Your car has been performing erratically, so you take it to your local repair shop. The charges are formidable, but you are willing to pay to keep your car in good running condition. Unfortunately, no sooner do you drive away than the problems start again. Or, the mechanic charged you for a diagnostic test but didn't find or fix the problem. You feel ripped off, not just because of the money but because uncorrected vehicle problems put your safety -- as well as the safety of passengers and others on the road -- at risk.
According to Consumer Reports, in their Annual Auto Survey published in 2012, high prices and poorly done repairs rank high among complaints from car owners. Of 5,400 survey respondents contacted, 27 percent weren’t satisfied with their repair shops. Of those, 28 percent said that the mechanic didn’t fix the problem and 18 percent had to bring their cars in again because the repair didn’t hold up.
Pay the Bill
A mechanic expects payment for diagnostics, labor and parts, even if you are not satisfied with the result. It is unlikely that you drove the car away from the garage without paying, so the question is if you can legally stop payment or reclaim what you have already paid. Ask the mechanic for any parts removed and keep your receipt. Run an online test at RepairPal to see if the charges for your repairs were appropriate. If you paid by check, contact your bank to try to stop payment. Consider that there will likely be a stop-payment fee and that your check may already have cleared.
Get a Second Opinion
Take your car to another mechanic to check that the original mechanic actually did the work. If you suspect that necessary work wasn’t done, show the second mechanic the parts removed. Mechanic No. 2 might be willing to write a description of what is wrong with the car if you plan to seek a legal solution.
Ask for a Fix
Call the first repair shop, explain that you still have the problem, and ask them to fix it properly. Get a written estimate. Talk directly to the mechanic to be clear about the original problem and what is still happening. If your check was cashed or your credit card charged, state that you will expect a refund if the problem isn’t corrected this time around. If the mechanic is not willing to try again, or insists that you must pay additional charges, send a formal demand letter outlining what you were promised. Keep a copy, in case you wind up going to court.
File a Complaint
File a complaint with your state attorney general’s office, your consumer protection office or the Better Business Bureau. The Bureau mediates disputes through the Alternative Dispute Resolution division.
Go to Court
Small claims court is the last resort if your negotiations fail. You must prove that you lost money because you paid for work that wasn’t done. You will also have to prove that the mechanic did a bad job or did nothing at all. The mechanic may respond that the job was done right or that the vehicle needs additional work that you refuse to authorize. Prepare for court by discussing the problem with another mechanic or researching the original problem, what would fix it, and what remains wrong. Bring along any written statements you have from another mechanic.
- ConsumerReports.org: High Prices and Poor Repairs Lead Top Car Service Gripes
- Nolo: How to Handle a Motor Vehicle Repair Case
- RepairPal: Know the Fair Price for Your Care Repair:
- SmartMoney: 10 Things Your Mechanic Won’t Tell You
- Better Business Bureau: Dispute Resolution Service
- FindLaw: Litigation Links and Resources
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images