You Paid For a Repair That Didn't Fix Your Car. Now What?

Consumers have various options dealing with auto shops when car repairs go wrong.

Mechanic taking selfie at front of car smilingShutterstock

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Mechanics who repair hundreds of cars, SUVs, and trucks every year often have their work cut out for them.

An auto shop must handle thousands of repairs for all makes and models, each requiring expensive, unique tools and complicated diagnostic procedures. To give you a grasp of how difficult this all can be, Alldata, the most commonly used repair site in the auto repair industry, just updated its electronic database with over 152,000 pages of new information for mechanics.

Most shops want to make you happy. But the technology in today’s cars is more complicated and sophisticated than ever before, from custom-made sensors and software to computer modules and powertrain components. Sometimes a mechanic can repair one issue only for three more to pop up a short time later.

As a car dealer for nearly 20 years, I have seen plenty of perfect repairs go sideways to no fault of the repair shop. Here are some tips on dealing with auto shops when car repairs do go wrong.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get a Second Opinion

If you don’t feel like the mechanic did the repair right, take it to another auto shop so they can properly evaluate the repair and re-diagnose the issue. You may have to pay a diagnostic fee. But I have found that an experienced mechanic, especially if they’re a specialist in that particular brand or model, will offer a level of expertise that can go way beyond your hunches.

Consider Giving the Mechanic a Second Chance

Nobody gets it right all the time. I just paid nearly $1,800 to have a cylinder head machined and a head gasket replaced on a 2012 Toyota Prius V. The repair was great. Flawless. But it didn’t solve the issue. I know that mechanic, and I trust him, so I gave the repair shop a second chance to figure it out.

When You Bring Your Car Back In, Address the Issue in Writing

Some shops have to handle over two dozen vehicles a day. What you may say to the person handling the repair ticket may be understood differently by the mechanic who works on it. I have always found that a written explanation of the issue, if brief and to the point, helps the mechanic focus on the possible causes. Keep it short but let them know the problem.

I also keep a daily journal whenever I deal with a difficult repair situation that needs documentation. Keep it short—no more than three sentences per event.

What Should You Do if Your Mechanic is Ignoring You?

A shop may not be able to fix your car. Or they may get so frustrated by the myriad of problems that they park in a quiet corner while they cool off. Call them no more than twice a week (preferably Monday or Thursday) for two weeks if that happens. If your vehicle hasn’t been moved from its parking spot, the shop may have more cars than they can repair on time, or they’re wasting your time.

Dispute Repair Problems With Your Credit Card Company

If your issues aren’t being resolved, then it’s time to begin the dispute process. Get your vehicle off the auto shop property first. Then take your documentation and submit it. If the repair had a warranty and you’re within the warranty period, that’s a fair basis for removing a charge. On the few times I needed to contact my credit card company, all I did was copy that information to their online dispute form.

However, that still doesn’t mean that you have the right to make off with parts that weren’t your own. If the credit card company rules in your favor, reimburse the auto shop for the parts.

Don’t Expect Lawsuits to Work

The cost of taking the repair shop to court may be more than the repairs. Small claims rulings can easily be appealed, and then the process starts all over again and usually takes years to resolve.

The repair shop may also keep its assets under a different name than what they’re advertising. It’s not hard to add an “LLC” or an “Inc.” to a company name which effectively means your judgment against the repair shop has no teeth since that specific corporate name has no assets to put a lien on.

Honest Auto Repair Shops Want to Earn Your Business

Honesty goes both ways. So long as the repair shop and its owner are forthright and willing, you should return the favor. Today’s cars can be incredibly complicated, and the older a vehicle is, the greater the time at which an issue or three can crop up and make everyone’s lives that much more challenging.

Repairs don’t always work out the way they were planned. It happens. The key is persistence. I have found that the right strategy and goodwill can make all the difference. So be the good guy, but protect yourself. Persistence usually wins out.

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Steven Lang
Steven Lang is a special contributor to Capital One with nearly two decades of experience as an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction. Some of the best-known auto publications turn to him for his expert insight. He is also the co-developer of the Long-Term Quality Index, a survey of vehicle reliability featuring over two million vehicles that have been inspected by professional mechanics.