Q: I have a small automotive repair shop in Pennsylvania. Sometimes, customers refuse to pay. What can I do?
Occasionally, there are customers who agree to have the work performed and the price, even with the understanding that payment is due upon pickup of the vehicle, who then do not pay. I am not aware of any law in Pennsylvania that allows a mechanic lien to hold the vehicle until payment is received. Likewise, the mechanic lien law I did find seemed to be more toward buildings and structures, and for values over $500.00. As it sits currently, customers have taken their vehicle, all is well with the car after repairs, then weeks go by where the customer claims they will be in when they can, or when they get paid. After that, they either just stop responding, or come up with an excuse such as saying that ever since they got the vehicle back, it runs worse. This is in spite of the fact that all work we perform is warrantied for a year, and they never bring up any dissatisfaction until they are continually asked to pay for the work we performed.
You absolutely can keep the car until you receive full payment for the repair services performed -- so long as the owner actually requested that the services be performed. Pennsylvania common law grants you an "artisan's lien" on property that you've made more valuable as a result of your repair services which were requested by the property owner. That means you don't have to give the car back until you're paid. Sometimes it's called a "garageman's lien" or "repairman's lien" in other jurisdictions, and you're right that the term "mechanic's lien" in Pennsylvania usually refers to construction work instead of auto repairs.
Feel free to contact me offsite if you'd like to further discuss. I'm not far away in Norristown. Best of luck to you.
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