Find out what to do when you want to complain about a defective car.
Complaints about Cars
If you have a complaint about your car, file it with the dealer, lender, or manufacturer. If you don’t get results, you can contact a state or federal government agency. If your complaint is about:
Some agencies will investigate your complaint. Others accept complaints so that they can file a case against the company in the future.
A car is called a “lemon” when it’s determined that the vehicle is defective beyond repair. Most states have some form of a lemon law to protect car buyers. These laws tend to only apply to new cars. Check with your state’s consumer protection office to see if they also cover used cars. Each state has its own requirements, but common factors to qualify as a lemon include:
- Number of miles driven — The defects had to happen within a certain number of months or miles driven.
- Major defects — Defects have to involve the actual operation of the car. Examples include the ignition, brakes, engine, or transmission.
- Reasonable repair attempts — You have to give mechanics multiple chances to repair the problems.
- Number of days in the shop — Your car has to have been in the mechanic’s shop for a significant number of days, (generally 30 days or more) within a year.
To get your problem resolved, first contact the car manufacturer. Send the manufacturer a complaint letter by certified mail detailing the problems. Include copies of work orders and invoices, and your request for a refund or other solution. If the manufacturer doesn’t help, you still may be able to resolve the problem. Many car contracts have mandatory arbitration clauses to settle disputes, so that may be your next step. Get the rules specific to where you live from your state attorney general or consumer protection office.
Also, contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) AUTO LINE. This lemon law complaint program covers car warranty issues against participating manufacturers.
Mandatory Arbitration Clauses
Mandatory arbitration clauses are phrases written into contracts that state that if you have a dispute with a company, you must resolve it through arbitration. These clauses can prevent you from filing a lawsuit against a company. Arbitration clauses are fairly common in automotive, credit card, and cell phone contracts. But now, they are appearing in website terms and conditions statements, coupons, or corporate social media profiles. While arbitration can be less expensive, it is sometimes seen as unfair to make arbitration a requirement before a negative incident has happened or knowing how serious the problem is. Also, the decisions are binding, so you can’t appeal the decision, even if the company was severely negligent.
Before you sign a contract or even use a website, read the contract or terms of service for mentions of “arbitration”, “binding arbitration” or “resolution programs”; this language is often in the fine print of the contract and can be easily missed. Also, note that some companies may let you opt-out of these clauses, if you do so within 30 days.
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Last Updated: December 13, 2019