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Auto repair shop hits truck owner with hefty ‘storage fee’ after promising free estimate

NORTHMOOR, Mo. -- It was April 23 and the day was already off to a bad start. Mark Audley had just rear ended a car on North Oak. Police showed up and so did a tow truck. The tow truck driver offered to take Audley's vehicle "to a nice little family owned operation called Northstar Auto Body" for repairs, Audley said.

Northstar Auto Body, on NW Waukomis Drive in Northmoor, Mo, is a repair shop that Problem Solvers has reported on before as a favorite of unscrupulous tow truck drivers. Northstar promised to give Audley a free estimate to repair his truck.

"I stopped in there on the 27th," to check on the estimate, Audley said. "They (Northstar) said they didn't have my information. I gave them my information. I asked for my free estimate. They said they didn't have one. They were looking for used parts."

So it went for nearly four weeks.

"I kept stopping in and I called once a week," Audley said. "No estimates."

By May 19, Audley had had enough. He went back to Northstar Auto Body and demanded to know how much it would cost to repair his truck.

"They gave me a ballpark verbal estimate of $5,000 to fix a truck I paid $6,000," Audley said. "I said I'll tow it out of here and fix it myself."

But it wasn't that easy.

Audley said he was told that if he wasn't going to let Northstar Auto Body fix his truck, Northstar wanted $50 a day from him in storage -- or about $1250.

"I said 'that's the first I've heard of that.' The guy at Northstar said 'that's our policy.'"

Audley refused to pay.

"They are now holding my truck hostage," Audley said.

Which is why Audley contacted FOX 4 Problem Solvers. We contacted three experts about that daily storage fee. All three told us you can't charge daily storage fees on a vehicle that's been dropped off for a "free estimate." In fact, you can't charge any storage fee unless you first notify the owner in writing.

Armed with those facts, we called the owner of Northstar Auto Body, Walt Bryant, and asked why he was charging Audley $1,250 to get his truck back when Audley had never signed any document agreeing to those terms. Bryant said he was unfamiliar with Audley's situation, however Audley said Bryant was standing there when the $50-a-day storage fee demand was made.

"I'm not sure what you are talking about," Bryant told FOX 4 Problem Solvers, but promised to look into it. A few minutes later, Bryant was back on the phone and waived the storage fee, saying there was no charge.

Audley, who had feared he would have to hire an attorney to get his truck back before talking to Problem Solvers, was able to pick up his vehicle that day.