If you have a complaint about your car, file it directly 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:
- Deceptive car ads or dealers -- File a complaint with your state consumer protection agency or the Federal Trade Commission.
- Terms of your auto loan agreement or payments -- File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- Car warranty -- Contact your state's attorney general. However, if you bought a used car from a private owner, the warranty may not be valid.
- Safety of your car or equipment, such as child car seats or tires -- File a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
Some agencies will investigate your complaint, but others may collect the information and 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, but you should check with your state's consumer protection office to see if they also cover used cars. Each state has its own requirements, but overall the ability for a car to qualify as a lemon depends on a few things:
- Number of miles driven -- The defects had to happen within a certain number of months or miles driven.
- Substantial defects -- Defects have to be major, and involve the actual operation of the car, such as the initiation, brakes, engine, transmission, or other major parts of the car.
- 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, 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. Check with your state attorney general or consumer protection office to get the rules specific to where you live.
You can also contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) AUTO LINE, a lemon law complaint program that covers car warranty issues against participating manufacturers.