What to Do If You're Scammed by a Car Dealership

Car buyers can take action when a car dealership has scammed them, such as talking to the dealership, reporting them, and taking legal action.
Written by Hillary Kobayashi
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Nothing feels worse than being scammed when making an expensive purchase like a car, but it is important to know that you do have options, ranging from reporting the dealership, to taking legal action, to using the power of social media.
Taking action in this situation can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why the
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Here are the steps you should take if you think you’ve been scammed by a dealership.
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When should I make a complaint against a car dealership?

Recently, car dealerships have received praise for improving the quality of their customer service, but there are still instances where making a complaint against a dealership is the right decision.
Here are some instances in which it is a good idea to report a car dealership to the DMV:
  • If the dealer did not give you the title of the vehicle after you paid in full. Before you report a car dealership, double-check to see if the dealer sent the title to the financing company.
  • If the dealer did not give you the proper paperwork that you need to
    register the car
  • If the dealer has not paid off any previous
    liens against the car
    (that were not explicitly acknowledged in your purchase agreement).
  • If the dealer has made a habit of selling cars with mechanical issues.
  • If the dealer went out of business and did not give you all of the paperwork for a vehicle sale.
Make sure to double-check that the items on this list were not clerical errors before making a complaint against a dealership.

Lemon laws

Lemon laws
are state laws that are put in place to protect car buyers from dealerships. A "lemon" refers to a car that has a defect that cannot be easily (or affordably) repaired. If a dealership violates their state’s lemon laws, they should be reported. You can also receive compensation or a replacement vehicle if you have received a lemon.
Make sure to check your state’s unique lemon laws if you think you’ve been unwittingly saddled with a lemon. Here is a list of things commonly found in lemon laws:
  • After you purchase the car, the number of miles that have been added to the vehicle needs to be under a specific amount in order to be eligible for lemon law compensation.
  • The car should not have any major operating issues, especially with the car’s brakes, engine, and transmission. This is a sign that something is wrong.
  • Usually, the dealer is allowed to have many chances to fix any serious mechanical issues with the car before they are in violation of any lemon laws.
  • A state lemon law also might provide you coverage if your car has been in the shop for more than 30 days due to repairs made after its purchase.
Key Takeaway Each state has its own set of unique lemon laws that are designed to protect car buyers from dealerships.
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How to file a complaint against a dealership

Try to work it out with the dealership

Car buyers have multiple avenues to file complaints against a car dealership, but before taking any action, try to work it out with the dealership first. Make sure that you talk to a general manager, not a salesperson. Stay calm and try to avoid any aggressive behavior.
Keep in mind that resolving the issue this way is effective and can lead to a reasonable resolution.
If negotiations with the general manager go sour, you can also try speaking with the dealership owner.

Take further action

If hashing it out with the manager and dealership owner doesn’t cut it, you can take further action. You could try contacting the
Better Business Bureau
, the
Attorney Generals’ office
, or the
Consumer Protection Office
in your state.
That being said, where you report to will depend on your specific dilemma.
Is the dealership guilty of false advertising? Report them to the Federal Trade Commission. Problems with your loan or contract? Contact the Consumer Protection office.
Car warranty issues can be directed to the Attorney General. If you are concerned about your car’s safety, you can report to the Department of Transportation.
You might also want to consider sending a certified letter to the manufacturer. Make sure that you gather any documentation or correspondence you might have from the dealership.
You can also contact the DMV’s business regulation section and file a complaint there. In this case, a pattern of abuse on the part of the dealership is important, and any past complaints made against the dealership will be of help.
If worst comes to worst, you can also turn to social media. You can write reviews of the dealership online or publicly tag them on a social media website. Make sure to keep all comments factual and respectful.
Contacting the local news is also a useful option to keep in mind.
MORE: The 5 main reasons people switch car insurance companies

What can I sue a dealership for?

You can likely sue a dealership for any of the reasons listed above if they are not resolved by trying to deal with the dealership directly.
Try to find an attorney that has a specialization in dealership fraud, but do keep in mind that this is a costly route. That being said, it might be the only option for your specific situation.

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Frequently asked questions

Do I have to go to the DMV to file a complaint?

Many states allow you to file a complaint online, especially if the dealership has violated a lemon law.

Who can I report a dealership to?

You can report any issues you have had with a car dealership to the DMV, the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s office, and your state’s Consumer Protection Office.

Is there any other action I can take against the car dealership?

You might want to think about leaving a review of the dealership online. You can also contact your local news station.
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