How to Sue an Auto Repair Shop in Small Claims- California

April 5, 2021
How to Sue an Auto Repair Shop in Small Claims- California
People Clerk helps you with your small claims court lawsuit.

Ready to learn how to sue an auto repair shop in a California small claims court? Learning how to sue an auto repair shop in a California small claims court might seem like a complicated process but in this article, we break down how small claims works!

In this article learn about:

  • Consider filing a complaint before suing an auto repair shop in small claims
  • How much you can sue an auto repair shop for in small claims.
  • How much going to small claims against an auto repair shop costs.
  • The steps to suing in a California small claims court.
  • What to expect during a small claims hearing.
  • What information you will need when preparing to file the small claims court lawsuit.
  • How to find the right legal name for an auto repair shop you are suing.

Consider filing a complaint against an auto repair shop with the  Bureau of Automotive Repairs before suing an auto repair shop in small claims

What is the California Bureau of Automotive Repairs?

The Bureau of Automotive Repairs is a California government agency that regulates auto repair shops. They issue licenses, investigate consumer complaints, and enforce the rules that auto repair shops 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 auto repair shop. Once you sue the auto repair shop 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:  Click here to go to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair's complaint form.


How much can you sue an auto repair shop for in small claims?

In California, you can sue an auto repair shop for a maximum of $10,000 if you are an individual.


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


For example, if an auto repair shop owes you $15,000, and you decide to sue in small claims, you are waiving suing for an additional $5,000. Meaning that you will win a maximum of $10,000.

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 an auto repair shop in a California small claims court cost?

So how much are you going to spend by suing an auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop you sued that they have been sued. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $0-$75 per defendant you sue (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 auto repair shop reimburse you for your court fees and serving costs.

Learn More: Full Guide on California Small Claims Court Filing Fees

What are the steps to suing an auto repair shop in a California small claims court?

We have outlined each one of these steps in detail, click the links to learn more.

  1. Consider filing a complaint against an auto repair shop before suing in small claims. Learn more here.
  2. Prepare and file the lawsuit. Learn more.
  3. Notify ("serve") the auto repair shop you have sued. Learn more.
  4. Prepare for and attend the small claims hearing. Learn more.

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


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 auto repair shops settle before the hearing, here is what to expect if your lawsuit does not settle.


Who will represent the auto repair shop at the hearing?

  • The easiest way to answer this question is that a lawyer will not be representing the auto repair shop since lawyers cannot represent parties at the initial small claims hearing. The auto repair shop will send a non-lawyer representative.

If you and the auto repair shop you sued, both show up:

  • Right before the hearing, the judge will ask you and the auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop you sued does not show up:

  • If the auto repair shop 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.

Learn More: What is What is a Small Claims Court Hearing Like?

Preparing to File Your Small Claims Lawsuit Against an Auto Repair Shop

In order to sue an auto repair shop in a California small claims court, you need to know:

  1. The correct legal entity name for the auto repair shop.
  2. Who the "registered agent for service of process" is.

When filing a lawsuit against an auto repair shop 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 Auto Repair."

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


Auto repair shops sometimes use a name other than their real legal entity name when doing business. This is called a fictitious business name. In general, auto repair shops 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 auto repair shop?

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


The goal here is finding 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 auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop you are suing.
  • Read more below on how to find the registered agent.

Read More: Complete Guide on how to file a Small Claims Court Lawsuit in California


How to find the correct legal entity name for an auto repair shop you are suing

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

  • Review any estimates, contracts, or invoices you received from the auto repair shop. Usually, you can find the auto repair shop's name on the top part of the estimate.
  • Check any communications the auto repair shop has sent you.
  • You can also run a search on the California Department of Consumer Affairs License Search. All auto repair shops 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 auto repair shop, run a search on the California Secretary of State's website. Keep in mind that most auto repair shops 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 auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop.

Make sure you write down:

  1. The complete legal entity name for the auto repair shop.
  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 auto repair shop is located.

Need help with your California small claims lawsuit against an auto repair shop? Learn more.

Step 3: Determine whether the auto repair shop is using a Fictitious Business Name

Many times, auto repair shops use fictitious business names.

What is a Fictitious Business Name?

Sometimes auto repair shops 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 auto repair shops 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 an auto repair shop, 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 1 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.

Searching 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 auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop's name. If you know the city and state where the auto repair shop 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 auto repair shop you worked with by verifying the address. The business may list who the owner is or their correct legal entity name.
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