Small Claims Advice – Car and Vehicle Repairs
Sometimes things do go wrong when buying and servicing vehicles. Experiencing disagreement and conflict can be uncomfortable, stressful and, if not dealt with promptly, the situation can escalate. But reaching out to a solicitor is not always the best options as the legal fees can quite often cost more than the claim itself.
Here we look at your rights and how best to manage car and vehicle repair disputes.
Summary of the law – your rights
Where you have a dispute over repairs to your car (or other vehicle) the amount of your dispute (including losses and expenses) is likely to come to less than £10,000.
Rights over repair work or servicing your vehicle:
- Quality of work: The repair work or servicing should be carried out with reasonable skill and care.
- Time: Unless you agreed something different, work should be completed in a “reasonable” time.
- Cost: Unless you agreed something different, the cost of the work should “reasonable”. One way of assessing what is reasonable is to find out what other garages in the area would charge for the same service.
Putting right problems with the repair work or servicing
The customer is entitled to have the poor-quality work redone by the garage properly at no additional charge. You should usually give the garage a chance to redo the work themselves within a reasonable time.
The customer can also claim the cost of putting right any damage caused or replacing damaged items.
If the first garage cannot do the repair work needed to put right a problem with their work within a reasonable time (or in more extreme cases where you have lost all faith and confidence in using the garage) you can go to another garage, and you should be entitled to claim back the cost of someone else doing the work properly. However, this means you will have the hassle of claiming the costs from the first garage. Before they carry out the repair work you should ask then to put in writing their assessment of the repair work of the first garage and what is now needed to fix the problem.
The customer can also claim any other reasonable losses and expenses but generally not their inconvenience or time spent in bringing a claim.
Some garages have terms & conditions that may seek to limit these rights and limit the remedies available – the court would need to decide if such terms were unfair.
Road traffic accident
If you have an accident or crash due to a problem with your vehicle, it might be that responsibility rests with the garage if the incident was caused by a problem that should have been picked up at a recent service or was due to a faulty repair. An independent assessment of the defect with your car will be needed. If proved under the law of negligence the garage could be legally responsible for any injuries and damage to you, your passengers and any other people or vehicles involved.
Rights over cost of work
If a garage’s quote is agreed (and the vehicle is brought to the garage for the work to start at a time when the quote was still valid), the garage can’t charge more for carrying out the work agreed between you. This is true even if it costs the garage more than they expected to do the work.
If a garage’s estimate is agreed, then this is not a fixed price. An estimate is only a guide to the final price. However, the final price should still be based on the estimate. If the final price is a lot higher than the estimate, then the customer will only be expected to pay a reasonable amount assessed based on what the estimate said.
If a customer and garage agree that extra work should be carried out (or perhaps after investigation, do part of the repair work differently than originally agreed) the garage can charge extra for this (on top of the original quote or estimate). The extra cost should be agreed (with a note kept at the time). Otherwise, it will be necessary to assess what extra charge is reasonable.
Obvious mistake in a quote or estimate: If a garage makes a genuine mistake in a quote (perhaps in adding up the various aspects) then the garage usually has the right to be paid by their customer the amount that was really intended.
Dispute over bill
If you refuse to pay the garage can keep the vehicle until the dispute is resolved and their terms & conditions may even allow them to charge you a storage fee. To avoid this, if you complain before paying, it may be possible to reach a compromise agreement with the garage manager at the time. Otherwise, you should pay and then claim back the amount you think is unreasonable. Ideally mark their copy of the bill “amount disputed”.
The area of law is known as “breach of contract”. Customers are also given extra rights under Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Problems with a newly bought vehicle
Bought from a car dealer: If the fault is found within 6 months the law assumes the problem was already present when you bought it. This means the dealer is responsible for the cost of fixing the problem and you should let them know as soon as possible. If the dealer disputes this, it is up to them to prove the fault was not present when they sold it. This is not just brand-new cars, but any car bought from a dealer and the protection comes from the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Bought car from a private seller
The description given by the seller must not be misleading but otherwise you cannot go back to the seller if the vehicle develops a fault. You buy “as seen”. That is why when buying privately it often makes sense to get an independent inspection/assessment of the vehicle – so you know if it is in good condition.
In addition to your legal rights, it is worth finding out if the garage or car dealership is a member of a trade association. This is a type of members group aiming to promote good codes of practice. If the garage belongs to one, are they will display a sign on their premises and on their paperwork.
The garage will then have to work to the standards of that association. If you feel a garage has let you down, the Trade Association may be able to offer help in resolving your dispute with the garage.
How to prove a claim
Before making a claim, you need to look at what has been agreed. Before a garage or repair shop start work, you will usually have reached an agreement as to what they were going to do and the cost. This can be a formal contract, an email or a verbal agreement or understanding made when you dropped off your vehicle.
The next step is to identify exactly what you’re not happy with, this can include:
- Poor quality of visible repair work.
- Problem still not fixed.
- Work taking far longer than originally advised.
- Charged more than was agreed to expected.
- Left the job unfinished.
To prove a claim, you need to ensure you have evidence to support the claim. This could include photos of poor-quality repair work (where this is visible). You may decide to take the vehicle to another garage to look at the problem. They may be prepared to write a letter of report on the problem and what the first garage have done wrong as well as the cost of fixing this. There is likely to be a charge for this type of report.
What you may be able to claim for
Financial compensation or repair work– to put you in the position you would be in if the agreement had been followed.
- The work completed (if left unfinished).
- The work re-done to a reasonable standard.
- The cost of any other losses and expenses caused by the broken agreement.
But all must be reasonable and cannot be a loss you would have suffered anyway. Usually, you will need receipts or other proof of these extra losses and expenses.
Making a claim – Motor Ombudsman
The Motor Ombudsman is the automotive dispute resolution body. Fully impartial, it is the first Ombudsman to be focused solely on the automotive sector and self-regulates the UK’s motor industry through its comprehensive Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)-approved Codes of Practice.
The Motor Ombudsman is a certified Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider who can assist with resolving disputes that arise between consumers and Code-accredited businesses.
You can make a claim through their website.