Car complaints

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone with a car complaint. There is an art to getting help with the problem, especially as car manufacturers struggle to keep their doors open.


Arm yourself with information
There are many car complaint websites, and some are better than others. If you Google your car’s make and problem and find dozens of complaints about the same thing, don’t get all that excited. That will not be very good ammunition to work with the manufacturer or dealer toward resolving the problem. Those are often undocumented cases and the manufacturer’s doesn’t put much value into them since anyone can post anything they want.

You’re better off going to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. NHTSA runs a site called “Safer Car.” Here you can search recalls, defect investigations, service bulletins, and customer complaints. It also has miscellaneous information like child passenger seat inspection stations, air bag safety, rollover prevention tips, tire safety and ratings, and crash test safety ratings.

You can also file your own complaint, and I suggest you do this if you have a problem you feel is a safety defect. NHTSA reviews these complaints and looks for trends and patterns before opening up an investigation. To file by phone, call 1-888-327-4236.

Call the manufacturer
Armed with the stats from NHTSA’s site, try to work with the dealer one last time. If that fails, call the manufacturer directly. Click here for a list of phone numbers and addresses for the various manufacturers.

BBB Auto Line
If you can’t get anywhere, you may try the Better Business Bureau Auto Line if you have a warranty dispute. It’s a program that’s been resolving disputes since 1978.

Click here for a list of manufacturers (note some participating companies vary by state) that participate in the BBB Auto Line. The participating manufacturers agree to arbitrate certain disputes.

Click here for a link to the program summary by vehicle and state.

Make sure you read the program guidelines before submitting a complaint. A lot of decisions do end in denials, so make sure you qualify. The statistics for 2009 show a vast majority of the people don’t return the forms or are ineligible for the program. Another 17% of the cases are settled or mediated and 12% are arbitrated.

Of those national settlements, half lead to repairs. In Ohio, the settlements are split between repurchase / replace (37%) and repair (34%).

If the program rules apply to your situation, give it a shot.

Call the Executive Office
If you’ve tried to work with your dealer and manufacturer with no success, and perhaps see a pattern of problems from NHTSA’s website, try calling the manufacturer and ask for the “Executive Office.” These are the people who have the power to make decisions on your repairs to your vehicle. Don’t expect this to solve your problem. Remember, based on what I’m hearing from consumers goodwill gestures are happening less and less.


5 thoughts on “Car complaints

  1. I need a phone number to talk with someone at GM about a problem with hings on a GMC van door that broke off finally due to rusted door pin hinges. I had tried to no availe to lubricate these hinges for many years. This is a very poor design and I understand alot of people have the same problem. I do not have $ 2000.00 +, to fix the problem of the door not inplace and also believe GM should MAN UP and fix this at there expense for a 2006 Savana Van


    • Savana – Thanks for your comment. Did you ever contact the manufacturer about this problem in the past? Most companies have a rust warranty that covers up problems up to 5 years. You might want to check your warranty coverage. You can try to work with the company through the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Dispute Program, writing to a company executive, or calling the customer service team yourself. Hope this helps. Thanks. Jenn


  2. HI Jenn,
    Background: I have a 2005 Hyundai Accent GT with 45,500 miles. I bought it from a private owner (I bought it with 15,000 miles on it and have had it for 3 years). My 5 year/60,000 second owner warranty expired last May. The car is in very good condition, and I treat it very well.
    Problem: My transmission has failed and is currently getting fixed. I got it diagnosed and fixed (hopefully) at a Hyundai dealer. My question is, what are the chances that if I call the manufacturer I will be able to get some (all is optimistic) of my money back? I intend to be smart about my complaining, be insistent, and show how displeased I am and will not encourage anyone I know to buy a Hyundai in the future. It has less than 46,000 miles and the transmission should absolutely not need replacing. Help!


    • Cait –

      Thanks for your email. A nicely worded letter goes a long way, however, it’s getting harder and harder to get car complaints successfully resolved. This is not to say it won’t happen for you, but just be prepared. You should also file a complaint with NHTSA at Safer Car. gov to alert other people to these problems. That site tracks consumer complaints like yours and if there is a pattern of a problem like transmissions dying at 46,000 miles then they make issue a recall or work with the manufacturer. That’s why it’s important to document your situation with NHTSA. Good luck.


  3. Thank you for providing this service to the consumer. I recently had a situation with Acura’s Roadside Assistance which proved to be non existent.I have already contacted Acura ‘s roadside assistance program but who else should I be contacting. I would like other potential Acura consumers to be made aware of advertised services that in reality do not exist. thank you


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