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April 30, 2010

New Law to Protect Consumers Whose Cars are "Held Hostage" by Repair Shops

Des Moines. A new law takes effect Saturday, May 1, to protect consumers against unscrupulous car repair shops that hold a vehicle “hostage” and refuse to return it unless the customer pays charges not authorized by law, Attorney General Tom Miller said Friday.

“Some repair shops have abused consumers by refusing to return a vehicle until the consumer pays bogus charges,” Miller said. “Most repair shops are honest and obey consumer protection laws, but this will help prevent one kind of abuse we see often. This puts consumers in a much stronger position if there is a dispute about questionable charges.”

Iowa’s car repair law, in effect for over twenty years, already makes it illegal for repair shops to charge for unnecessary repairs, charge for work that has not been completed, or charge more than the estimate (without approval of the customer).

The new law, Senate File 2108, prohibits repair shops from refusing to return a vehicle to a customer until the consumer pays such unlawfully-imposed charges, if the Attorney General requests return of the vehicle. Repair shops still have a right under Iowa law to hold a customer’s vehicle until the customer pays all lawful charges.

Miller said consumers should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division if they think their vehicle is being held unlawfully.

“If we determine a consumer has a valid complaint that a repair shop is violating the car repair law, we can require the shop to turn over the vehicle to the consumer until the complaint is resolved, and without charging the consumer for the amount in dispute,” Miller said.

Under the law, the shop must make the vehicle available to the consumer within one business day of the shop receiving a certified mail notice from the Attorney General. If a repair shop refuses to comply, the Attorney General’s Office can seek an order in Polk County District Court requiring the shop to cease all business until the shop turns over the vehicle. [Go to Senate File 2108.]

The bill passed both the Iowa Senate and Iowa House by unanimous votes.

Consumers with complaints about repair shop practices should contact the Consumer Protection Division by calling toll-free to 888-777-4590, or 281-5926 in Des Moines; by sending email to, or by writing to the Consumer Protection Division, 1305 E. Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50319. The web site is

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