A Day in Court by Dave Redinger

If a legal issue arises from performing work on a vehicle, documentation is essential. Photo: Huw Evans

If it’s too good to be true… you might end up in litigation.

A couple of months ago, I was called to court as an expert witness. I hate going to court. It seems the wheels of justice tend to turn too slowly for me. Long hours of waiting in the halls, nervous clients, busy lawyers. My son, a lawyer, told me many years ago that if a case ends up in court, the lawyer has already failed at his job.

It seems my client had taken their Honda to a shop specializing in engines imported from Japan. These companies import engines for Japanese cars directly from Japan as used units. It should be noted, these are not Canadian spec. They require modification to work properly in our cars.

Our client apparently used this service because the price was “too good to turn down.” They promised to install a low-mileage engine for our client’s Honda for less than $700. A deal… if it were true. While in the shop the two parties also agreed to replace the transmission. Total bill: $2,200.

Stuff happens

During the work the car fell off the hoist. The shop (for reasons that were never established) didn’t call their insurance company. Instead, they informed the customer that the car had suffered only minor damage (it didn’t) and that they would fix it promptly. They advised the customer to rent a vehicle, and the installer said he would reimburse them for their expense.

After the repair, my client came to us to resolve a persistent transmission leak.

When we saw the car, it was an easy diagnosis. Because the car had fallen off the hoist, it was bent. The transmission was leaking oil because it was misaligned in the chassis and the axles didn’t line up. In fact, the workmanship was so bad, we wrote the car off as unsafe. Obviously, the original repairer refused to make any restitution, and we ended up in court. They lost, partially due to our testimony.

What would you do?

So what should have happened? For starters, the owner should have returned to the repairer promptly when they heard about the accident, and they should have fully investigated what really happened. In addition, since the shop refused to call their insurance company, the owner should have called theirs. The insurance company would act as an advocate.

If this happens to you, remember to take notes on the spot and to take photos. Contact the owner and try and make restitution. Insurance companies are getting sticky and expensive when it comes to renewal time.

Nobody won here. The real lesson is that there are no bargains or short cuts when it comes to repairing a car.

One more thing—the shop never did pay for the rental car. The owner received a hefty judgement, but I never found out if they actually collected. We did get paid for our time, though. Finally, after condemning the car, the owner put it up for sale. Personally, I have moral issues with that!

Dave Redinger is a retired mechanic with over 45 years’ experience. He now works as a consultant and legal advisor on mechanical matters offering advice to garage owners and lawyers. You can reach him at automotiveexpert.ca


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