Small Claims Court
May 2, 2005 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone give me some advice before I file a small claims court lawsuit against an Auto Service Center.

Quick recap. I went in for a normal brake job to a small brake shop (but a large chain). Developed a new problem after a few days. Brought it back. They blamed existing factory parts(brake calipers) quoting a TSB (technical service bulletin) from the factory. TSB didn't match my issue exactly, and I didn't believe I suddenly had issues with these old parts, so I declined more work at that shop, and took my car in for service at the factory service center, since factory parts were blamed, and factory service bulletin quoted. They blamed cheap aftermarket parts. Stated on my receipt that prob was aftermarket parts and that calipers work per design. Problem was solved, never to return.

So anyway, I tried to get a refund from the brake shop. They said no. I wrote a letter stating the entire situation, asking for a refund, and threatening to sue. They called and tried to talk me out of it, but offered no refund. So I want to sue.

Any advice?
posted by gummo to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Go talk to a small/consumer claims lawyer - initial consultations are almost always free. Find out where he thinks you stand & your chances. Regardless, get a couple of his business cards - go back by the shop, talk to the manager and hand him a card - tell him they can refund your money on the spot (no check in the mail from home office!) or talk to your lawyer & pay court costs & attorney's fees plus aggravation. Should do the trick.
posted by Pressed Rat at 10:44 AM on May 2, 2005

ok .... first off:

IANAL ... yet. I'm a 3rd year law student about to graduate and take the bar in July. So I'm not licensed in any state to give legal advice.

With that out of the way, a few other questions arise before anyone can give advice: Did you end up signing a service contract or even an invoice with that shop? Usually those invoices are boiler plate, and contain clauses that basically state that you have agreed to pay that amount and release the shop from liability based on the after market parts they put in (I believe the shop is still liable for issues arising from its labor). (That doesn't stop you from seeking relief against the manufacturers of the parts, who can later indemnify the shop. It's in the best interests of the shop to warn you about TSBs and the like.) If you signed one of those, the shop has somewhat of a defense against you, although in your favor, those are hardly ironclad.

Also: how much work did the shop actually do? This is important, because of the aforementioned invoice/contract you may have signed. If the shop can be held liable only for issues arising from its labor (but not parts it installs), you may have some sort of claim there, if you can show it was their shoddy labor - in addition to, or despite, the parts - that caused your car to break down.

Again, let me reiterate (I'm in CYA mode here, I'm extraordinarily nervous about taking the bar) - IANAL, but will be soon, and I'm just sharing what I know, NOT giving you legal advice. For that you're best off seeking a licensed, competent attorney in your home state.

Hope that was helpful.
posted by LilBucner at 10:51 AM on May 2, 2005

Response by poster: They did a brake job. Included new pads, one new rotor, 'brake kit', and flushing the system, etc... I developed a warped rotor. They blamed the TSB which said I have calipers of bad design that cause a vibration. No mention of warping rotors or anything that severe. I declined new calipers ($700 + fix), had them turn the rotor, and left. The problem returned. They again blamed the calipers. I took it to the factory service center. They said the calipers are fine, and that those brake places are always installing calipers when they aren't needed. They replaced the pads, and off I went. Problem never returned.
posted by gummo at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2005

I don't know where you are, but if you are in Colorado I can recommend an excellent lawyer with a free consultation.

My email is in my profile.
posted by Sheppagus at 11:08 AM on May 2, 2005

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure they screwed up. The paperwork pretty clearly shows that they recommended a fix that turned out to be incorrect. What they did the first time caused a problem, they incorrectly diagnosed the problem, and I had to go elsewhere to have the prob resolved. I've moved beyond threatening them. It's time to drop the issue, or sue in small claims. I will check the small print on the receipts to see how covered they are. Any other advice about the actual process, or any pitfalls, when going to small claims court?

ps. I'm in AZ.
posted by gummo at 11:09 AM on May 2, 2005

If you're serious about filing in small claims you should go look on and bone up on what you'll need to do. Their books have when-to- and when-not-to info, I assume their site does as well.

You should note that winning your case is only the start of the battle - even if they don't show up and you get a default judgement you still then have to collect. Which many people find can be the hard part.

Odds are all you will be able to recover is the cost of the new service at the factory shop which may or may not be worth the time it will take you to get it. Personally I'd just head over to and make sure your negative experience is listed for these doofuses on their mechanic finder and chalk it up as an irritating loss.
posted by phearlez at 11:20 AM on May 2, 2005

If you are in a reasonably-sized city, there are likely a decent number of "lemon law" lawyers out there that would take your case for free. I'd guess you would pay them a third of what they recover for you. A true lemon law case is different than the facts you presented, but I don't think lemon lawyers are constrained to narrow fact patterns.

Small claims could work for you, but from what I'm reading it looks less like the problem was that the shop put on bad brake pads and more like they tried to hoodwink you into buying $700 worth of service that you didn't need. I'd venture a guess that you don't understand the ins and outs of car maintenance and repair, so you put your trust in the mechanics who work on your car. Some of the bad ones recognize that and take advantage of it.

Consumer fraud laws might apply and could take the case outside the realm of small claims. If you can make a colorable case then your leverage increases substantially. Then it's no longer "I'll bring you to small claims and get that $200 back." It becomes "I'll sue you and you'll have to hire a lawyer and answer all of my document requests and we'll find out how often you suggest caliper replacement to brake complainants and we'll prove to the jury that you guys are not just bad mechanics but crooks."

If you go to small claims, I'd suggest you find the clerk of court for your local county's website or visit in person. If you ask around, you can generally find a patient person or helpful brochure that spells out what you need to do. Jump through all the necessary hoops so that a judgment is enforceable.

[all the standard disclaimers about me being a lawyer but not your lawyer, and consult your own attorney, etc.]
posted by AgentRocket at 3:08 PM on May 2, 2005

If you paid via a credit card and this happened within the last 60 days then I'd suggest calling your credit card company and having them issue a chargeback. If you paid via a cheque and this happened within the last two weeks or so, I'd call your bank and see if they can help you out.
posted by pwb503 at 4:23 PM on May 2, 2005

Forget the recommendation for lawyers. Follow the recommendation for Nolo.

You need someone who can help to prove your case, but it appears that you do. You have a later service guy who has said that the parts that the first shop installed did not work right, if I read your post right. Go to the local small claims court and file the case. Have a subpoena issued for the mechanic who wrote the comment. The forms are right there, and the sheriff's department will serve the subpoena for you.

If they do not call you ahead of time to offer some money for compensation, there is a good chance that they will not show up for the hearing. Judgment will be entered in your favor.

If they do show up and do contest it, state your case and offer your witness. You still have a pretty good chance. Things go very informally there.
posted by yclipse at 5:46 PM on May 2, 2005

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