Ready to take a car wash to small claims?Get Started
When you take your car to a car wash you expect the car to come out better than how you brought it in. Unfortunately, sometimes an automatic car wash scratches, dents, or otherwise damages a car instead of cleaning it. Other times it may be a car wash attendant that damages your car. What options do you have if a car wash damages your car? Consider filing a lawsuit against the car wash in small claims court.
Common Types of Cases Against a Car Wash
There are several types of cases people file against car washes. Below we have included some of the most common types:
The automatic car wash scratched your car.
The car wash damaged your car rims.
The car wash dented your car.
You take your car to an automatic car wash and pay for a wash that is never performed.
The car wash attendant scratched the paint job off of your car.
What to Do Before Filing a Small Claims Lawsuit Against a Car Wash
Keep track of all costs associated with the repair of your vehicle
If you end up paying for the repairs out of pocket, then it will be a top priority to get compensation from the car wash. Keep any receipts from the repair shop you used, these can be used to show the judge how you calculated the amount of money that the car wash owes you.
Communicate with the car wash’s management
Before escalating the issue to a small claims court, the car wash’s management may be willing to settle the dispute. After all, minor damages are likely something that occurs frequently enough at a car wash.
Show the car wash’s management any evidence you may have. For example, if you took pictures of the scratches make sure to provide them. If these discussions are not done in person, but instead by email or text messages, you might want to save them as future evidence for a small claims hearing.
You may also want to communicate with the car wash via a demand letter. A demand letter is a letter outlining a set of requests you would like the car wash to fulfill. For example, if you went to a car wash and the car wash attendant scratched your car you will want to explain this in your demand letter and ask for compensation.
To learn how to write a demand letter read our article here.
If conversations with management lead nowhere, then consider other options like filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or going to small claims court.
File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
If discussions with management were not fruitful and you want to escalate the issue further, one option that you have is to file a complaint with the BBB. Keep in mind that the BBB is a private organization and cannot force the car wash to come to an agreement with you.
The steps for filling out a BBB complaint against a car wash are simple:
Go to the BBB website linked here.
Got to File a Complaint to fill out your complaint online.
Learn more on how to file a complaint with the BBB.
Get your insurance to cover the car wash damage
If your vehicle is damaged and needs repairs to operate safely, or if you just don't want to drive around with a damaged car, it is probably in your best interest to get the vehicle repaired. Your insurance may cover car wash damage if you decide to file a claim with them.
Be aware of any deductibles you may have to pay if you use your insurance to pay for the damage and whether your insurance premiums will go up after you file a claim with your insurance company.
How to Sue a Car Wash in Small Claims Court
Any lawsuit can seem intimidating and impossible, particularly if the person you are suing is a company. For this reason, every state has designated small claims courts as the “People’s Court.” Small claims courts are user-friendly and affordable, and because of the simplified court procedures followed in small claims hearings, you do not need an attorney to represent you.
Generally, the small claims process is as follows:
Prepare and file the lawsuit.
Serve (properly notify) the car wash.
Prepare for and attend the small claims hearing.
Preparing the small claims lawsuit
In order to sue in small claims, you need to be able to correctly name the person or business you are suing. You will need to identify whether the car wash is doing business as an LLC or corporation. The car wash may also be owned by a person, known as a "sole proprietorship."
If the car wash is a company you want to be sure you are suing the correct business.
Be aware of fictitious business names. If the car wash that damaged your car is a registered business they may be using a name other than their legal name to do business. For example, you go to Ace Car Wash to get your Jeep washed. Your car gets damaged using Ace Car Wash’s automatic car wash. You need to determine whether Ace Car Wash is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name Ace Car Wash.
How to look for a legal business name:
Look for names the car wash uses on invoices or receipts. Look through any documents you have from the car wash and write down any potential names you have from the car wash.
Search on your state’s Secretary of State website. The car wash may be registered as a corporation or LLC.
Once you have the correct legal name for the car wash you will need to find the registered agent for service. This is the person or company who has been designated to be served with legal documents by the car wash. You can look up the registered agent for service on your state’s Secretary of State website.
Serve the lawsuit
Serving means to notify the person you are suing, in this case, the car wash, that they have been sued. There are different rules on how to serve a company or individual in each state so make sure you review the rules for serving in your local small claims court. Remember, if the car wash is a company then you will need to serve the “agent for service of process.”
Confirm with the court to determine if there are any additional filings you need to complete after you have served the car wash.
What is a small claims court hearing like?
Small claims hearings are informal and most hearings last around 15 minutes. While many disputes settle before the hearing, not all do so you need to prepare for the hearing in case you cannot settle your dispute outside of court
Here are some things to expect at a small claims hearing:
Right before the hearing, the judge will ask you and the car wash to show each other the evidence you both have brought to the hearing. For example, if you took your damaged car to an auto repair shop make sure to have all the receipts or invoices from the repair shop at the hearing.
The Judge will ask you why you are suing the car wash in small claims court. The judge will then turn to the car wash and ask them to state their side of the story.
The hearing should last around 15 minutes but every case is different and this depends on many factors.
The judge will ask the car wash to show evidence. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence, other times the evidence will be given right back.
Very rarely will a judge tell you in court their decision immediately after the hearing. Instead, the judge will probably tell you and the car wash that the decision will be mailed to you both (which usually takes a few weeks).
To prepare for your small claims court hearing:
Research the law. If you are unsure about any of the claims you want to make in court or the car wash’s liability consider consulting with an attorney.
Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask questions about the case. Be prepared to discuss the damage your car sustained at the car wash. For example, was it a car wash attendant that scratched the paint of your car or the automatic car wash brushes?
Prepare your evidence. You want to have your evidence organized with titles, dates, and why that piece of evidence is important. All your evidence should be geared towards showing the judge why the car wash is responsible for the damage to your car.
Learn more on how California small claims and New York small claims work.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.