Thinking of suing a mechanic in California small claims? Here are 4 tips for suing a mechanic in small claims.
Here is a quick summary:
- Subpoena the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs ("BAR").
- Make sure you sue the right person or business.
- Get estimates on how much it will cost to fix your car.
- Prepare your evidence.
1. Subpoena the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs ("BAR")
In preparing for the small claims hearing, you have the option of requesting records from the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs.
What is the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs? The Bureau of Automotive Repairs is a California government agency that regulates mechanics and auto repair shops. Before filing your small claims lawsuit against a mechanic, you can consider filing a complaint with the Bureau of Automotive Repairs.
The Bureau of Automotive Repairs handles and investigates a broad range of complaints against mechanics. Here are some examples:
- When a mechanic damages your car.
- When you took your car to be repaired but your car is still having mechanical problems.
- When a mechanic doesn't provide you with an estimate prior to doing the work on your car.
- When you feel you were overcharged for the work the mechanic did.
- When a mechanic won't issue a refund.
- When you took your car for smog inspection or repair.
Interested in learning how to file a Bureau of Automotive Repairs Complaint? We outline the process here.
What is a subpoena? It is a court order that requires the person you subpoena to send documents to court or go to the hearing. If you subpoena the Bureau of Automotive Repairs, you are requesting that the court order the Bureau to send documents relating to the investigation it conducted or to send an investigator to present at the hearing. This is a very common procedure in small claims.
How can I subpoena the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs? After the Bureau of Automotive Repairs conducts an investigation you can request that the findings of their investigation get sent to the small claims court.
Here are the steps:
- File the small claims lawsuit.
- Prepare the small claims subpoena. Decide whether you would like the Bureau of Automotive Repairs to mail the investigation documents to the court ($15) or have the investigator attend the hearing ($275). The Bureau of Automotive Repairs charges the fees in parenthesis. If you win your lawsuit, you can ask the judge to have the mechanic reimburse you.
- Request that the court "issue" the subpoena (process the subpoena).
- Serve the subpoena on the Bureau of Automotive Repairs.
- The Bureau of Automotive Repairs will send the documents relating to the investigation or will send the investigator to the hearing.
People Clerk can help you subpoena the Bureau of Automotive Repairs for your small claims lawsuit.
2. Make sure you sue the right person.
You may encounter problems serving the lawsuit and enforcing the small claims judgment if the wrong name is listed on the small claims lawsuit against the mechanic.
How to figure out the right person to sue? Look through your contracts or receipts with the mechanic. Make a list of any potential names you see.
The first step is to determine if the mechanic doing business as an individual or as a corporation/LLC.
- Search the Department of Consumer Affairs database for the mechanic's license. If the search is successful, the license information will come up and let you know whether the mechanic is licensed as an individual, corporation, or LLC.
- If the license is listed as a corporation or LLC, make sure to then run a search on the California Secretary of State's website to find the registered agent for the business (this is the person that will be served the lawsuit papers later on).
3. Get estimates on how much it will cost to fix your car.
If the mechanic made your car even worse, you may want to find estimates on how much it will cost to fix the damage the mechanic caused to your car. Make sure you try and get the estimates in writing so you can show the judge at the small claims hearing.
But most importantly, make sure to check the license number and read any reviews before getting additional work done to your car.
4. Prepare your evidence.
In preparing for your small claims hearing, keep in mind the following items:
- You need to be able to prove to the judge that the mechanic is at fault for what happened to you.
- If the judge agrees with you that the mechanic is at fault, how much should you win?
How to prove that the mechanic is at fault? Here are some examples:
- Was there a contract? Try to pinpoint what you agreed to pay for and what the mechanic did instead. Make sure to have a copy of the work order, estimates, or change orders that the mechanic gave you.
- Was the mechanic negligent in how they fixed your car? Keep in mind that the judge is not an expert in repairing cars. You have to show them what exactly the mechanic did that another mechanic would not have done. You can talk to other mechanics and ask them if they can provide you with their expert opinion in writing or ask if they can attend the hearing as an expert witness.
- As we mentioned in tip 1, if the Bureau of Automotive Repairs conducted an investigation, their documents may be able to help the judge decide if the mechanic is at fault.
How much should you win? This is also known as "how much damages should you be awarded" which simply means, how much money does the judge think you are owed. Judge's like to see concrete numbers of how much you are owed. Here are some examples:
- How much does it cost to fix what the mechanic did to your car? Many people go to another mechanic to get an estimate for the repair work or have an invoice for how much they spent on the repair work.
- Are you asking for a refund for the work the mechanic did to your car? Make sure to include an invoice of how much you paid the mechanic in the first place. If you are asking for a full or partial reason, be prepared to explain why.