Car Stereo Company Tries To Install GPS, Causes $12,398.54 Damage To Your Car

Reader Brandon took his recently purchased 1996 BMW M3 to a car stereo installation company to have a stereo, speaker set, and GPS system installed. When he got his car back, he noticed that the climate control system was no longer functioning the way it used to. Hot air was leaking from his air ducts when he selected cold air. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get the car stereo installation shop to repair the damage they caused, Brandon took the car to some BMW experts and found out that the botched installation had caused over $10,000 in damage to his car. Brandon then tried to get the car stereo shop’s insurance company to pay for the repairs, but they denied his claim on the basis that procedures used for the installation were typical. Brandon says he then took the car stereo shop to small claims court. but the judge ruled against him because the car stereo shop employees claimed that he entered into a oral contract to release them from liability in exchange for a partial refund. Brandon claims he never entered into such a contract. Read his story inside.

Here’s Brandon’s story:

I took my car to The Car Stereo Company in Los Altos, CA back in November of 2007 to get a stereo, speaker set, and GPS system installed. I met with a salesman who was very nice at the time, and convinced me that their shop would be able to do a good job installing these components. They informed me that they did this same type of installation before on another BMW and that they knew what they were doing. I scheduled an appointment early the following week to bring my car in for installation.

After I got my car back from The Car Stereo Company, I noticed that my climate control system inside my car wasn’t acting the same way it did before the installation. There was hot air coming out of the air ducts when I selected cold air. So, I took the car back to the store and asked them to take a look at it. At first, they were very agreeable to at least try to fix the problem, but they weren’t able to do so. I took my car back to them subsequent times to allow them the opportunity to fix the problem, but they just didn’t have the skill and wouldn’t admit it. At this point, the salesman was getting annoyed with my frequent visits. They had spent a few hours trying to repair my car unsuccessfully, and thought that they were now doing me favors by accommodating my requests to fix what they broke. In fact, a couple times when I brought the car to them to mend a problem that they caused, I got the car back with another item broken. For example, one time they tried to fix the hot air problem in the car and when I got the car back, the LCD on the climate control module was broken. When I brought this to the installer’s attention, he had the audacity to accuse me of damaging it myself. By this time, I realized that there was something seriously wrong with the work that this stereo shop performed, so I met with some professionals at Stevens Creek BMW in Santa Clara, CA. They work with an experienced, BMW-specialized aftermarket stereo installer and upon first meeting with him, he was able to determine the source of the problem with my climate control and also pointed out several other parts in my car that they unnecessarily damaged. The main problem was that the heater core housing had a huge hole cut in it. The heater core housing holds the heater core, which generates the heat for the climate control system. It regulates how much heat gets sent into the car. With such a large hole cut in it, the climate control system couldn’t operate normally. That explained why the air vents were incorrectly supplying hot air.

As a result of these findings, I decided that I did not want to have anything to do with The Car Stereo Company anymore. They were also becoming very difficult to deal with, and wouldn’t own up to the damages that they caused. I went to their store and asked for a refund so that I could take that money to go get the car put back to stock condition. They decided that they would give me a refund, charge a 20% restocking fee, but would not refund the labor fees. In addition, they added writing on the back of the refund check that would release them of liability of the damages if I endorsed it. So, I decided not to cash the check. After getting legal advice, I decided to go through my credit card company instead to get a refund for the merchandise.

So with this small amount of money in my hand, I thought I could go get my car fixed at Stevens Creek BMW in Santa Clara, CA. Yes, it was a little naive considering nothing is cheap to fix on cars, but the damages didn’t look that bad to me. Apparently the job is very labor intensive. The heater core housing is located pretty much in the center of the car, and it takes several hours to remove the necessary parts to get to it. There were also other things that BMW pointed out that were damaged. They came up with the attached initial estimate of $3,600 in labor and $8,053.91 in parts. I was dumbfounded and heartbroken that my poor car was in such a sad state. I couldn’t pay for over $11,000 in repairs on my own, nor did I feel like I should have to since the stereo shop caused all the damage! I’m sure you might be a little skeptical about how necessary this repair work was, and you’re wondering why it’s so expensive, but I got another estimate from an independent German car mechanic confirming the same findings. Not only that, the exact same thing happened to a Honda Civic owner when he took his car to a Circuit City and it cost just about the same amount to fix the car, as detailed in this article also posted on Consumerist.

So, after talking with a lawyer, he suggested to me that the best way to get the money for the repairs would be to sue the company in small claims court. I followed all of the rules and suggested steps for this process. I began with a demand letter. This was a good way to keep the matter out of court and let them know that I felt that they owed me the money without making things too complicated. After receiving the letter, The Car Stereo Company immediately turned the issue over to their insurance company. I struggled back and forth with their insurance company, and they ultimately refused to cover the claim. They claimed that I was aware that modifications would have to be made to my car to accommodate the stereo, and the procedures used for installation were typical. However, I was not made aware that anything would be damaged in my car, nor that the functionality of the car would be impeded as a result of this installation. Also, as BMW later informed me, the procedures they used to install this stereo are not advisable. And as I already mentioned, another independent German car mechanic confirmed BMW’s findings. I also got a letter from BMW, the German car mechanic, and the BMW-specialized aftermarket stereo installer agreeing that my demand was justified (see attached documents). At this point, I felt my only real option was to take The Car Stereo Company to court. They took no action after their insurance company denied the claim. I wrote up the court papers and had them served and waited for my court date.

