Wisconsin Auto Mechanic, Towing and Storage Lien Law

Wisconsin Auto Mechanic Lien

Wisconsin law gives auto mechanics and towing companies liens on the automobiles they repair, transport and store—as long as they meet certain statutory requirements. This article will identify those statutory requirements, as well as the process lien holders must use in order to legally enforce these types of liens.

I. Wisconsin Auto Mechanic Liens

Wisconsin auto mechanic liens are governed by Wis. Stat. § 779.41. Pursuant to that statute, an auto mechanic who transports, makes, alters, repairs or does any work on an automobile—at the request of the owner or legal possessor of the automobile—has a lien on the automobile for the just and reasonable charges incurred, including any parts, accessories, materials or supplies furnished in connection with the work.

An auto mechanic may retain possession of the automobile until the charges are paid. However, an auto mechanic may not refuse to return an automobile because the owner or legal possessor refuses to either:

  • Pay for unauthorized repairs, provided the owner or legal possessor tenders payment for repairs that were authorized and performed
  • Pay any repair charge that exceeds the auto mechanic’s estimate or firm price quotation for that repair, provided the owner or legal possessor tenders payment of the charge estimated or quoted when the owner or legal possessor authorized the repair

An auto mechanic’s lien is subject to the lien of any security interest in the automobile which is perfected—as provided by Wisconsin law—prior to the commencement of the work for which a mechanic’s lien is claimed, unless the work was done with the express consent of the holder of the security interest, but only for charges in excess of $1,500, except if the personal property is:

  • A trailer or semitrailer designed for use with a road tractor, for charges in excess of $4,500
  • Road machinery, including mobile cranes and trench hoes, farm tractors, machines of husbandry, or off-highway construction vehicles and equipment, for charges in excess of $7,500
  • A motor vehicle with a manufacturer’s gross weight rating, including, with respect to road tractors, a manufacturer’s gross weight rating for the combined carrying capacity of the tractor and trailer, of:
    • 10,000 to 20,000 pounds, for charges in excess of $3,000
    • 20,000 to 40,000 pounds, for charges in excess of $6,000
    • 40,000 to 60,000 pounds, for charges in excess of $9,000
    • 60,000 pounds or more, for charges in excess of $12,000

The statutory dollar amounts identified in relation to auto mechanic liens may be adjusted by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on an annual basis based on the change, if any, in the consumer price index.

A Wisconsin auto mechanic who alters, repairs, or does any work on any detached accessory, fitting, or part of an automobile—at the request of the owner or legal possessor of the automobile—has a lien upon and may retain possession of any such accessory, fitting or part until the charges for the alteration, repairing or other work have been paid. If the detached article becomes attached to the automobile while in the possession of the auto mechanic, the auto mechanic has a lien on the automobile.

Insofar as the possessory right and lien of the auto mechanic are released, relinquished or lost by the removal of the automobile upon which a lien has accrued, it is prima facie evidence of intent to defraud if, upon the removal of the automobile, the person removing the automobile issues any check or other order of the payment of money in payment of the indebtedness secured by the lien, and thereafter stops payment on the check or order. However, when a check is stopped because the automobile was not properly repaired or serviced—and the automobile has been returned to the auto mechanic performing the labor or services for proper repair or service—the fact that the person stopped the check may not be used as prima facie evidence of intent to defraud the auto mechanic.

Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 779.43(3), every keeper of a garage, including auto mechanics, who stores an automobile, has a lien on the automobile, and may retain possession of the automobile, until paid the amount due for storing the automobile—so long as the keeper of the garage gives notice of the charges for storing the automobile on a signed service order or by posting in some conspicuous place in the garage a card that is easily readable at a distance of 15 feet.

II. Wisconsin Towing and Storage Liens

Wisconsin auto towing and storage liens are governed by Wis. Stat. § 779.415. Pursuant to that statute, a Wisconsin towing company, salvage dealer, and automobile dealer who performs towing services or stores automobiles—when such towing or storage is performed at the direction of a traffic officer or the owner of the automobile—has a lien on the automobile for reasonable towing and storage charges, and may retain possession of the automobile until such charges are paid.

If the automobile is subject to a lien perfected under Wisconsin law, a towing lien shall have priority only to the extent of $100 for an automobile having a manufacturer’s gross weight rating of 20,000 pounds or less and $350 for an automobile having a manufacturer’s gross weight rating of more than 20,000 pounds.

A storage lien shall have priority only to the extent of $10 per day but for a total amount of not more than $600 for an automobile having a manufacturer’s gross weight rating of 20,000 pounds or less, and $25 per day but for a total amount of not more than $1,500 for an automobile having a manufacturer’s gross weight rating of more than 20,000 pounds.

