How to Sue a Mechanic Shop

Claudia Diaz - Mechanics - December 12, 2022

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Did you take your car to a mechanic shop because it needed repairs but the mechanic shop didn’t perform the repairs, overcharged you, or negligently worked on your car? If this happens consider filing a lawsuit against the mechanic shop in small claims court. Learn how to sue a mechanic shop/auto repair shop in the article below. 

Common Reasons to Sue a Mechanic Shop in Small Claims Court

Below are some common reasons people sue auto repair shops for: 

  • Incorrect or bad estimates. You took your car to a mechanic shop and got an estimate for $500 for necessary repairs. When the work was completed and you attempted to pay for the repairs you were told it was actually $1,000 for the repairs. 

  • Fraud. You took your car to a mechanic and they charged you for “new” parts but in fact, the parts were used and came from a junkyard. 

  • Poor mechanic work. You took your car to a mechanic shop for repairs but the work was improperly performed and the next time you drove your car it broke down. 

  • Damage to your car. You took your car in for repairs and the mechanic shop scratched the paint off your car as they were making the repairs. 

  • The mechanic shop didn’t perform. You took your car to a mechanic shop and you paid for repairs that were never performed. 

Can You Sue a Mechanic Shop For Negligence? 

You can sue a mechanic or a mechanic shop if a mechanic negligently repaired your car. The mechanic shop as well as the mechanics that work there, have a duty to properly repair your car and ensure that it is safe to drive. Whether a mechanic acts negligently is based on whether another mechanic would have done the same work under similar circumstances.  

To win a negligence case in small claims court you will have to prove that the mechanic acted differently than another mechanic would have when repairing your car and the damages that you sustained because of the mechanic’s negligence. 

Can You Sue a Mechanic Shop For Refusing to Release Your Car? 

Generally, after a mechanic has finished work on your car you expect to have the car returned to you. However, if you refuse to pay because the receipt for repairs is much higher than you were told or the mechanic shop performed unauthorized repairs on your car a mechanic can put a mechanic’s lien on your car because you refuse to pay.

A mechanic’s lien basically means that a mechanic can keep your car until you pay your bill in full. There are rules to filing a mechanic’s lien and if a mechanic improperly places a lien on your car and refuses to return it to you, you can take legal action or threaten to take legal action. 

However, if you are trying to fight an invalid mechanic’s lien, small claims court may not be the best option. Most small claims courts cannot force someone to do something, the court can only award monetary damages. In this case, the small claims lawsuit will be about the “debt” that gave rise to the lien in the first place, the court will not help you get your car back from the mechanic. 

What To Do Before Suing in Small Claims Court 

Communicate Directly With the Mechanic Shop 

If the mechanic shop damaged your car or there is a problem with the estimate the mechanic shop provided make sure you voice this directly with the mechanic shop before taking legal action. The mechanic shop might not be aware of the problem and may be willing to help you fix the issue right away. 

Try to explain your problem calmly so the mechanic shop is able to understand your issues. Remember, mechanic shops want customers to keep coming to them for their car problems and want to keep a good business reputation. For the most part, the mechanic shop would rather have you leave a satisfied customer and fix the problem if they can. Of course, this is not always the case and you have other options you can take against the mechanic shop if necessary. 

Save All Evidence 

The moment you notice a problem with a mechanic shop’s repair work save any evidence you might need later down the road. If you do end up suing in small claims court you will need to prove to the judge why you are suing and how you calculated the amount you are suing for. 

Try to collect and save all evidence related to your relationship with the mechanic shop and the dispute at hand. 

Here is a checklist of potential evidence you may want to save: 

  • Any correspondence between you and the mechanic repair shop. This means written communications like text messages, emails, etc. 

  • Receipts, estimates, or invoices. This can be from the mechanic shop that performed the repairs and also any other mechanic you had to take your car to if the mechanic shop improperly repaired your car. 

  • Pictures of your car. Before the repairs if any and after the repairs (this is especially helpful if you are claiming the mechanic shop damaged your car). 

Take Your Car to Get Checked 

If your claim against the mechanic shop is for damage to your car or improper repairs consider having your car checked by another mechanic. You may be able to get a free estimate for how much it would cost to fix the improper repairs. You can use that estimate later in small claims court to prove that the car was in fact improperly repaired and to prove how much you will need to fix the bad repair work. 

Send a Demand Letter 

A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests you want the mechanic shop to perform. For example, if the mechanic shop improperly worked on your car engine and it doesn’t work you can ask the mechanic shop to fix the improper repairs in the demand letter. A demand letter is also useful if you want to inform the mechanic shop that if they do not meet your demands you intend to sue them in small claims court. 

Some small claims courts require you to ask the party you are suing for payment before suing. For example, in California small claims court, you are required to demand payment before suing someone in small claims court. A demand letter can be used to fulfill this requirement. The most important reason to send a demand letter to a mechanic shop is to try to settle your case out of court. 

Learn how to write a demand letter to a mechanic shop

Steps to Suing a Mechanic Shop in Small Claims Court 

If you have tried to resolve the dispute directly with the mechanic shop and have not been able to get a response or the mechanic shop refuses to address your concerns, it may be time to escalate your dispute to small claims court

Here are the steps to suing a mechanic shop in small claims court:  

  1. Prepare the lawsuit. 

  2. File the lawsuit. 

  3. Notify the mechanic shop that they have been sued (this is called “serving”). 

  4. Prepare for and attend the small claims hearing. 

People Clerk can help you file and serve your small claims lawsuit against a mechanic shop.  

Step 1: Prepare Your Small Claims Lawsuit Against a Mechanic Shop 

In order to sue a mechanic shop in small claims court, you will need the correct legalname and the correct mailing address for the mechanic shop. This is necessary both because you need to notify the mechanic shop that you have filed a lawsuit against them and to make sure you are suing the right business. 

Figure out if the mechanic shop is doing business as an LLC or Corporation under a “trade name” or “assumed name.” For example, you took your car to Ace Mechanics for repairs, but Ace Mechanics could be the trade name for Ace Mechanic Shop LLC. Businesses will use trade names for marketing purposes if their legal name is long or hard to recognize. 

Below are some ways to search for a mechanic shop’s legal name: 

  • Check any documents the mechanic shop gave you and see what names are listed as the business name. 

  • Run a business license search. Using the address of the mechanic shop, you can search for their business license within the city or county database where the mechanic shop is located.  

  • Run a search on the Secretary of State website in your State as the business may be registered with the Secretary of State. 

You will also need to decide how much to sue for (keep in mind that each state has different small claims limits). Make sure to review how much you have spent in fixing your car or how much you paid the mechanic as a starting point.

Step 2: File Your Small Claims Lawsuit Against a Mechanic Shop 

Next, you need to prepare the lawsuit against the mechanic shop using the proper form, this is usually available for download on your local small claims court website. Here is a guide for California small claims and a guide for New York small claims

The court will want to know why you are suing the mechanic shop, how much are you suing the mechanic shop for, and finally how you calculated the amount you are suing the mechanic shop for.

There are several ways you may be able to file the lawsuit: 

  1. In person at your local small claims court, 

  2. By mail, 

  3. Electronically (not available in all courts), 

  4. By fax (not available in all courts). 

Step 3: Serve the Mechanic Shop 

Once you file your small claims lawsuit with the court, you will then need to “serve” (notify) the mechanic shop that you filed a lawsuit against them. 

Each state will have its own rules on how to serve a lawsuit. Make sure to review the rules for serving that apply to you. The rules in each state tend to be very specific about where you can serve the mechanic shop, who you can serve on behalf of the mechanic shop, and how much time you have to serve the mechanic shop. In some states, the court clerk may serve your lawsuit for you while in other states, you will need to hire a process server or sheriff to serve your lawsuit. 

Step 4: Prepare for Your Small Claims Hearing Against the Mechanic Shop

Preparing for your small claims hearing is one of the most important steps. The goal is to win your lawsuit against the mechanic shop. The key here is to be as prepared as possible because the more prepared you are, the better you set yourself up for the hearing. 

Here are tips that will help you win your lawsuit against a mechanic shop: 

  • Research the law. It is good practice to read up on any laws that support your claims.  You can do your own research or consider consulting with a lawyer if you have any doubts about your case or the law. For example, if you are claiming the mechanic shop was negligent when repairing your car you may want to research how to prove negligence. If you have any doubts, you can always discuss your case with a lawyer. 

  • Prepare your evidence. This is the most important part if you want to win at your small claims hearing. You want to prove your case with evidence that you have saved throughout the process. Consider including pictures of your car if the mechanic shop damaged it (and ideally pictures of the car before it was damaged). Also, consider including emails, text messages, and other correspondence between you and the mechanic shop. 

  • Prepare your statement for the judge. At the hearing, you will be able to present your side of the story. The mechanic shop will have the same opportunity.  Small claims hearings are usually informal and the judge will ask you questions about what happened. Be prepared to tell the judge why you are suing the mechanic shop. Discuss background facts of your case, like what repairs you paid the mechanic shop to perform. Also discuss how much the mechanic shop owes you, and how you calculated this amount. 

  • Bring copies of the evidence. Make at least three copies to bring to the hearing (one for the judge, one for you, and one for the mechanic shop). 

Consider Filing a Complaint Against a Mechanic Shop

Besides filing a small claims lawsuit against a mechanic shop consider filing a complaint against the mechanic shop with a state or non-government organization. Most states have consumer protection agencies that will handle complaints submitted against mechanic shops. You may also be able to file a complaint against a mechanic shop with your state’s Attorney General

Author

Claudia Diaz

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.

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