Vehicle repairs can be complex and expensive. And the vehicle repair business isn’t tightly regulated by government. You can avoid or minimize problems with vehicle repairs by following these tips.

Protect yourself!

A good mechanic is like a bald eagle in the wild: rare, beautiful, and elusive. Until you find a shop that you fully trust, be a good consumer and think about the following.

Beat the bushes for a reliable mechanic. Ask friends for names of good mechanics they’ve used. Compare price estimates from various repair shops.

Ask to see a mechanic’s credentials to ensure they’re experienced. Check any repair shops you’re considering with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints against them.

The BC Automobile Association (BCAA) has an Approved Auto Repair Services program for its members to ensure they get quality service at a fair price. BCAA inspects repair shops in the program to verify the quality of their equipment and service.

Let the mechanic figure out what to repair. Describe the problem as clearly as you can, but don’t try to guess what’s wrong. If you do, you may end up getting work you don’t need.

You can also suggest a road test with the mechanic to point out the problem.

Allow enough time for the repair — if you rush the mechanic, the repair may not be done well.

Give the mechanic your phone number in case of problems or questions.

Ask for a written estimate of the repair cost and the time it will take. Tell the mechanic to stop working if the repair is going to cost more than the estimate — unless they call you and you approve the higher cost.

Ask the mechanic to return all replaced parts to you. You may need them to prove a problem with the repair. You may have to pay a charge for some replaced parts (like starter motors).

Take action

There are a handful of steps you should take to resolve a problem with a car repair.

Step 1. Let the mechanic know right away

Step 2. Pay for the repairs

Step 3. Contact a consumer agency (not always applicable)

Step 4. Tell your story on social media

Step 5. Take legal action

Step 1. Report any problems right away

Report unsolved or new problems to the mechanic right away. Brakes still grinding? Engine smell funny? The sooner you report, the less of a chance they can say it was your fault!

If you have a problem with the work, or the cost of it, talk to the mechanic or the owner of the repair shop and try to solve it. Be firm, but polite.

You can talk to them in person. But many people are more comfortable sending a letter. We have templates that can help you with this. See this letter about poor servicing or this one about excessive charges.

If the business won't own up to the mistake, you can write a review online describing your experience. Stick to the facts, and avoid making personal attacks. Sometimes, a negative review can be very motivating.

Step 2. Pay the repair bill

If you can't solve the problem, you should still pay for the repair work. If you don't, the repair shop can register a lien (claim) against the vehicle.

That’ll make it hard to sell your vehicle, and the mechanic could have the right to seize it from you and sell it.

Step 3. Contact a consumer agency or industry association

If you're a member of the BC Automobile Association (BCAA), and you use a BCAA-approved mechanic, you can ask BCAA for help if you have a problem.

You can contact the Better Business Bureau, which receives complaints about local businesses. See the BBB. At the very least, future consumers can be warned about that shady mechanic.

You might want to contact the Automotive Retailers Association. See ARA's website. Only some repair shops and dealers belong to this voluntary organization. Or, if the repair was done by a dealer franchise, you can call the head office to lodge a complaint.

Step 4. Take to social media

Consider telling your story on social media. Be factual and truthful about what happened — using foul or insulting language may work against you.

Social pressure is powerful. The mechanic may be eager to make things right to prove they’re good corporate citizens.

If you can’t solve the problem with the above steps, your next option may be to take legal action to recover amounts you feel you’re still owed.

For claims of under $5,000, you can apply to work out your dispute with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This is a cheaper and faster option than going to court. You don’t need a lawyer to do this!

Who can help

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada

Reviewed in December 2019

Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Ian Christman, Vehicle Sales Authority of BC

Ian Christman

This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Car sales & repairs in the section on Cars & getting around.