The court result, as I’m sure you can guess since you’re now reading this article, didn’t come out in my favor. The judge said he was about to award me money for damages, but later changed his mind. I lost because (as the judge put it) I entered into an oral contract with The Car Stereo Company, and most oral contracts are binding in California. The contract that the judge said we agreed to was that I would pay for the damages on my own if The Car Stereo Company issued me a refund. I had no idea at the time I asked for a refund that I was entering into any sort of contract.

I explained to the judge that I also didn’t know what the cost of the repairs would be at the time of this conversation and that if I knew how expensive they were, I would never have even considered footing the bill for the damages. However, as many people know the law doesn’t always follow common logic, so that didn’t matter. What also didn’t help my case was that two of their witnesses (an installer and a salesman) said that I said to them, “I release you of liability of the damages to my car.” This crushed my case, and I told the judge that I absolutely did not ever say that to them. Honestly, who speaks in those terms anyway? The judge said he believed them and said their argument was more credible since there were two of them supporting their side of the story and I was the only one supporting my side. I explained that the witnesses were biased because they worked for the owner of the stereo shop. The judge’s response was, “They don’t look biased to me.” I couldn’t believe it. So, needless to say I was again dumbfounded by yet another ridiculous event in this whole debacle. That’s where the story leaves off. I couldn’t believe they got away with it.

Brandon also included the final repair bill and a letter from a car stereo installation expert describing the damages to his car.




Edit Your Comment

  1. These guys should just not attempt what they can’t do. Especially on funky German cars. You’re entering a world of pain (a what?) A world of pain.

    /funky german car owner

  2. nataku8_e30 says:

    sounds like its time to turn it into a track car…

  3. Bladefist says:

    if you buy a stereo from crutch field, they send you a complete instruction set how to do it. Anybody can install a car stereo. Match the colored wires. Screen in the kit they send you. pop it in. Wait for it to be stolen. Pretty easy cycle.

    • junglejim says:


      This is by no means a “standard installation” based on one criteria. The aforementioned BMW is a single DIN sized radio location, and Brandon asked them to perform an install with a double DIN. The heater core will have to be cut, regardless, due to the lack of depth behind the radio. The wiring’s easy, the installation is a pain. Remember, there’s always two sides to every story… one from the consumer, one from the store, and of course the truth.

  4. Bladefist says:

    @Bladefist: GPS too.

  5. MikeHerbst says:

    They came up with the attached initial estimate of $3,600 in labor and $8,053.91 in parts.

    Any chance those two totals are reversed? Labor is usually the killer in these instances, figure something like $100/hr to sort out someone else’s hack job.

    In either case, $11k sounds a little bit like “go away” pricing to me. (i.e., this is the price we quote to make people go away, since we don’t actually want to do this job…)

  6. Meg Marco says:

    @Bladefist: “Wait for it to be stolen.” So true.

  7. Solo_Racer says:

    What’s the name of the incompetent small-claims court judge? He’s a moron.

  8. cgarison says:

    Hmmm…. Consumerist is failing because not all the story is in the blurb. I was going to say “What a Crock,” but the fact that the installer admitted to the mistake and refunded the installation money changes the whole story.

  9. @Bladefist: Hear, hear. I’ve bought at least 4 head units from Crutchfield over the past 13-14 years. Every time they’re not the cheapest. Every time they’re the best, though. All DIY with great instrux, and I still use some of their free tools for other projects.

  10. rpm773 says:

    @Ash78: Mark it 8, dude.

  11. Is a 1996 M3 worth $12,398.54? I’m just saying ;-)

    Betcha, the old radio sounded pretty go about now.

    Seriously, the problem is most laws only protect you for the costs of the items being installed and all the related charges, of course nobody plans on this level of damage.

  12. mariospants says:

    Didn’t something like this happen to a Honda and also get covered on Consumerist last year?

  13. Geekybiker says:

    That sucks, but if he’s lost in small claims court, he probably doesn’t have a whole lot of options.

  14. wgrune says:

    I have installed my fair share of car stereos and can attest to the fact that cutting a hole in the heater core is in no way part of a “typical installation”.

  15. mariospants says:

    whups, OP mentioned it in his looooooooong article.

  16. DeleteThisAccount says:

    Why on earth would you pay that much money to have something like that done on a car that is 12 years old? Buy a Garmin and stick it to the windshield and be done with it.

  17. Derv says:

    @mariospants: Wow, somebody didn’t read the article.

  18. brettt says:

    This is Kafkaesque.

    Their job is to install stereos. How are they not liable and responsible for their work?

    Stand outside with fliers! Nobody will get a thing installed there if they find out what happened.

    Also, I’m glad I read this. I will never take a refund from a company if they are liable for damages. I’ll grab the repair fees AND refund in one swoop only.

  19. aspie32 says:

    “the judge ruled against him because the car stereo shop employees claimed that he entered into a oral contract to release them from liability”

    Then the judge is a bloody idiot. Oral contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on.

  20. milk says:

    @Geekybiker: Yeah, those in CA who file small claims and lose can’t appeal. :( For that much money, I wouldn’t trust myself to win.

  21. B1663R says:

    the moral of the story is:

    “always talk to an authorized service technician for YOUR specific model car if you want any fancy-pants gadgets installed”

  22. DeleteThisAccount says:

    @AngrySicilian: read the full article, ok buy a garmin and deal with the old stereo. :)

  23. Derv says:

    I don’t know how it works in California, but in Wisconsin, if you lose a small claims case, you can appeal by demanding a trial. I think you have to appeal within 15 days, but it is possible. This is a great guide to Small Claims Court: []

  24. mariospants says:

    Ok, the judge is an ass, apparently.

