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Guide to Suing a Mechanic in California Small Claims Court

Camila Lopez - California Mechanic Complaints - July 5, 2024

Start by using our free tool to write a demand letter to the mechanic.

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Contents

    Ready to learn how to sue a mechanic in a California small claims court? Learning how to sue a mechanic in small claims court might seem like a complicated process, but in this article, we break down each step.

    Thinking of suing a mechanic? Start by sending them a demand letter to try and resolve the problem out of court. We have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter. Check out our demand letter tool.

    California Small Claims Quick Facts

    Limit

    $12,500

    Costs

    $0 - $200 

    Time

    Hearings are normally scheduled 30- 75 days after the lawsuit is filed.

    Hearing 

    Length


    15 minutes on average

    Examples of Lawsuits Filed Against Mechanics in California Small Claims

    Case Facts 

    Case Outcome

    A San Bernandino small claims lawsuit was filed against a mechanic for improper repairs to a car. 

    The customer who filed the lawsuit was seeking a total of $3,784.08. They wanted a refund for the improper work performed and reimbursement for the rental car fees they incurred while their car was with the mechanic.

    The court awarded the person suing the total $3,784.08 they were suing for, plus an additional $90 in court costs

    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 court awarded the person suing a total of $6,000

    A San Bernardino small claims lawsuit was filed against an auto repair shop for improper repairs.

    The customer who filed the lawsuit sought a total of $10,000. They wanted to be reimbursed for most of the cost of a new engine they had to purchase because the auto repair shop had improperly repaired the car the first time.

    The court awarded the person suing a total of $3,000, plus an additional $115 for court costs. It is unclear from the court’s decision why they won that amount.

    What to do Before Suing a Mechanic in California Small Claims

    The first thing to do when a problem arises is to communicate directly with the mechanic to try and resolve the problem out of court. If informal communication via email or phone don't work, consider sending a demand letter.

    A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests. For example, if the mechanic overcharged you, include in your letter why believe you were overcharged, by how much you were overcharged, and ask them to refund the amount they overcharged you by a specific deadline.

    Why is sending a demand letter important: 

    1. If you eventually decide to sue the mechanic in a California small claims court, you are required to first request your money or property back before you can file the lawsuit. While you can request your money or property back orally, it is suggested you do so in writing in the form of a demand letter so that there is no doubt you have met the requirement. 

    2. Letters are oftentimes taken more seriously than demands for payment via text message or phone. As a result, you may resolve the problem out of court.

    Make sure to keep your communications in writing, as you should be aiming to keep a trail of evidence. 

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you write a demand letter to the mechanic? Check out our demand letter tool.

    Here is video on how our demand letter tool works:

    How Much Can You Sue a Mechanic for in Small Claims?

    In California, individuals can sue mechanics for a maximum of $12,500.

    By suing in small claims, you agree to waive any amount over the maximum amount you can sue for, even if you are owed more.

    For example, if a mechanic owes you $15,000, and you decide to sue in small claims, you are waiving suing for an additional $2,500. Meaning that you will win a maximum of $12,500.

    While you may be missing out on the full amount you are owed, there are practical benefits to suing in small claims instead of suing in "regular court."

    Here are some of the benefits:

    1. Court filing fees are cheaper in small claims than in other courts.

    2. 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.

    3. Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims, which helps keep the costs of suing low.  

    How Much Does Suing a Mechanic in a California Small Claims Court Cost?

    So how much are you going to spend by suing a mechanic in small claims court?

    Court Filing Fees

    The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in California depends on how much you are suing the mechanic for. You will pay between $30 to $75 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 have to notify the mechanic you sued that they have been sued. This is called "serving." Serving costs can range from $0-$125 (serving is free with the sheriff if you qualify for a waiver of your court fees).

    If you win, you may be able to have the mechanic reimburse you for your court fees and serving costs.

    What are the Steps to Suing a Mechanic in a California Small Claims court?