If the value of the automobile exceeds $750, the lien may be enforced under Wis. Stat. § 779.48(2). If the value of the automobile does not exceed $750, the lien may only be enforced by sale or junking of the automobile as set forth in Wis. Stat. § 779.415(2).

If the automobile is towed or stowed under the directions of a traffic officer, any personal property within the automobile shall be released to the owner of the automobile. No additional charges may be assessed against the automobile’s owner for the removal or release of the personal property within the automobile.

The statutory dollar amounts identified in relation to towing and storage liens may be adjusted by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on an annual basis based on the change, if any, in the consumer price index.

Within 30 days after taking possession of an automobile, every towing company, salvage dealer, and automobile dealership that performs towing services or stores automobiles must send written notice to the owner of the automobile and the holder of the senior lien on the automobile informing them that they must take steps to obtain the release of the automobile.

To repossess the automobile, the senior lienholder must pay all towing and storage charges—as set forth above—and all reasonable storage charges that have accrued after 60 days from the date on which possession of the automobile was taken.

Failure to send written notice to the senior lienholder renders any towing or storage lien—with respect to the senior lienholder—void.

At least 20 days prior to the sale or junking of an automobile whose value does not exceed $750, the towing company, salvage dealer or automobile dealership must give, by certified mail—to the person shown to be the owner of the automobile in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s records, and to any person who has a lien on the automobile under Wis. Chapter 342—notice stating that unless the automobile owner or the owner’s agent pays all reasonable towing and storage charges for the automobile within 20 days the automobile will be put up for sale or junked.

If the proceeds of any sale exceed the towing or storage charges, the balance shall be paid to the holder of the senior lien, and if none, then to the owner of the automobile as shown in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s records.

III. Enforcement of Auto Mechanic, Towing and Storage Liens in Wisconsin

According to Wis. Stat. § 779.48(2), every person given a mechanic’s lien, towing lien, or storage lien may—if the claim is unpaid for two months after the debt is incurred—enforce the lien by sale of the automobile. The sale must be in conformity with Wisconsin Chapter 409, the chapter governing Wisconsin’s Uniform Commercial Code—Secured Transactions. A lien claimant has all of the rights and duties of a secured party under that chapter.

When such sections are applied to the enforcement of a lien, the word “debtor” or equivalent word, shall be deemed to refer to the owner of the automobile and any other person having an interest shown by instrument filed as required by law or shown in the records of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and the word “indebtedness” or equivalent word shall include all claims upon which such lien is based.

To obtain a new certificate of title on an automobile as a result of an auto mechanic’s, towing or storage lien, the enforcer of the lien must file an MV2881, an Involuntary Lien Transfers form, with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. In doing so, the enforcer of the lien must make one of the following certifications, depending on the type of lien being enforced.

A. Involuntary Lien Transfers—Wisconsin Auto Mechanic Liens

I am a mechanic who has prepared a written repair order that clearly and legibly describes the repairs authorized by the customer, and who has given the vehicle owner notice of the charges for storing the vehicle on a signed service order. I have given each owner, all other person(s) responsible for the debt and lien holder(s) on record at the Department of Transportation notification of the charges due in order to reclaim the vehicle, and notification of the time and place of the sale in accordance with Wis. Stat. §§ 409.611(3), 409.613, and 409.614.

B. Involuntary Lien Transfers—Wisconsin Towing and Storage Liens

I am a motor carrier holding a permit to perform towing services, a licensed motor vehicle salvage dealer or a licensed motor vehicle dealer who performs vehicle towing services and who has given the vehicle owner notice of the charges for storing the vehicle on a signed service order or has a sign posted in a conspicuous place in the garage easily readable at a distance of fifteen feet. I have given each owner, all other person(s) responsible for the debt and lien holder(s) of record at the Department of Transportation notification of the charges due in order to reclaim the vehicle, and notification of the time and place of the sale in accordance with Wis. Stat. §§ 409.611(3), 409.613, and 409.614. If the value of the vehicle exceeds $750, the lien may be enforced under Wis. Stat. § 779.48(2). If the value of the vehicle does not exceed $750, the lien may be enforced by sale or junking as provided in Wis. Stat. § 779.415(2).

Once the Wisconsin Department of Transportation receives the completed MV2881, a completed MV1, a Wisconsin Title and License Plate Application, and the appropriate fee, the department will issue a new certificate of title in the name of the transferee as owner. The new certificate of title will be issued free of the names and addresses of the secured party, i.e., lien holder who terminated the owner’s interest, and of all secured parties subordinate under Wis. Stat. §§ 342.18(2) and 342.19.