    If the no-loads at Car Stereo Company can tunnel into his dash and cut away at the heater core (and still make a profit doing it) how come the BMW folks have to dissassemble the entire vehicle? There must be an alternative to replacing the entire climate control system. This is a 12 year old car, plug the frickin’ heater core and send the OP on his merry way. Assuming the car still accelerates like a bat out of hell, he doesn’t need A/C anyway.

  25. geffel12 says:


    Yes – Brandon refers to it in recounting his tale, and there’s a link included.

  26. @prndl-can’t change his avatar!!: Probably around 10k.

    Anyway, I thought you could only get a max of $7,500 in CA small claims. Should have had a full lawsuit.

    That whole thing about the “oral contract” sounds weird though. I ONLY believe in written contracts.

  27. chrisjames says:

    Yeah, you accepted the refund. Don’t expect much after that. You thought something might be wrong, so you asked for a refund. Now you know: if you ever expect something is wrong, switch to dispute mode. Don’t give or accept any form of payment until you have come to an agreement with the other party. If you can’t settle things face-to-face, then hire a lawyer.

    As for the verbal agreement. Two against one wins. They may be biased in favor of the shop, but you’re biased in favor of yourself. As an impartial judge, how do would you lean?

  28. @mariospants: You don’t even need to plug it. You just pull the input hose, loop it back to engine, and bypass the whole issue.

  29. fostina1 says:

    another example of our failure of a judicial system.

  30. ThinkerTDM says:

    I like the blame the consumer mentality. It’s really his fault for not doing it himself.
    But really, I thought there were limits on small claims suits- anything larger has to go to a real court.
    So, the point of the story was that because he accepted the refund check, that absolved the repair shop of guilt?
    Whats with this oral contract shit anyway?

    Lastly, it sucks that we put our faith in judges, who really just want to get through the day without a fuss, and dismiss common sense items to save some time.
    Lazy, lazy, lazy.

  31. brettt says:


    As an impartial judge, I’d lean toward the person whose claim is not ludicrous, not the person with the most friends.

  32. brettt says:


    Let George Meyers know what you think, goons!

  33. kthxbai says:

    @Ash78: Too bad BMW is a British Car, not German…. B-British… M-Motor….W-… im not sure what the w stands for but its probably Works?

  34. geffel12 says:

    A few years ago I took my VW VR6 Golf to Big O Tyres (or “Tires” as they wrongly spell it) in Tarzana Ca.

    I went off for a walk, got some coffe, read the newspaper. I came back, drove away, and noticed the ABS and checkengine lights were on.

    I drove back to Big O and talked to the monkey that had installed the tyres, who denied they’d done anything wrong, and that the ABS and check engine lights were on when I brought the car in..

    I asked to speak to the ugly boss chimp thing, believeing that reason would prevail.

    You’ll never believe this. The chief chimp insisted that i was the kind of asshole who would bring a car into his establishment knowing the car was faulty, and then attempt to pin the blame on their workmanship.

    So of course I took it to the local VW guy and was further out of pocket, although it turned out all they’d done was knock one of the ABS sensors askew. As for the check engine light, it remains a mystery how the tyre guys caused that to come on, but my VW guy fixed whatever it was.

    I have to wonder how many people are getting screwed by clumsy or lazy “workmanship” not just in the US, but all over.

    If I took as little pride in my work I would be out of a job.

  35. layabout says:

    I wouldn’t take that kind of crap,but im big & very violent,i would have made them piss blood if they didn’t pay for the repairs.It always works for me.

  36. katylostherart says:

    “they don’t look biased to me”

    what judge would actually say something like that?

    “well he doesn’t LOOK like a serial killer.”

  37. humphrmi says:

    @aspie32: Not to blame the OP here, but there is pretty damning evidence that he at least considered accepting the refund and releasing them from liability: the fact that he accepted the refund check with just that wording printed on it.

    The fact that he didn’t cash the check only means that the contract never changed from an oral to a written contract. But if a judge had to decide if he had agreed to take the refund in lieu, having accepted that check is pretty difficult to explain.

  38. katylostherart says:

    @etaripamai: was that facetious?

    Bavarian Motor Works (english)

    Bayerische Motoren Werke (weinerschnitzel)

  39. Skankingmike says:

    that sucks butt..

    German cars are known to be very challenging, and why would you agree to something like that? Ignorance does not justify redemption.

    that’s like homeowners saying.. I agreed to the terms of my subprime mortgage but i didn’t understand them.


  40. anarcurt says:

    Time to grab a brick…

  41. lawyergay says:

    I love the “restocking fee.”

    If you buy merchandise that is defective, or improperly installed, or suffer damages as a result of your purchase, then you don’t have to pay a “restocking fee.” Period.

  42. ThomFabian says:

    B= Bavarian


  43. @etaripamai: Too bad BMW is a British Car, not German…. B-British… M-Motor….W-… im not sure what the w stands for but its probably Works?

    FWIW, the Germans have taken the honorary Lucas electric torch from the Brits and keep it going to this day. So for those not fortunate enough to have an MG roadster, they can always find a late model VW or Mercedes to keep the fun coming :D

    (in case you weren’t joking there, Bayerische Motoren Werke)

  44. Skankingmike says:

    @etaripamai: omg are you serious?

    Bavarian Motor Works or Bayerische Motoren Werke in german.

    You sir are either being sarcastic or stupid.

  45. Cap'n Jack says:

    @fostina1: Anyone else remember the Dana Carvey stand-up about the judicial system? “Joodishul Syzmmm”!

  46. layabout says:

    @Ash78: In English Bavarian Motor Works (for those that didn’t know)

  47. nadmonk says:

    This is exactly why I did my own installation when I bought a new stereo for my car.