    1. Demand payment from the mechanic. The court requires that you have asked the mechanic to pay you before suing in small claims. One of the most effective ways to do this is to send a demand letter to the mechanic. We have a free tool powered by AI that helps you write a demand letter to the mechanic. Check out our demand letter tool.

    2. Consider filing a complaint with the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs. The Bureau of Automotive Repairs will conduct an investigation. If you later need to escalate to small claims court, you will be able to request that the results of the investigation be sent to the court in preparation for your small claims hearing (via a subpoena). Learn more on how to file a complaint with the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs.

    3. Prepare and file the lawsuit (at a minimum, you will need to complete the SC-100 Form).

    4. Notify ("serve") the mechanic you have sued. You cannot serve your own lawsuit.

    5. Prepare for and attend the small claims hearing.

    Once the lawsuit is filed, the small claims hearing will be scheduled 30-70 days later.

    Up next: 4 Tips for Suing a Mechanic in California Small Claims.

    What is a small claims court hearing like?

    Small claims hearings in California small claims are informal, and most hearings last around 15 minutes. While many disputes against mechanics settle before the hearing, here is what to expect if your lawsuit does not settle.

    Who will represent the mechanic at the hearing?

    • The easiest way to answer this question is that a lawyer will not be representing the mechanic since lawyers cannot represent parties at the initial small claims hearing.

    If you and the mechanic you sued, both show up:

    • Right before the hearing, the judge will ask you and the mechanic to show each other the evidence that you will later show the judge.

    • The judge will ask you why you are suing.

    • The judge will ask the mechanic to tell them their side of the story.

    • The hearing will last around 15 minutes.

    • The judge will ask you to show them the evidence you brought. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence. Other times, you will get the evidence right back.

    • Very rarely, a judge will tell you whether you won or lost at the hearing. Instead, the judge will tell you that their decision will be mailed to you (usually takes a few weeks to two months or so).

    If you show up, but the mechanic you sued does not show up:

    • If the mechanic you sued does not show up to the hearing but you properly notified ("served") them, then the hearing will still take place.

    • You don't automatically win, and you will still have to tell the judge why you should win.

    Up next: 8 Tips on How to Win a California Small Claims Lawsuit

    Preparing to File Your Small Claims Lawsuit Against a Mechanic

    In order to sue a mechanic in a California small claims court, you need to know:

    1. The correct legal entity name for the mechanic.

    2. Who is the "registered agent for service of process".

    When filing a lawsuit against a mechanic in a California small claims court, it is very important to write down the correct business entity on the lawsuit.

    ‍1. What does suing the "correct business entity" mean?

    An example is the best way to explain this. Let's say you took your car to "ABC Mechanic."

    • ABC Mechanic may be a trade name for ABC Mechanic, Inc or even a more remote name like The ABCDEFG Mechanic Company.

    • Mechanics sometimes use a name other than their real legal entity name when doing business. This is called a fictitious business name. In general, mechanics use fictitious business names or trade names for marketing purposes if their legal entity name is too long.

    What happens if I don't sue the correct business entity for the mechanic?

    For one, you may be suing the wrong mechanic, as many have similar names. If you win the lawsuit, you will get a "judgment" against the incorrect mechanic, and this will bring problems down the road.

    The goal here is to find the correct person or business to sue.

    2. Who is the "registered agent for service of process"?

    • Any corporation or LLC that does business in California, has to select a person (or another business) to receive legal documents (like a lawsuit) on their behalf in California.

    • This person (or business) responsible for receiving legal documents on behalf of the mechanic is called the "registered agent for service of process" or just the "registered agent."

    • After the lawsuit is filed, this is the person (or business) who will be notified ("served") of the lawsuit on behalf of the mechanic you are suing.

    Read more below on how to find the registered agent.

    Step 1: Make a list of any names the mechanic has used in your interactions with them.

    • Review any estimates, contracts, or invoices you received from the mechanic. Usually, you can find the mechanic's name on the top part of the estimate.

    • Check any communications the mechanic has sent you.

    • You can also run a search on the California Department of Consumer Affairs License Search. All mechanics in California are required to have a license.

