My question involves a consumer law issue in the State of: Oregon
Do I have a valid claim to take an auto repair shop to small claims court for negligent repairs?
The story is as follows:
I purchased a car in October of 2011. The day after purchase, the check engine light came on. Because I'm a full-time student, with no source of income except financial aid, I opted not to take the car to get checked out. A few days later, I took the car to a place that does oil changes. While they were looking under my car, they noticed that my transmission was leaking fluid in several places. They refused to change the oil due to some sort of liability concern over the leaking transmission.
With two issues already on a car I just purchased, I decided I needed to take it to a shop. I read some Google reviews and picked out the local place now in question. I called the shop to schedule a time to take my car in, and told them that I had a check engine light on and a leaking transmission. The morning of the day of my appointment to bring the car in, the transmission started slipping really bad, which I later learned was due to a serious shortage of transmission fluid. I called my roommate, because he knows more about cars than I do. He said it was dangerous to drive the car while it was slipping like that, because the transmission may run out of fluid entirely. He advised me not to drive it anymore, and to have it towed in to the shop. He reiterated the danger of running it out of fluid by driving it to the shop, or anywhere else.
It was towed to the shop later that day. The mechanic at the counter was curt and rude. I told him I had an appointment for a check engine light that was on and a leaking transmission. He went out to the car see why the check engine light was on. While he was doing that, I asked him to take a quick look at the wiring under my steering wheel area, because my stereo was only operating when the lights were turned on, and my gas light wouldn't come on. He rudely told me that "that shit is all just a mess," that "he would not look at it" and that if I wanted, I could take it to an electrician who would charge an absurd amount per hour to fix it.
He told me the check engine light was on because of a bad HR valve, and it would be about $400 to replace it. I can't recall any more of what he said because it was awhile ago. I do recall this was a piece in the engine. I was also told that it did NOT require an immediate fix. The transmission did need an immediate fix though, so I opted only to have the transmission fixed at the time.
Another mechanic was sent out to test drive my car. He did not speak English. I tried to explain to him that the transmission was dangerously low on fluid, and the car should not be operated. He plopped into the car, started it up, and peeled out of the parking lot. You could hear how bad this was for the car. I was absolutely pissed, in light of what my roommate had advised. At this point, the transmission was either out of, or just about to leak the last of its fluid. When he returned, I was told my transmission was slipping. Thanks for the newsflash. The rude mechanic told me they would have to inspect the transmission, because he was unsure if it needed to be rebuilt or could be repaired if the leaks were sealed. I left the car there to have the transmission inspected and the leaks repaired. The shop called me later and told that the transmission had been run dry, and may need a rebuild. This infuriated me, because it may have run dry when they were driving it. They said they would keep working on it.
They called me a day later to tell me they could fix the transmission if I had the output shaft seal replaced, which would stop the leaks. They did this work for $280. They told me the car would run, but recommended I do a transmission rebuild. They gave me a quote for that of $3000, which I could not afford. They told me the car was roadworthy with the leaks fixed, and there would be no further damage caused to the transmission from the leaks. I paid them $280 and was grateful they were able to salvage my transmission.
The car still slipped awfully after this. It never ran the same again. It was shifting perfectly until the morning I was about to take it in, when it started to slip going into 1st and 2nd gear. I took the car back to the shop that same evening and asked why it was still slipping so awfully. I was told this was because the transmission was run dry. I have no way to know if it ran dry the morning I was driving it, or later that day when they were test driving it. A few weeks went by, and I took the car back to the oil change place to get my oil changed. This time, they were able to change my oil. However, they once again alerted me to the fact that my transmission was leaking in numerous spots. I wrote down the names of the parts/areas that were still leaking and went back to the auto shop.
They basically told me to piss off. They said they fixed all the leaks, and any leaks I had now must be new leaks. They offered to fix these for another $300. I asked them why they didn't warranty their work. They said they did, but that these new leaks were not the result of their work on the previous leaks. This sounds like bullshit. I didn't climb under the car before I took it to their shop, so I can't possibly know how many leaks it had, where they were, and if these new leaks were really "new" or just ones they didn't fix. I was barely able to afford the $280 I paid them to fix my transmission the first time, so I left in a rage.
I had no way to afford a fix at the time, and was forced to drive with a leaking transmission from November 2011 to July 2012. I took great care to keep the fluid topped off to prevent any further damage to the transmission from going dry.
The transmission died last week. I had the car towed in to a different auto body shop, where I was told the transmission would need a rebuild for $3,000. No surprise there. I authorized the rebuild, and they're doing it right now. Since the car is already in the shop, I wanted that $400 HR valve taken care of, so my check engine light would be off, and I would be able to pass inspections later this year, or sell the car should I be so inclined. This new guy hadn't heard of an HR valve, which is not surprising. No one I've asked has.
So when I asked him why that check engine light's been on since the day after I bought the car, he explained it was on because of transmission leaks, and because some pressure sensor plates or something also related to the transmission were malfunctioning. He said the second error, the one with those plates, had something to do with faulty wiring to the transmission. I found this especially delightful, because it seems like a transmission error that could not be discovered without... looking at the wiring to the transmission. The very thing the first shop refused to do.
If the check engine light is, and has been on the entire time I've had this car, it's been on for transmission leaks and errors. Not for an HR valve. This means that the auto body shop that charged me $280 bucks, $80 of which was to "check transmission" missed all these errors with the transmission. Additionally, since the light was on when they gave me the car back, they likely did not actually fix any of the leaks. This is supported by the fact that a few weeks later, all the leaks were back.
I don't know much about cars. But I do know that this shop performed awful work. Not only did they either a) not fix any leaks, b) half-ass fixed the leaks, or c) just plain missed some... but they outright refused to check the wiring when I asked them to do so, and it turns out that was also causing a transmission problem.
I don't see how you can charge a consumer to check their transmission for problems, then refuse to perform a task that would alert the consumer to potential problems with the transmission.
I want to take this shop to small claims court. I want $3,000 for the cost to rebuild the transmission, $280 back for the work they performed to "fix the leaks," and $400 for the money I've had to spend on a rental car while my car is having its transmission rebuilt.
I'm not sure if I have a good claim. There's definitely some injustice going on here. What concerns me however, is the shop's statement that I "would eventually need a transmission rebuild." That means a rebuild is something I would have likely had to pay for myself in the future, and thus, why should they have to pay for it now? However, their failures to properly diagnose the transmission errors undoubtedly hastened its demise.
Do I have any chance of recovering these repair costs from the person that sold me this car? I signed a contract to accept the car "as is." However, I believe I was deceived. I've since learned over the time I've had this car, that when the battery is drained and you give it a jump, if the check engine light was on, it will not come back on for a period of time that can be as long as 24-48 hours. I've personally had this happen 4-5 times, because that's how many times I've had to jump this damn car battery.
If he drained the battery and jumped it before he sold me the car, this would explain why the check engine light came on the day after I bought it. If that's the case, it means the check engine light was on when I bought the car, likely for these transmission leaks. The car I agreed to buy "as is" did not have a check engine light on. The car I was sold, did have a check engine light on.