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French garage did not fix my car’s fault: can I get a refund?

When a mechanic takes your car in for repairs in France, they are expected to fully fix the problem

A mechanic is required to return your car to you in working order Pic: NONGASIMO / Shutterstock

Reader question: I took my car to a garage for repairs, but a few days later the same problem returned. Can I claim my money back? 

When a mechanic agrees to keep your car for repairs in exchange for payment, they have what is called an obligation de résultat (obligation of result). 

This means they are obliged to return your car in working order, having fixed the problem you brought it in for. 

This should preferably have been subject to a detailed written devis (quote) or ordre de réparation.

The main law covering this is article 1231-1 of the Code Civil, which states that the only justification for not properly carrying out the job is force majeure, ie. unexpected events out of the person’s control. 

If a mechanic fails to fix a problem they were hired to fix, they should repair the car again, without charge, or reimburse you for the faulty repairs. 

Similarly, according to case law, when an identical or very similar fault appears shortly after the repairs, the mechanic is generally presumed to be at fault for not having completed the repair in a satisfactory way. 

As the problem reappeared just a few days later, this is likely to apply in your case. Were the problem to appear after a longer period of time, it could be more difficult to prove this is linked to the original problem and the work that was done. 

To exercise your rights, you can send a letter headed mise en demeure (formal notice) to the mechanic via recorded delivery letter, mentioning the article of the Code Civil and requesting the repair be redone, or a refund made. 

It is also possible to claim compensation if the problem has resulted in extra expenses to yourself. In case the mechanic disputes your claim, it is a good idea to keep any quotes, invoices, réparation orders or correspondence as proof. 

If they refuse, it would be possible to take the garage to the tribunal judiciaire court, though it is usually necessary to first seek resolution via a consumer mediator (ie. tinyurl. com/carmediator) or conciliation (conciliateurs.fr). 

You could also seek advice from a consumer defence body (tinyurl.com/consumerhelp) though you might need to pay a membership fee.

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