How to Handle a Car Repair Dispute

by John DeCostanza

Consumer complaints to the Better Business Bureau about auto repair shops consistently rank in the top 15 types of complaints. Most auto repair shops perform reliable repairs. Sometimes, however, repairs don't measure up to expectations. When this happens and your best efforts to resolve the problem fail, try following these steps to strengthen your position.

Know the laws in your state. You may be entitled to written estimates, the return of your replaced parts or awards in excess of the amount of the original bill. Hopefully, this information will not be needed but it is important to know what the law says. You might find that the company has violated the law, hence greatly improving your position in any negotiations.

Determine whether miscommunication, incompetence or alleged fraud is at the root of your problem. In the case of a misunderstanding or a failed good faith attempt to repair your car, some mutual resolution can usually be reached. When fraud is alleged, you may have to use everything that is at your disposal.

Give the repair facility a chance to resolve the problem, but set very specific ground rules such as no more expenditures and a expected time of completion.

Offer to compromise. Some suggestions are: get the repair done correctly at another shop with a reimbursement from the original shop; a full or partial refund for the faulty repair or a "store credit" at the shop for some future service or product.

Consider arbitration. The Better Business Bureau has a dispute resolution program in which member companies agree to participate when a consumer initiates a complaint. AAA also has a similar method of resolving member complaints against shops participating in their Approved Auto Repair program. You could also inquire at the trade associations to which the shop belongs for any arbitration procedure they might have.

Know that if all these efforts fail you may have no alternative but to file suit. Depending on the amount of the loss, initiating action in small claims court may be appropriate. Otherwise consultation with an attorney would be prudent.


  • check Consult another shop for an opinion. Take notes during any phone conversations with the shop.


  • close Don't let things get personal.

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About the Author

John DeCostanza has owned an auto repair facility for over 35 years. He is an ASE certified service consultant and auto parts specialist. He has been writing as a freelancer since the late 80s. His writing credits include a Gannett newspaper and " Newsweek"  magazine. DeCostanza is a graduate of the University of Delaware where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English.

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