  48. @layabout: Reading back over this thread, I’d say the etaripamai pile-on is sufficiently complete :D

  49. FishingCrue says:

    IANACAL but why file in small claims when your claim exceeds the limit of the court and doesn’t allow you to take an appeal as a matter of right? Hate to blame the OP but that’s a pretty bonehead move.

  50. Murph1908 says:


    The ‘B’ is for Bavarian, doofus. Check your facts before you slam someone.

  51. Murph1908 says:

    Perhaps the tactic of standing outside their building (on public property, naturally) with those pics and $11,000 prominently displayed would change their tune.

  52. layabout says:

    The unreliable BMW’s(X5,Z4 &X6new) are built in America

  53. layabout says:

    @Ash78: Just read it,yeah,i agree.

  54. dragonfire1481 says:

    Would the company not have needed to produce some kind of proof that you agreed to those conditions orally, or could they just make shit up and say you agreed with it?

    I always thought there had to be some kind of evidence introduced, even in a civil claims court.

  55. Elhigh says:

    “Don’t look biased?”

    How in the hell can anyone staring down the barrel of a $12,000 charge NOT look biased? The shop doesn’t want to pay, the owner doesn’t want to pay, of course they’re both biased!

    The judge needs a swift whack with a common sense stick.

  56. Pete Gaines says:

    @etaripamai: And the dumbest comment of the month goes to….You.

    If you don’t know what you’re talking about (and you clearly don’t), you should just keep your mouth shut, son.

  57. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    Here is the comment that will get me banned.

    @ the OP: I know this going to sound crass but at this point have considered insurance fruad? Wait that sounds bad. How about not paying attention and crashing into an enbankment or leaving the car in a bad neighborhood, with the door open and the keys in the ignition?

    How about pissing an ex off. I love my BMW, but with $10K on the line, times would get desperate.

  58. incognit000 says:

    I think the real problem here is that once again small claims court has revealed itself to be unashamedly pro-business and anti-justice, not to mention anti-consumer. My Dad has gone into small claims four times, and not once has he won, even though in each case the company he dragged in there was clearly at fault, as it was always something that had been screwed up purely through incompetence.

    “Verbal contract to dismiss damages” sounds like complete and total bullshit to me, and my guess is that the judge had dozens of other cases to do that day and he didn’t want to bother having to tell Certified Incompetent Car Stereo Installers that they’d have to get their insurance to pay damages when he could just tell poor Brandon to go home.

    I lived in CA for 6 months and hated every living minute of it. And yeah, I was burned by their oral contract laws when I was moving out. Some guys came over to look into taking over the lease, but when they wouldn’t leave, they told the cops that they had an “oral contract” to stay in my apartment for as long as they wanted and trash it as much as they wanted, and also to help themselves to my food, furniture and appliances. Of course they didn’t and I told the cop that, but he said I’d have to take it into court, since it was just my word against theirs.

    So CA sucks.

  59. JeffM says:

    Funny this article came up- I was looking at buying a 2004 325i Sedan and putting an aftermarket double-din unit in it.

    About 15 minutes of reading showed that even in an ’04 there was still a significant challenge working around the heater core behind the unit- I decided against buying the car for that reason.

    The OP must be really young and just off of his parents’ allowance if he doesn’t know how much it costs to repair European automobiles- he needed the car fixed- not his money back.

    Inasmuch that he accepted the check as a cure- I still don’t think that judge was completely nuts.

    Whoever said DIY was close- but you have to consider the difficulty of putting a double-din unit in a car that isn’t designed for it- often times it will require trim fabrication (with fiberglass or similar material) as well as bracket modification or fabrication- there won’t be a Crutchfield manual for that. :)

  60. b612markt says:

    If you want something done right…

    I installed a head unit with GPS, bluetooth, sat radio and aux A/V inputs on my own. It took me about 2 weeks to comb the internets for instructions and tips from other installers about my model. Once I was comfortable with the process and walked through all the steps on paper, I tore my car apart and put it all back together in 8 hours and everything worked perfectly.

    I thought about a prof. install, but I decided against it. After reading this rant, I’m so glad I did it myself.

  61. @JeffM: Whoever said DIY was close- but you have to consider the difficulty of putting a double-din unit in a car that isn’t designed for it- often times it will require trim fabrication (with fiberglass or similar material) as well as bracket modification or fabrication- there won’t be a Crutchfield manual for that. :)

    I hadn’t gathered that…admittedly, I often skim some of these longer posts. I’ve got a single-DIN in my car and have looked into DIY double-DIN…just not worth the trouble for what you get. Unless you’re into the showcar-level of modification, in which case paying through the nose is just a matter of course.

  62. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    @etaripamai: “Too bad BMW is a British Car, not German”

    /end sequence

  63. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    @JeffM: I have a 323 (I know, but I love her) and I was going to have the stereo replaced and a GPS installed I received quotes of $3G from one place and $5K from BMW, when one shop told me they could do it for under $1K I turned around and walked out.

    Would you let a cheap doctor operate on your child!?

  64. Mr. Gunn says:

    That’s why lawyers get paid the big bucks…to help prevent bullshit like this from happening. Get a lawyer, appeal the case so you get a non-dickhead judge, and let us know how it turns out.

  65. @MikeHerbst:

    I like your “go away” pricing statement.

    How true. How true.

    Request bids from companies for anytype of construction jobs and you will get the same “go away” pricing practices from firms that are either too large or too small to perform the tasks requested.

    I bet rehab-ing somebody else’s screw ups generates the same kind of response.

  66. chrisjames says:

    @brettt: How do you define ludicrous while staying impartial?

