Needing auto repair can be frustrating. It usually means time off work, inconvenience, and expense. But, whether something on your car has broken down, worn out over time, or you've been involved in an accident, you want to correct the issue quickly.
Here are some common reasons and issues people sue mechanics for:
- Incorrect Repairs - You asked for help to fix a problem, and while they said it was fixed, it ended up being done improperly or not at all. That could be dangerous for you and other drivers.
- Bad Estimate - Most states have consumer protection laws that require auto repair shops to disclose details about repairs before they are done. These service providers have to give you a detailed estimate of all work to be done, disclose whether used or rebuilt parts are being installed, and give you a quote for the costs.
- Breach of Warranty - New and used cars often come with a warranty. This warranty stipulates what repairs are covered and for how long and may require you to use specific mechanics. If the mechanics don't honor the warranty, either to repair the car or to cover the cost, you may need to sue.
- Fraud - If you discover your mechanic has charged you for service or parts he didn't provide, you may be able to sue for damages.
- Illegal Use of a Mechanic's Lien - A mechanic's lien is when an auto shop places a lien on a customer's property to pay for service or improvements done. It is available not just to car mechanics but to plumbers, painters, carpenters, construction contractors, and subcontractors —anyone who provides a service that improves a customer's property. If you think this has been filed against you illegally, you may be able to sue.
If you're overcharged, the work isn't done right, there are excessive delays, or you're mistreated, you may want to file a complaint. Here's how to do that.
Work With the Shop Directly First
Sometimes, an auto repair shop will do something wrong and not realize it. Or perhaps one of the workers doesn't care about quality, but the owner or manager does. In those cases, you can get the support you need by reaching out to the manager or auto repair shop owner for resolution.
Make sure you're professional and direct to explain the problem as you see it and ask for a proper resolution to the concerns you have. An auto repair shop wants to keep you as a customer in most cases. The shop will also want to keep a good reputation, so they'll do what they can to make it right.
If that's not the case for you, though, or if your concerns are brushed off and not taken seriously, you may have to escalate the problem to get some help.
Reach Out to a Consumer Protection Agency
Every state has some form of a consumer protection agency. It may be called that, or something similar. Reaching out to the one for your state of residence gives you an advocate to work with the auto repair shop. In many cases, reaching out to consumer protection is enough to get the auto repair shop to take your claim seriously and investigate the issue. Shops that don't do that know that a customer might sue, which can get expensive.
Suing the shop could also lead to discovering other problems that the shop might be hiding or other customers who are also unhappy with their treatment. Because of that, the auto repair shop will be more likely to address the issue and get it handled before it becomes a more significant problem for them. Still, some shops will insist they've done nothing wrong. If you still feel you have a case against them, taking them to court may be required.
Small Claims Court Can Help Resolve the Issue
One of the ways to resolve an issue with an auto repair shop is to sue in small claims court. When you make a claim, it's generally because other avenues haven't worked. If you've tried to work with the shop to address the problem and brought your complaint to the attention of your state's consumer protection agency, you may want to pursue small claims as your next step. In most (but not all) states, you can work with an attorney to have representation when you go to court. And remember, Dispute can help you generate, notarize and file a small claim from your phone or computer in 10 minutes.
Get Ready for Small Claims Court
In small claims court, you will need strong evidence that the other party owes you a debt. Provide copies of the initial agreement or contract, receipts, text messages, emails or other documents referring to the case.
Usually, a small claims court hearing will take place 30 to 75 days after you file a lawsuit. If the other party doesn't respond, you may automatically have the court rule in your favor and enforce the debt.
How Much it Costs
So how much will you spend by suing in small claims court?
- Court Filing Fees: The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit depends on how much you are suing for and where you are suing. You can expect to pay between $30 to $400 to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.
- Serving Costs: Once the lawsuit is filed, you must notify the other party that you have sued them. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $20-100 depending on the local area.
The Benefits of Small Claims Court
- Court filing fees are cheaper in small claims than in other courts.
- The process is faster in small claims than in other courts, as your hearing will usually be scheduled 30-70 days after you file the lawsuit.
- Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims, which helps keep the costs of suing low.
How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit
- Prepare and File the Court Paperwork - If you end up in 30-40% of cases where the demand letter doesn't work, you can prepare and file the court paperwork for small claims court next. The upside is that you can typically do this yourself and don't need to send much evidence with your filing. You just need to know the name of the party you're suing, the amount you're suing for, and answer some basic yes/no questions.
Again, you can do this yourself, or use Dispute's Small Claims Filing platform, which includes online paperwork prep, live online notarization, and online filing.
- Serve the Defendant - After the court accepts your paperwork, you have to serve your court paperwork to the defendant to notify them they're being sued officially. This is also another point where people will often realize they should settle before going to court. This is the one step you aren't allowed to do yourself. To avoid bias, the court requires you to get someone else to serve your case and file a proof of service in court (a simple statement that they swear they served the defendant). The free way to do this is to get a friend or family member who isn't part of the case to help you. The hassle-free professional way to serve court papers is to hire a process server and let them take care of it.
Taking the First Step in Your Lawsuit
If all of this work seems complicated or daunting, rest assured that it's easier than it initially seems. 2.7 million small claims court cases are filed annually in the US, which is only growing as more people realize how easy it is to enforce their legal rights in court.