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Ideally you would have got the customer to sign terms and conditions confirming that you can retain the car subject to him paying any outstanding bill. If there are no terms and conditions (or they were not otherwise agreed), then you cannot rely on those terms. However, you can still rely on the law of “bailment”. A bailment comes about when the garage voluntarily accepts possession of a customer’s car such as when a customer brings his car in for repair. English law does not require a contract between the garage and its customer for a bailment to arise. If you carry out repairs and this results in an improvement to the car (as opposed to its current condition merely being maintained), you are entitled to retain possession of the car until the customer has paid for the repairs (this entitlement being known as a “lien”). Once the customer has paid, the lien is lost and the garage must return the car.
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