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Dealership ‘fixed’ brakes but car failed to stop. What can I do?

Published August 21, 2012
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Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.

Q: Twice the dealership “fixed” my van’s brakes and it failed to stop, resulting in a near-collision and sliding through a stop sign. On a third repair, the dealership failed to re-secure the transmission coolant line and my van broke down on New Year’s Eve and had to be towed.

We have escalated this issue through all levels to no avail.

The Service Manager apologized and offered to reimburse $850 however, we spent over $2,000.

The General Manager said we got what we paid for since the van was now fixed.

Chrysler head office apologized, but said essentially that all they do is review the complaint and “follow up” with the Dealership.

Do I have any legal recourse?

A: Toronto litigation lawyer Gregory Chang (www.bcbarristers.com) replies:

In April 2011, three attempts were required to fix the front brakes. Was this specific car a difficult one to repair due to age, wear/tear, or were other factors at play? Otherwise, the dealership’s competency may be at issue in a potential Small Claims trial.

With regard to the December 2011 repairs to the rear brakes, rod and transmission that led to the reader being stranded in the cold on New Year’s Eve, it appears the mechanic’s competency created the problem.

For both incidents, the dealership might wish to consider a modest amount of $100-150 to compensate for the reader’s time and inconvenience for multiple service visits and the breakdown. Here, a bit of generosity by the dealership would be a worthy litigation strategy to head off further claims.

The dealership probably feels like the reader received (eventually) the service paid for and that their $850 refund offer was generous. The dealership should not overlook, however, the risk that another shop will now examine their 2011 work and indicate remedial work is required – similar to that previously done by the dealership – on either or both jobs.

If this occurs, then the dealership is at a real risk of having to refund their service charges or perhaps paying for the cost of the new service of the same components, even if more expensive, if the matter was taken to trial.

Eric Lai adds:

It should be stressed that comments above refer to possible liability if the same components serviced are determined by another garage to have been improperly fixed.

If an unrelated part fails, liability on the part of the shop, if any, would be at dispute. For example, if you had brakes fixed and, later, the radiator fails.

Garages will generally list recommended work on their estimate. If the customer refuses, it’s noted on the invoice to avoid later disputes.

Note that at quick-lube shops the techs typically aren’t licensed mechanics and can’t provide a qualified opinion on the mechanical fitness of a vehicle.

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