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Took your car to the mechanic, but they failed to repair it or did a terrible job? You have several options, including submitting a complaint to the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs (also known as "BAR").
This article outlines the following ways to resolve your dispute against a mechanic:
Filing a California Bureau of Automotive Repairs ("BAR") Complaint
Sending a demand letter to the mechanic.
Suing the mechanic in small claims court.
Common Types of Complaints and Lawsuits Against Mechanics
Complaints against mechanics are very common. Here are some common types of complaints that customers may have against mechanics:
Overcharges. You take your car to a mechanic, and the mechanic gives you a quote for the work they will perform. When you go pick up your car, the mechanic gives you a bill for double the amount in your quote, even though no additional work was done.
Poor workmanship. This could include things like improper installation, shoddy repairs, or sloppy work.
Property damage. You take your car to a mechanic and pay for repairs. When you go pick up your car, you notice the car was damaged during the repair process.
Nonperformance. You take your car to a mechanic and pay for repair work that never gets completed.
Below are some examples of lawsuits filed against mechanics.
Notice that in each case, the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) subpoenaed the Bureau of Automotive Repairs.
A subpoena is an order from the court that requires someone to go to court or to provide documents to the court.
In the cases below, each plaintiff filed a complaint with BAR against the mechanic they were suing. They sought to use the results of BAR investigation and complaint as evidence in their small claims case.
A Monterey small claims lawsuit was filed against a mechanic for a bad paint job, misuse of the car, and damage to the car.
The customer who filed the lawsuit was seeking a total of $6,750. This amount included what they paid for the paint job, as well as compensation for damages and misuse of the car.
The customer also filed a complaint with BAR and subpoenaed BAR’s Custodian of Records to produce documents from the subsequent BAR investigation.
The court awarded the person suing a total of $5,600 plus an additional $150 in court costs. It is unclear from the court’s decision why they awarded that amount.
A San Mateo small claims lawsuit was filed against an auto repair shop for improper repairs and improper car services.
The customer who filed the lawsuit was seeking a total of $10,000. That amount was intended to cover the cost of a replacement car engine, as well as lost income. The person suing was an Uber driver and could not work without a properly functioning car.
The customer also filed a complaint with BAR and subpoenaed the BAR’s Custodian of Records to produce documents from the subsequent BAR investigation.
The court awarded the person suing a total of $7,500 plus an additional $150 in court costs. It is unclear from the court’s decision why they won that amount.
A Los Angeles small claims lawsuit was filed against an auto repair shop for breach of contract, and overcharges.
The customer who filed the lawsuit sought a total of $9,100, which is the amount they were charged by the auto repair shop.
The customer also filed a complaint with BAR before filing the lawsuit.
The court awarded the person suing a total of $6,000.
File a Complaint Against a Mechanic With the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs ("BAR")
What is the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs?
The Bureau of Automotive Repairs is a California government agency that regulates mechanics. They also issue licenses, investigate consumer complaints, and enforce the rules that mechanics have to follow. The Bureau of Auto Repair also provides educational material for consumers. This guide here, for example, outlines consumers' rights when dealing with mechanics.
What Types of Complaints Does the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs (BAR) Handle?
The Bureau of Automotive Repairs handles 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 before 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
BAR also handles complaints involving motorcycles and motorhomes.
How to File a Complaint with the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs (BAR)
There are two ways to file a complaint against a mechanic with the BAR:
Online. Go to the website here
By mail. Print and mail option: Download the form here and fill out the required fields. Mail the completed form to the mailing address below:
Bureau of Automotive Repair
10949 North Mather Boulevard
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
What to Expect Following Submission of Your BAR complaint
Once you have filed your complaint, BAR will conduct an investigation of your complaint against the mechanic. Here are the steps BAR takes:
Once you submit your complaint to BAR, you will receive a postcard within 10 days as confirmation that BAR has received your complaint. The postcard will contain your case number and your assigned BAR representative.