  67. v12spd says:

    As a 1995 M3 and 1997 750iL owner, I’ve had Abt electronics install double din units on both cars, requiring no damage to the heater core or any other devices/controls housed behind the stereo/dash. I had a pioneer avic double din unit installed in the M3, and since my cousin works the mobile audio center there I was able to watch the progress, but either way, they were able to quickly and cleanly install it while relocating my hvac controls without any issues or damage to components. The 7 required a custom fab unit that looks stock to accommodate the unit, and its not that complicated a job, you just have to be careful. Measure twice, cut once or not at all if you can avoid it. This guy should post his story at, he can get some help and the name of a competent installer in the very least.

    (Sad to see an abused e36, bastards should eat those costs and should learn to tell customers to take their business elsewhere if they dont know how to install, and just sell them the components.)

  68. axiomatic says:

    Your best bet is to stand on the street (on PUBLIC property) and hold up a sign stating what they did to your car. Hopefully lost sales will cause this company to make good on your repairs.

    Tough luck man.

  69. mizmoose says:

    I’m not a lawyer either, and I’m not sure about California courts. But in places I’ve lived, if you lose in small claims court you can appeal the case. In the appeal, you go before a either a whole new judge or, in some places, a panel of lawyers, who hear the case from scratch and can completely reverse the decision.

    In most places, small claims court “judges” (magistrates, really), are not lawyers and have little actual training compared to real judges. The appeals system is there to try to prevent this kind of stupidity from happening.

  70. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @prndl-can’t change his avatar!!:

    Per Edmunds, about $7-9k.

  71. JustThatGuy3 says:


    Except when they are.

  72. v12spd says:


    A lower mileage, good condition car with a nice color combo (like the posters dove grey interior with vaders) can demand north of 16k. Edmunds is incredibly bad at true market value for these cars. If you find one for 7k in decent condition, feel free to throw it my way, I’d be more than happy to snag it off you.

    While the OP is probably about to pay in damages the total value of his car, he may as well sell it for a 2-3 grand loss to someone on the forums. They’ll turn it into a track rat and he can take his refund check + the sale price and buy another m3 and learn from his mistake.

  73. cynu414 says:

    I took my car to a stereo shop to have the stock radio replaced also. The first radio they installed did not work, at all. During the installation of the second radio the shop destroyed my air conditioner controls. I took it back to have them fix it. They claimed they didn’t do it and couldn’t fix it. As soon as I pulled out of the shop the screen on the stereo said there was a fault and to have it looked at. I made a u-turn and went back. As I was waiting I heard my stereo blasting in the shop so I figured they fixed it. Turns out there was a bad tweeter so they disconnected it. When I got in I noticed the smell of “burnt” after some investigation I noticed one of my 12″ subs was totally blown. After a long argument I decided to get as far away from that place as I could. Never again will I go to a stereo shop. Makes best buy look like the best place on earth.

  74. HalOfBorg says:

    “You don’t LOOK LIKE a killer to me, Mr Bundy. Case dismissed.”

    referring to Ted Bundy, not Al, of course.

  75. JPropaganda says:

    @etaripamai: Please please please tell me you’re joking. BMW is most definitely a german automobile. They’re ALL about their german engineering, and if you go to, the two language options are english and german.

  76. drakino says:

    I had similar happen, though in my case it was an audio install and body work shop that I had do some stereo and exterior modifications. Went all the way to small claims and lost. Thankfully I wasn’t out quite as much money, but it sucked paying for it twice.

    [] is the story with pictures.

    Be absolutely positive the people doing aftermarket work to your car have more then 3 brain cells and at least some interest in making you happy. Way too many hackjobs out there who claim to have a good reputation.

  77. jpdanzig says:

    Hmm… And the week after the judge made his ruling, he had a new top-of-the-line stereo installed by The Car Stereo Company — absolutely FREE! He wasn’t put off by the gusts of hot and cold air blasting from his damaged climate control system, which he assumed were the product of his own limited imagination, abetted by a lunch of three chili dogs…

  78. vladthepaler says:

    This is disheartening. He did everything right but got screwed every step of the way. Which is perhaps expected of a corporation, but the court ought to be there to protect people from that sort of thing….

  79. Ein2015 says:


    Since when did “oral contracts” start getting upheld in court?!

    I’ve watched countless “court TV” shows and NEVER have I seen an oral contract get upheld there.

    What’s going on with this? I really want to know why the oral contract was ruled legit!

  80. Jonee says:

    Reminds me of when I had a cd player installed in my ’79 Chevy Luv. Don’t know what they did wrong, but the radio turns off whenever I turn the wipers on. Since it’s L.A., it took me like a year to discover this.

  81. BubbaJudge says:

    I’ve got a ’95 M3, and they’re easy to work on. After 8 years of ownership the only thing the stealership has done for me is alignments. I’ve replaced the stereo system myself because I cant imagine being rich or stupid enough to pay flunkies 3-5 grand to do such a simple thing. That damage estimate just blows my mind, a bad stereo install totals a car? Hilarious.

    How bout give me just 6k and I’ll spend a weekend correcting what to me are easily fixable problems. You’ll be happy, and I’ll pocket a good profit.

    There was a time in this country when people knew how cars worked and did they’re own repairs, at least that what my dad told me.

    I think the lesson here is with the economy in the crapper, people should turn off the tv and teach themselves how to work on their own vehicles and quit accepting that car repair costs are a necessary evil. It’s not rocket science for cripesakes. If it was, do you think these genius’ at the stereo or car dealers would have a job?

  82. First, I would do whatever you can to appeal that ruling. If you had known you were 11K deep, a refund wouldn’t have been a reasonable option.

