To Pay or Not to Pay: Auto Mechanic’s Liens in Tennessee

As a creditors rights attorney, you can guess that I’m frugal and don’t spend lots of money on new cars.  My Acura is over 7 years old, and I’ve been very lucky: no big expenses or repairs. Until today, when I took it in to get a funny noise checked out.  I learned that, in car talk, “funny” is synonymous with “expensive.” Yikes.

So, today, I’m talking about auto mechanic’s liens on cars in Tennessee.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-19-101 allows a mechanic to assert a lien for repairs performed on”any type of conveyance used in the transportation of persons or merchandise either by land or by water or through the air” that are performed at the request of the owner. Under T.C.A. § 66-19-102, this lien lasts 12 months or until the end of the lawsuit to enforce the lien.

Under the common law, mechanics had to retain possession of the vehicle in order to maintain this lien. Give the car back to the customer, the cases said, and you lose your lien.  Ask any mechanic, and they all think they have to retain the car or lose the lien.

That’s incorrect, as under the above statutes, possession is no longer required to preserve the lien, but here’s the catch: in order to preserve the priority of the lien against existing lien-holders, the mechanic has to retain possession of the vehicle and not return it to the owner after the repairs.  This part of the law comes from Tennessee’s Article 9, at Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-9-310, which determines priority between competing liens.

Retain the car, and you jump ahead of the title lender; turn it over, and you go to the back of the line.

Two more interesting points. First, even if the owner files Bankruptcy, the repairman can retain possession and not violate the stay, because under 11 U.S.C. 362(b)(3), any action to “maintain or continue” your lien’s perfection is not stayed.  See In re Hamby, 360 B.R. 657, 662 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Tenn.,2007).

Second, if the owner comes on to your lot and takes the car back, without your consent, the law does not deem the repairman to have relinquished his rights: “[A] possessory lienholder does not lose his lien where a property is taken from his possession without his consent.” Associates Commercial Corp. v. Francisco, 667 S.W. 2d 481, 482 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984).

So, auto mechanics do indeed have lien rights on cars they repair, whether or not they maintain possession.  Of course, none of this is any help to me, because the very big bill waiting for me later today is still far cheaper than the 2011’s sitting out there on the lot.

Author: David

I am a creditors rights and commercial litigation attorney in Nashville, Tennessee.

8 thoughts on “To Pay or Not to Pay: Auto Mechanic’s Liens in Tennessee”

  1. I had a mechanic tow my car because of a $500 remainder of a $1000 bill that was billed 2 months and 3 days ago. I lost my job and e-mailed him consistently telling him the circumstance and that I would pay. With no warning and no paperwork my car was taken on Fri. night with no info on where it was being towed. What rights do I have?

  2. Great information. Thank you. I’d like to know your thoughts on the next steps on what to do after filing for a mechanic’s lien without possession of the car. Some partial payments were made and the customer was allowed to take the car but then never made the final payment. Putting a lien on the car seems fruitless unless I gain possession for the purpose of sale to recoup what they owe. Furthermore, if I cannot apply the costs associated with filing the lien then I’ve just added expenses that I cannot recover. Seems to be a lost cause. Is there a better tactic…maybe scare tactic with the threat of a lien? I’m easily frustrated but will not do anything that I think is not legal.

    Thank you
    Steve Schiraldi – Owner
    Automotive Solutions Nashville, TN

    1. You can say that the part you put on the vehicle was defective and that they need to bring it back. I have seen that used to gain possession of a vehicle. If that doesn’t work then you would have retain a lawyer.


  3. Thanks for ccekhing in Melissa. Always good to get the NC perspective. Who knows, change could be in the wind up here as well.Christopher G. Hill recently posted..

  4. A friend of mine car has been in the shop for about 8 months the repairs are done and she owes about $6500 she doesn’t have the money how long before the mechanic can sell the car? It’s not just any regular mechanic she got a car fix at a dealership she receive the money for the repairs from the person she had the auto accident wit but she blew it on bullshit she thinks she’s going to receive more money from a lawsuit she had no insurance at the time and she said it was the guys fault he hit her from behind now she’s got a lawyer 1 of those kind that say I don’t get paid until you get paid like the kind you always see on TV like I said her license was suspended and she had no insurance does she even stand a chance in hell of getting any type of settlement or her car back?

    P.S. her mom cosign for the car last year is her mother in trouble also?
    Thank you. 🙂

    1. A friend of mine took her car to a guy that put a starter on it he verbally gave her a price of 100.00 total. When she went to pay In full he then told her she owed him 250.00 and that if she didn’t pay he would put a lien on her car. He returned her car to her after repairing it but now threatens her with a lein. Can he do this she lives on a very low income and is very stressed out please help me so I can ease her mind hopefully. Thank you

  5. Mechanic here in Goodlettsvillle TN. I have a vehicle here almost a year. The manager before me started the process of getting the lien but didnt finish. I am So Confused because I have never done anything like this. Can anyone walk me through the steps?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: