What To Do When An Auto Repair Goes Wrong

April 8, 2011

You did everything right in selecting an auto repair facility--you did your research, took your time to understand the technician's explanations--and still a repair has not worked out.

So what do you do now?

There are some steps that every car owner can take to salvage an otherwise bad experience:

Know the law. Take time to research the consumer protection statutes in your area. Some states have specific regulations that apply to auto repair. One eastern state requires signage to be displayed that states the consumer's right to a written estimate. Not displaying this sign is a violation that could award the customer a refund equal to three times the cost of the repair.   

Take the emotion out of the negotiation. Treat this as business transaction and don't make things personal. An automobile is a very complex machine with interrelated systems that can make them very difficult to diagnose. At this point, you should be willing to concede that the problem is due to a good faith attempt that has failed, rather than anything fraudulent.

Set goals. It's important to know what you would like to get from your discussions. It could be a refund, or it could be having your car restored to its pre-repair condition with all the replacement parts removed. Be fair. For example, if there is only one part of the service that was deficient, don't expect everything to be forgiven. For instance, don't expect a refund for an oil change if a tire wasn't repaired properly.

Allow the shop a second chance. If you discovered a problem after picking up the vehicle, you should contact the shop and assume that your problem would be a priority to be handled as soon as physically possible. At this time set very strict guidelines about any additional charges being approved by you, so that the issue doesn't escalate. Offer to take the car to another shop for diagnoses and repair, with an arrangement for the new charges to be paid by the first shop.

Evaluate your dispute. If you haven't reached a settlement at this point, it may be time to go to the next level. Try to determine if this dispute is the result of a failure of communication, a lack of expertise or outright fraud. The answer to that question will dictate where to go from here.

Involve other agencies. The shop may be approved by AAA or be affiliated with a national auto parts program which may have an arbitration process that you can use to settle the issue. The Better Business Bureau has a reporting process that can be utilized to resolve disputes. The next step would be to involve local media to cover it on their "problem solver" type segment. Your attorney general's office may have a consumer protection division which can advocate for you if they believe the shop is at fault.

Take legal action. Unfortunately, a few of these disputes will end up in small claims court. Filing is cheap.  

No one wants the added stress of dealing with faulty repair, but when it happens, it's important to know how to handle it.  
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