Your BAR representative will contact the repair shop on your behalf and try to come to an agreement. During this process, your representative may reach out to you several times as they work with you and the repair shop. The BAR representative will also obtain documentation if the mechanic has violated the law.
Once the investigation is complete, you and the mechanic will receive the outcome. Sometimes an agreement is reached, and other times, no agreement will be reached.
If no agreement is reached and you decide to sue the mechanic in California small claims court, you can request (subpoena) that the Bureau of Auto Repair submit their records of the investigation to the court before the hearing. This is a very popular option for our clients and helps prove your case in many situations.
Send a Demand Letter
Before suing in California small claims, you are required to "demand payment." This means that you must ask the mechanic to refund or reimburse you for the amount you intend to sue them for.
An effective and easy way to demand payment is by sending a demand letter. A demand letter is a formal letter outlining your requests to the mechanic.
Demand letters also serve other purposes. Here are some other reasons why you should send a demand letter to a mechanic before suing them in small claims court:
A demand letter signals to the mechanic that you are serious about resolving the dispute and that you are willing to take action.
Sending a written demand letter to a mechanic shop assures you there is a record of your attempt to settle. So while demands can be made orally, we recommend making any demands in writing. Writing a letter can sometimes be very effective as it is a more formal way of making a demand to a mechanic shop.
The most important reason to send a demand letter to a mechanic shop is that it may lead to a settlement without incurring court costs!
Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter? Check out our demand letter tool.
File a Complaint Against a Mechanic With the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
What is the BBB?
The Better Business Bureau is a non-profit organization that aims to help consumers find trustworthy businesses and report fraudulent or unethical practices. The BBB cannot force a mechanic to resolve your complaint.
Reasons Why Some Mechanics Respond to BBB Complaints
If the mechanic is accredited with the BBB and they don't respond to a BBB complaint, their accreditation may be revoked, and the complaint becomes part of their BBB profile.
If the mechanic is not Accredited with the BBB, the complaint will become part of their BBB profile.
BBB reviews provide other consumers with confidence when engaging with a mechanic. Mechanics do not want negative BBB complaints.
What Types of Complaints Against Mechanics Does the BBB Handle?
The BBB handles 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 a mechanic did
When a mechanic won't issue a refund
The BBB also handles complaints involving motorcycles and motorhomes.
How to File a Complaint Against a Mechanic With the BBB
Filing a complaint with BBB is relatively fast and easy. The two main steps are:
Scroll to the bottom of the BBB website and click the button that says “Start Your Complaint.”
What to Expect Once You Submit Your Complaint to the BBB
Once you have filed your complaint with the BBB:
The BBB will forward your complaint to the mechanic within 2 business days.
The mechanic will be asked to respond within 14 days, and if a response is not received, a second request will be made.
You will be notified of the mechanic’s response when the BBB receives it (or notified that they received no response).
Complaints against mechanics are usually closed within 30 business days.
Suing in California Small Claims Court
If you filed a complaint with one of the organizations above but weren’t able to resolve your dispute against the mechanic, consider suing a mechanic in California small claims.
Small claims court is a type of court where individuals and businesses can resolve disputes involving relatively small amounts of money without the need for expensive lawyers or complicated legal procedures. Further, small claims courts handle all types of cases against mechanics, ranging from breach of contract to property damage.
Quick Facts About California Small Claims Courts
Small Claims Limit
$10,000 for Individuals. $5,000 for Corporations and LLCs.
Cost to File
Cost to Serve Lawsuit
Hearings are typically scheduled 30- 75 Days after filing.
Many courts have the option to attend the hearing virtually.
Before you can sue in California small claims court, you are required to “demand payment.”
Generally, there are 6 steps to suing a mechanic in California small claims:
Demand payment from the mechanic. Learn more.
Prepare the lawsuit.
File the lawsuit.
Serve the lawsuit on the mechanic.
Prepare for the hearing.
Attend the hearing.
People Clerk can help you with your California small claims lawsuit.
Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.