    Second, have you spoke with your auto insurance company? Being as botched as it is, maybe it would be covered under your comprehensive coverage, like vandalism. You may be able to get your insurance company to go after them- they’d probably be more successful than you.

    Lastly, I agree with the others who have proposed making a scene in front of this business. Keep it legal, but make sure their customers know about their shoddy service. Print fliers, signs, whatever. Tell the media too! Call your local tv station, newspaper, BBB, and whoever will listen. The more pressure you put on them, the more likely they are to cover your damages.

  83. macinjosh says:

    @Cap’n Jack: Yeaah, I remember that.. :)

  84. Shadowman615 says:

    No, you morons, they’re from Belgium.


  85. Orv says:

    @Jonee: They probably mistook the hot lead for the wiper motor for a ground wire, somehow. It grounds through the wiper motor when the wiper switch is off, but once it’s on that point is at +12V and no current can flow. This would be an easy kind of mistake to make if they didn’t have a wiring diagram and were trying to identify wires with just an ohmmeter. I would almost bet money that if you disconnected the radio’s ground wire and attached it to a proper ground (even a screw into a metal part of the dash will work) it will start working properly.

  86. geoffhazel says:

    Sounds like the Car Stereo people have wound up in court before, and know exactly what they need to say to win the case.

    I had a sterero installed in my van, and before they started they said “we have to take this bezel off, and frequently they crack, they are very fragile, you want us to continue?”

    As it’s an old work van, I said sure, go for it — and in fact they didn’t crack it — but at least they warned me in advance.

    Now this shop: shame on them.

    Be sure to write some horrible reviews on “My 3 cents dot com” and other sites, and complain to the BBB. They won’t get your money back but at least you can go on the record that these guys should not get any more business.

  87. the_alpha_wolf says:

    Im pretty damn sure that any release for liability that involves monetary value has to be in writting if the amount recieved is over $500. Its called the Statute of Frauds. The judge screwed up big time here. An oral contract is okay if its less than $500, but come on, the bias was written all over their witnesses.

  88. Concerned_Citizen says:

    @chrisjames: Very easy to figure it out. No reasonable person agrees that the shop is not going to be liable. The customer had two strong items of proof that he wanted the shop to pay for it. The first being that he submitted a claim to their bogus insurance company. That should be all the proof that is needed. Second, he has an unused check that the shop tried to pass off as a liability waiver. Had he agreed verbally to waive liability, he would have cashed the check. It would seem all the undeniable evidence points to a customer trying to get the shop to pay for the damages the shopped caused. I do not know how a judge allows the people being sued to get around all the evidence by claiming there was a verbal contract. That is one very dishonest judge.

  89. Doug81 says:

    @etaripamai: Too bad BMW is a German Car, not British…. B-Bavarian… M-Motor…Works…
    I know, it’s been said. I couldn’t help it.

  90. Joedragon says:

    abt is a very honest place unlike best buy and they will try to match other stores prices and deals.

  91. Pylon83 says:

    Oral contracts are (typically) just as binding as written contacts.

  92. trujunglist says:


    Wow, I actually agree with you for once… not that I’d shop with Crutchfield, but it’s awfully simple to install these things.

  93. JustThatGuy3 says:


    Interesting. I just put in black with 120k miles (10k/year, not that huge). Checked eBay, a 97 with 133k miles just sold for $6995.

  94. chilled says:

    Electrical systems have always been a weakness in european cars,and can be the most expensive thing to fix besides the motor or tranny.I’m a decent shadetree mechanic,but I still have problems working on the newer vehicles…

  95. smirkette says:

    Time for Judge Judy!

  96. esd2020 says:

    Yeah, that sucks. The judge kinda sucks too.

    But in general when there’s a dispute involving damages, you should neither accept nor offer payment of any sort without making it very clear (i.e. on the memo line of the check) whether or not it is payment in full for the damages

  97. WraithSama says:

    I find it rather alarming that a judge would accept the word of the defendant, who caused all this damage, that they had an “oral contract” and dismiss the case. Seriously? If that’s how things fly in California’s court systems, something’s seriously wrong.

    I recall back in Indiana, verbal contracts are only valid as long as the value of the goods or services in question are below $300 or $500, something like that.

  98. modenastradale says:

    @AngrySicilian: Personally, I’ve tried just about every plug-in GPS device there is, and I think they’re all vastly inferior. They’re hard to read, they have atrocious UI, and the text-to-speech makes even simple street names unrecognizable.

    Anyway, BMW people are a little different from other drivers. They tend to hang onto the cars longer, invest more money in them, perform more custom modifications, etc. It’s because they’re “car people”. (Or, at least they used to be, before Chris Bangle came along and helped transform BMW into a purveyor of generic, overweight luxury boats shaped like bars of soap.) :-)

    My car is almost 6 years old and I’m doing everything I can to keep it in original condition. For me, it’s because the car is no loner in production and there’s no other vehicle (at any price level) on today’s market that I’d want.

  99. JiminyChristmas says:

    Well, let this be a lesson to Consumerist and its readers. “Take them to court!” has a satisfying ring to it, but you should make every effort to resolve a dispute outside of the judicial system because an actual hearing can be a crap shoot. Filing a claim in small claims court is great if you can use it to spur a settlement or think you will likely walk away with a default judgment. Bringing the case in front of a judge brings a wild card into play and you can’t really know what will happen.

    The OP’s experience is very similar to one I had in housing court. The landlord I sued flat out lied about basic facts of the case. Not anticipating that someone would just make shit up in court, the documentation I had wasn’t sufficient to rebut what he said. As a result, everything was subject to the judge’s interpretation, and I lost my case.

