Business Halacha: Overcharged by the Mechanic


car-testQuestion: A car mechanic charged me rates way out of line with other mechanics in his area. Can I claim ona’ah and demand a refund of the unfair price?

Answer: The Shulchan Aruch differentiates in this regard between a po’el, an employee who is time-bound and paid by the hour or day, and a kablan, an independent, contracted worker who charges a flat rate for the job. [There is a dispute how to define a worker who is free to work when he wants, but bills by the hour. See SM”A 227:59 and Shach 333:20.]

We learned last week that there is no ona’ah on the sale of slaves. Although there is no slave market nowadays, the exclusion of people from ona’ah remains relevant for time-based, salaried workers. Thus, even if the price-per-hour varies significantly from the going rate, neither the worker nor the employer can claim ona’ah. (C.M. 227:33)

However, if the worker is an independent contractor who charges a flat price for the job, the Shulchan Aruch rules that ona’ah applies if his price veers significantly from the going price range. This is because such a worker is not bound by time and is not at all comparable to a slave, whose time is bound. If the worker charges extra because he is highly qualified and provides a superior service to other professionals, then there would be no ona’ah. (227:36)

The exclusion of loan documents from ona’ah would apply nowadays to the purchase and sale of most financial documents – stocks, bonds, treasury bills, etc. – since they do not have intrinsic value and only represent the debt or share in the company. (227:29)

[Let us reiterate what we mentioned last week: according to many Rishonim, even when we exclude an ona’ah claim, it is still prohibited to knowingly swindle the other party.]

Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian

These articles are for learning purposes only and cannot be used for final halachic decision. The Business Halacha email is a project of Business Halacha Institute ( and is under the auspices of Rav Chaim Kohn.

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  1. Everyone says auto mechanics are crooks. Its very easy to say. I dont believe it.

    People feel at a complete loss when dealing with their own cars, because they know nothing about them. And people get into situations where they really depend on them. So people get shocked to find out, maintaining a car, was not taken care of with paying for the car itself. People buy cars and think you just need to throw in gas, sometimes oil and water, and on a rare occasion change tires.
    Their frustration with costs they never considered when buying a car, causes them to think they are getting ‘ripped’ off. Feel a victim, claim to be one. Just not so though.


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