    Step 2: Check the California Secretary of State's website

    Using the list of names you have created for the mechanic, run a search on the California Secretary of State's website. Keep in mind that most mechanics are not doing business as a corporation or LLC but rather as sole proprietorships, but you want to run a search just in case.

    Here are some tips:

    • If you don't know whether the mechanic is a corporation or LLC, search by both categories.

    • If too many similar names come up, you may want to click on the word "status" so the results are organized by businesses with "active" status.

    • There are many businesses that have similar names, so make sure the name you find is as close to one of the names listed on their website.

    • Make sure to also click on the name of the business under "entity name" and review the addresses. If the addresses are similar to the ones on the website or where you dropped off your car,  then you have likely found the correct business name for the mechanic.

    Make sure you write down:

    1. The complete legal entity name for the mechanic.

    2. Who the "registered agent for service of process" is. This is the person (or business) who will be served on behalf of the business you are suing. It will very likely be a business that is listed as the registered agent.

    If no names come up, then run a fictitious business name search in the county where the mechanic is located.

    Need help with your California small claims lawsuit? People Clerk can help.

    Step 3: Determine whether the mechanic is using a Fictitious Business Name

    Many times, mechanics use fictitious business names.

    What is a Fictitious Business Name?

    Sometimes a mechanic will operate using a name other than their legal name. This is known as a:

    • "fictitious business name"

    • "FBN"

    • "doing business as"

    • "DBA"

    California law requires mechanics that want to do business using a name other than their legal name to register the name in the county where their principal place of business is located.

    The purpose of this is to ensure that when someone wants to sue a mechanic, they are able to find the right person to sue.

    Sole Proprietors

    • When a sole proprietorship or an individual uses any name that does not include the last name of the individual, they should file a Fictitious Business Name Statement.

    • A sole proprietorship is a business owned by one person (or a married couple). 

    • If a sole proprietorship does business using a name other than the owner's name, they must file a Fictitious Business Name Statement in the county where their principal place of business is located.

    Partnerships

    • If a partnership wants to use a name that does not include the last name of each partner, they may need to register the name they are using.

    Corporations

    • If a corporation uses any name other than the legal name stated in the articles of incorporation filed with the California Secretary of State, then they may need to register the name they are using.  

    How to search for registered fictitious business names?

    • Each county has a database with the registered fictitious business names. If you determine that a corporation or LLC is using a fictitious business name, then go to Step 2 to search the California Secretary of State's database using the official legal entity name.

    • If you determine that an individual is using a fictitious business name, then you would list the individual as the defendant (person being sued) on the lawsuit.

    Search using the BBB (Better Business Bureau)

    Still can't find the correct legal entity name? Another option is to search on the BBB. If the mechanic has had complaints in the past, then the Better Business Bureau might have looked up the legal entity name.

    How to find the right business name on the BBB

    1. Click here to go to the Better Business Bureau website.

    2. Type the mechanic's name. If you know the city and state where the mechanic is located, then enter the city and state in the address box. Otherwise, leave it blank and press search.

    3. A list of business names will come up. You may see a different business name than the one you typed. Try clicking on "view BBB review."

    4. Go to the section labeled "Business Details." Determine whether it seems like that is the correct mechanic you worked with by verifying the address. The business may list who the owner is or their correct legal entity name.

    Learn how to file a BBB complaint against a mechanic.

    Consider Filing a Complaint Against the Mechanic

    What is the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs?

    The Bureau of Automotive Repairs is a California government agency that regulates mechanics. They issue licenses, investigate consumer complaints, and enforce the rules that mechanics have to follow.

    What will the Bureau of Automotive Repairs do?

    The Bureau of Automotive Repairs will conduct an investigation of your complaint against the mechanic. Once you sue the auto repair shop or mechanic in small claims, you can request (subpoena) that the Bureau of Auto Repair submit the results of their investigation to the court before the hearing.  

    How to File a Complaint with the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs (BAR)

    Online:  Use the California Bureau of Automotive Repair's complaint form.

    Need help with your California small claims lawsuit? People Clerk can help.

    Author

    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ 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.

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