    Anyway, IANAL and YMMV, but in my state you can appeal a small claims court ruling. The drawback is that you should really hire a lawyer. District Court is not as DIY friendly as small claims and if you go pro se and screw up a filing your case is likely to get tossed out and you will have to refile.

  100. haoshufu says:

    Accepting that check without find out the damages is the biggest mistake. His accepting of the check collaborates with the saleman’s and installer’s words. He should also have gone to the BBB to see if any complains had been filed against that Car Stereo Company before if he was going to discredit the staffs there.

  101. howie_in_az says:

    Seconding the option to turn the M3 into a track car (like it was meant to be!). Tons of fun even though 240bhp isn’t all that much these days, especially on the track.

  102. piththeelder says:

    @etaripamai: COTD

    As for the Bimmer in question, that quote is a ridiculous ripoff. $8K in parts for E36 climate control parts? The heater core costs $530 from the dealer and much less elsewhere and much, much less used. This company may have screwed up his car but he’s trying to gouge them now.

  103. mytdawg says:

    As one that has been “through” every car installer in my town and several out of my town, I second/third/whatever the Crutchfield comments. If anybody is going to screw up my car, it’s going to be me. I’m as qualified as most of those weasels, which is to say “not at all”.

    I even made a harness to patch an old Alpine amp into my GM “advanced audio” system because the stock amp sucked and they use some half assed more than line/less than speaker output from the changer (using a diagram I got off the Internet!). I can still pull the Alpine out and just plug the stock stuff back in. No permanent mods.

    I probably would have left an M3 the hell alone. Discretion is the better part of valor.

  104. Stormslanding says:

    Was there ever a time a 96 M3 was cool enough to put in a stereo? Whats the Blue Book value of the car $2600? Sell it to the junk yard and get a car thats been made in the last 10 years

  105. mytdawg says:

    But I’m sorry to hear that someone had such a pathetic experience. I had a similar experience with a Honda dealer and we just had to walk away from a low mileage Civic because they killed it dead doing routine maintenance. I can empathize with someone trashing your pride and joy.

  106. mannyv says:

    I’ll add a vote for Crutchfield as well. Their instructions are good, model-specific, and provided bridge connectors to get from the in-car wiring to what the head unit expected.

    It does take a couple of hours to do, but it’s definitely worth it.

  107. farmerjonn says:

    it’s not the shops fault . all BMW’S HAVE that problem

  108. nox says:

    Small Claims Court? What legal council advised you to take that amount to Small Claims Court?

  109. exkon says:

    Ouch….especailly on an M3…

  110. I’ve done some dodgy car audio installations in my teen years. Mostly to my own cars. But one I did to a friends car nearly ended in tears, a 1984 Holden VK Commodore . We ran the power for the radio from the HVAC circuit. Not because that was what the fuse box says but because it was the closest place to piggy back the power lead from.

    It didn’t work so I checked the fuse box and the fuse for the fan motor was blown. So being the worlds most knowledgeable teenager, I said we’ll put a higher rated fuse in there because the radio will add more load to the circuit. A fuse rated to 250V volt (Aussie mains supply fuse) and 20amps.

    It worked! another success. Until we got a few mile down the road, tried the fan for the first time. Which resulted in an under dash fire that burned out ALL of the electrics and fried the brand new audio system. Needless to say, back then I’d be almost over-qualified to work at Circuit City!

    We managed to get the ignition, indicators, headlights and brake/tail-lamps to work. But no wipers. My mate drove the car like that for 2 years.

  111. D-Bo says:

    @etaripamai: funniest thing I’ve read all day

  112. Demonbird says:

    I’m really frustrated with all forms of auto maintenance and repair/modification businesses here in California. I haven’t seen so much graft in my entire life as I have in just one hour at one of these places.
    My father has a Chrysler Crossfire that has been taken to a chrysler repair center for Climate control issues 3 times. I was driving him back to pick up the vehicle after the third repair when we got a call from the center saying that there was an “issue” with the dashboard. Not 30 minutes prior they told us everything was fine. After about en minutes on the phone the most they could admit to was that the dash was damaged. They wouldn’t say how. Now, my dad was quite pissed off about this. but he wasn’t yelling or cursing at the guy on the phone (Keith, some form of manager)
    As soon as we set foot on the premises Keith comes out the front door about 50 feet away and threatens to call the police cause my father was “driving drunk” and that he could smell the liquor on his breath from 50 feet… My dad blew that shit off and asked to see the car. When they rolled it out the dashboard was in pieces… and the climate control was still broken. When my dad asked Keith to repair the damage Kieth says
    “We don’t deal with drunks. You take your car somewhere else. We won’t service you.”

    Now, my father was in no way drunk. I picked him up from his office for god’s sake. That would have been 4 times for the same problem which I think would call in the Lemon Law. I wish he had taken action after that but he didn’t… just one of my many nasty stories with auto repair centers here in southern california.

    If you are in the area and ever go to the lake forest auto mall chrysler dealership… DON’T!

  113. Consumer007 says:

    @Bladefist: UM, so what are you saying, he deserved a shoddy installation because he preferred not to do it himself and he trusted them to do as they said and NOT jack up his car?

  114. ecwis says:

    @AngrySicilian: Because it’s a BMW… his car is likely to have a lot of life left in it. Also, I bet his factory radio broke so he wanted to replace it with a cheaper aftermarket one.

  115. FrankReality says:

    Question for any lawyers out here… can the OP appeal this?

  116. Namrepus says:

    I bought a 1999 Ford Contour this year. First car I’ve ever had. Paid for it in cash.

