far back as May knowing that they would not be able to fill 75% of their orders based on what supplier was going to send them. Attorney General then stepped in and shut down the business and is taking legal action.

    Never got the refund, but thankful that we paid by CC. Called CC company & wrote a letter disputing charge & they handled everything. Within two months we got a credit on our statement including the interest paid on the $600.00.

    In the end we found a dealer who had pellets in stock and were able to purchase two tons, but at $30.00 more per ton. We had ordered from the first company because of recommendations by many of our friends who use pellets, good product & low prices.

    Lesson learned – if we have to order and then wait for delivery, I will use the CC (and send the cash payment to CC right away) because it does offer some protection against these types of situations.

  8. 8
    valerie Says:

    Can you take him to small claims court for this?! I mean this is way past the point of patience – this guy is raking you over the coals!

  9. 9
    Steve Says:

    Sorry about your pain but its time to let go, get a tow-truck over there and take the remains of your truck away.

  10. 10
    Troy Says:

    Indeed a tough situation.

    Here is exactly what I would do.

    Take a truck and trailer over there immediately
    Put the Jeep on the trailer
    Put any parts for the Jeep in the back of the truck
    Demand the rest of your money that hasn’t been spent on parts back.

    Leave.

    You will likely not get any money back. But you will get you Jeep and any parts for it back in your possession.

    Then hit RESET. Decide if you want it fixed by someone else, parted out, donated, etc. Forget this guy. Listen…don’t buy the BS. It is common sense. The guy spent your money on something else, and is stalling you. He has no intention of fixing it, because he has no money left for parts. Sorry, but it is true. Get this guy, and his toxic attitude out of your life.

    I would get your Jeep back immediately, or this will continue to get worse. Cut your losses now.

    Even if you only get your Jeep back, a few parts, and no money refunded, at least you have options including fixing it or selling it off as parts or a re-build to someone else.

    Now you have no options but to wait, get frustrated, and continue fighting with this guy. This will not end well if he continues to keep your Jeep.

    Go get it now. Don’t warn him…just show up, you and a couple buddies with a truck, trailer and winch.

    Own the situation.

  11. 11
    Matt Jabs Says:

    @fern #4: It is a tough situation… best of luck to you.

    @craig #6: Yeah… lesson learned.

    @valerie #8: I have considered it, and will consider it in the future, but I’m just not sure it is worth the time, trouble, and effort.

    @Bodark #5 & Troy #10: That will likely be the outcome. I’m giving him until next week and then I will probably do just that.

  12. 12
    David Says:

    I’d be leery of donating the Jeep for tax purposes. I tried that with a Jetta a few years back, saved all the forms and I wasn’t able to claim anything on my taxes.

  13. 13
    Greg Says:

    One other possibility is find out what it is worth to him to finish the job in the next few days (in for a dime, in for a dollar) .

    It is possible that he underbid the job and is just not that motivated to complete. Let’s say he bid the job so he would pocket $30 per hour, not huge, but some nice pocket change. But lets also suppose for every hour he works he spend 3 hours traveling to junk yards, negotiating price, and hauling the goods back (in his vehicle using his gas). now his 15 hour repair job is really taking 60 hours, his hourly rate has dropped to $7.50 an hour. Not much motivation.

    I am bringing up the possibility because this guy may be a great body tech, but a lousy business man. It should be worth ~$500 (especially if you have to tow the jeep and parts) to get it wrapped up.

  14. 14
    RB @ Financial Samurai Says:

    Wow, that is crazy how frustrating the process is! No wonder why so many pay a premium for a new car or CPO vehicle. time is money and this is nuts.

    Good luck with this. B/c I’ve had 7 cars in the past 8.5 years i’ve lived in my current city, my auto mechanic knows me well. I’ve built a rapport with him and I trust him. He does a good job. Finding an honest mechanic is priceless!

    Best,

    RB

  15. 15
    Matt Jabs Says:

    @RB # 14: I have a very trustworthy auto mechanic… and yes that is priceless. The guy I am referring to in the article is a body shop mechanic.

  16. 16
    Donna Freedman Says:

    A relative of mine hired a guy to install a chimney. The guy left out one crucial step. A house fire resulted.
    If this mechanic does come across, would you have any recourse if the work were less than stellar?
    As others have pointed out, sometimes you do get what you pay for — but in this case, you can’t even get that.
    Awfully sorry about the aggravation, though.

  17. 17
    Matt Jabs Says:

    I got my Jeep back… I got my Jeep back! *picture me singing this song and doing the happy dance*

    The “mechanic” finished the Jeep and I picked it up yesterday – Friday, 8/28/2009 – which brought the length of service to 8 full months. Ridiculous? Most definitely… from the average perspective that is.

    After awhile I learned that the best thing for me to do was to adopt a unique perspective of patience and clemency, but more importantly, a contentment with the fact that I may never get it back at all. Some may not agree with this stance of acquittal toward the mechanic, but doing so was actually one of the best things that has happened to me in awhile. It allowed me to forgive him of his shortcomings, realize very concretely that it is only money and possessions, and to count any positive news as a true blessing rather than something I felt entitled too.

    When I picked the Jeep up, I owed the mechanic an additional $1,000 for the labor. I had already paid him $2,500 in advance to enable him to buy the parts and get started on the labor. Did I give him the other $1,000? I gave him half and told him I will give him the other half after I had a chance to drive the vehicle and have it checked over by my mechanic friend. I made him sign a sheet of paper that outlined all of these things very clearly and told him if everything is kosher, I will deliver the remaining $500 to him early next week. Which I most assuredly will do.

    In saying all that, you better believe that I am VERY happy to have been finally reunited with my vehicle. I have learned some great lessons through this experience and they will positively shape many of my decisions from here forward!

    Thanks for reading.

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