    It turns out the schmuck that sold it to me lied about any prior damages to the car (He is a cop as well which is really quite stupid on his part.)

    Apparently whoever owned the car before his “buddy” owned the car, whom he was selling it for. Caved the roof of it in and filled it in with bondo and repainted the roof a slightly different color. Cource it’s hard to notice a color difference this slight on a cloudy day, in full sun it was really clear.

    We took the car to a repair shop, who had fixed my brothers truck when he bought it (it was a former work vehicle and he bought it from the company who had used it)

    They said they could do it the next week and have it back to me Thursday. Which was great cause I was going on a trip Friday.

    Wednesday comes arround and my dad goes to get the car with my mother….they have cracked the windshield IN HALF. They claimed that this was normal and that I should’ve known it would’ve happened. Looking at my original estimate, they made no such claim and never told me any such thing when I took the car in. My father called the owner of the shop, who happens to be a friend of my fatherand agreed that the manager who told me they could do the job, did the estimate, and attempted to tell me when we went to get it “This is to be expected with this kind of repair” should’ve told me that it could’ve happened and more than likely I would have to pay for the windshield.

    It took an extra week… but I got my car back, roof was fixed, and the windshield was replaced at cost to the repair shop.

  117. HUMONGUS says:

    @etaripamai: Surely you jest?

  118. rikkus256 says:

    I cannot believe the judge ruled against Brandon because the two so-called witness who obviously work for the defendant “don’t look biased”. This is just plain stupid.

  119. MercuryPDX says:

    @FrankReality: Armchair laywer… the answer is no.

    Short version:

    Res judicata – Once a final judgment has been handed down in a lawsuit, subsequent judges who are confronted with a suit that is identical to or substantially the same as the earlier one will apply the res judicata doctrine to preserve the effect of the first judgment. This is to prevent injustice to the parties of a case supposedly finished, but perhaps mostly to avoid unnecessary waste of resources in the court system.

    One bite at the apple… True for murder trials, and taking your crappy car stereo installer to court.

  120. PølάrβǽЯ says:
  121. modenastradale says:


    “One bite at the apple… True for murder trials, and taking your crappy car stereo installer to court.”


    If the OP actually litigated his case in small claims court, he can actually have an entire trial de novo (i.e., an entirely new trial wherein all legal and factual issues are up for grabs again) in the Superior Court where he filed his original lawsuit. In the new trial, he may be able to take better discovery and run pretrial motions which may help him to counter the false allegations made by the repair shop.

    I’m not sure if he can have a jury at the retrial, or what other limitations apply. It’s not exactly the same procedure as an ordinary trial. This is all governed by the California Small Claims Act (Code of Civil Procedure sections 116.110 and following.)

    Now, I’m a bit confused why the OP would have brought this action in the small claims division in the first place, as the maximum amount in controversy cannot exceed $7,500. Perhaps the OP actually litigated his case in “Limited Civil” instead of small claims? If so, the rules regarding appeal are different, and more restrictive.

  122. toyotaboy says:

    Unfortunately, your not much safer from a ma & pa store. I have a friend who’s been doing stereos for almost 20 years, and he still hacks things together (avoiding connectors whenever possible to save money), although I don’t think he’s ever done damage like this, I think the worse thing he did was fry a main $300 wiring harness when he shorted the battery.

  123. harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law says:

    Yes, the shop owner and his employee are biased. BUT SO IS THE OP. The Judge had to make a decision based on a lack of evidence from all parties.

  124. harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law says:

    You are joking, right?

  125. t?s says:

    No, sir, surely you are the one who jests.


  126. MercuryPDX says:

    @modenastradale: Nice. I did qualify myself as armchair lawyer, right? ;)

    I thought the only way to have something reheard was if the judge “Dismisses it without prejudice”.

  127. modenastradale says:


    There are actually a quite a few ways to nibble at the apple again after an adverse judgment. If a jury was involved, you can move for a “Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict.” That basically asks the court to overrule the jury on the ground that no reasonable jury could have come up with that result.

    There are also certain procedures to request a retrial because of conflicts of interest, jury tampering, improper exclusion of evidence, etc. It’s quite an uphill battle, usually, since you’re asking the same court that just handed you a judgment to undo everything.

    Finally, of course, you can appeal the decision. However, appeals aren’t as useful as most people think because the range of stuff you can ask the court to rule on is very limited on appeal. For example, the appellate court will almost never get in the middle of a factual dispute (like “he said, she said” or “how extensive was the damage to the car?”). This restricts you to asking the appellate court to decide whether the judge mistook a question of law or trial procedure. If the judge screwed up the latter, of course, then BAM! You might get to go back and have another trial, at least on the stuff the judge screwed up.

  128. mzs says:

    I don’t get it, they cut into the heater core and there was not a puddle of coolant on the floor? This is like getting shot through the chest and missing the heart and aorta. Yes sadly from my experience of replacing the heater core on a mazda, this seems to be the first part they put down on the assembly line when they proceed to build a car around it.

  129. vjgli says:

    The $11k estimate is very high and what do you expect from a dealer when you hand a car that’s over 10 years old.

    There’s reason why one goes to an aftermarket audio store.
    It’s for those same reason why we don’t go to dealership to buy wheels.

    Try and get a radio replacement + CD changer for that car. I’d bet you’d pay 4x

    So, why did you not take it to an independent BMW shop?

    You went there to get better equipment. Given the facts I see, what type of equipment was actually installed for them to break your heater core.

    As for the kick-panel with a hole, those are cheap brittle plastic panels and can break if you blow hard enough.

    I’m not siding with the defendant but I still see many holes in this statement.