How to Deal with Dealership Issues

If you are sold a defective vehicle, who do you turn to?

Did You Buy Your Vehicle “As Is”, with No Warranty?

Even with no written warranty, a vehicle comes with enforceable implied warranties.  In general, you have one year from your purchase date to file a lawsuit in the court system against the dealership who sold you the vehicle.

Did You Buy Your Vehicle With A Manufacturer Warranty?

If the manufacturer-authorized dealer is unable to repair a manufacturer defect within a reasonable time, then your claim is against the manufacturer, who supervises and pays for the repairs during the warranty period.

On the other hand, if the problem is not a manufacturer defect, then it is more difficult to determine if you have a legal recourse.  For example, the manufacturer might not responsible for defective aftermarket parts.

One thing for sure: demanding that a dealership buy back or replace the vehicle is counter-productive if the dealership has no legal obligation to do so.

Dealership Fraud

If you think that the dealer who sold you the vehicle committed some type of fraud, this firm will refer you to a competent attorney who handles such cases.  If the vehicle’s price was less than $10,000, you have the option of representing yourself in Small Claims Court in the county where the dealership is located.

Sorting Out Manufacturer vs. Dealership

The manufacturer is the maker of the automobile, truck, motorcycle, or recreational vehicle.  The dealership is the company that sells, services and repairs those vehicles.  Many people do not realize that the dealers are independently owned and operated.  They say, for example, “I contacted Dodge”, when in fact they contacted Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge.  Upon close inspection, Dodge operates under the name FCA US LLC, with headquarters in Michigan, whereas Lithia is an Oregon company.

It is important to understand which company is legally responsible in a particular situation.  If the dealer made negligent repairs on a warranty claim, who should you sue?  There is no clear-cut answer, because it depends on the total circumstances.  There is a complex interplay between the manufacturer and the dealer.  Therefore, it is advisable to refrain from jumping to conclusions as to who is legally responsible for your vehicle’s defects because later on, a defense attorney may hold you to your prior statements to defeat your case.

NEWS-3Dealership Repairs

When a car is under the manufacturer’s warranty, it may be repaired at any manufacturer-authorized dealer. It is essential to obtain a “repair invoice” at the time you pick up the vehicle, even if no repair was performed, to document your visit and your complaint.  If the component later proves to be defective, the repair invoice would prove that the defect existed earlier and would count as a repair opportunity.

Do not accept having it emailed to you later.  Review the document for inaccuracies or omissions.  For example, if the dealer had your vehicle for 14 days, it should be documented.

The repair invoices are by far the best evidence of defects.  Oral statements by the dealer are typically inadmissible (“hearsay”).  If the dealer tells you that the transmission is defective but the repair invoice says it is “normal”, then you have an evidence problem.  Make sure that such statements are in writing.

Dealer Damage

If the dealer has a “small accident” with your vehicle, it is again crucial to obtain a written description in case of unsatisfactory repair or paint peeling later on.  Take photos.


  • Ask for a test drive with a dealer mechanic if there is a chance that the problem may not be acknowledged.
  • If possible, take photos or videos of the defects, showing surrounding conditions, VIN number (to show it’s your car), etc.
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Keep all vehicle documents securely in a folder (not in your glove compartment).  It may not be possible to replace lost repair invoices.  Each could be worth a lot of money in a settlement or judgment, and it is only prudent to leave valuables in a safe place.
  • Never write or use a highlighter on your dealer documents or otherwise tamper with the evidence.
  • Treat dealership personnel with courtesy.  This will help your case in the long run. Stay calm but assertive regarding getting repair invoices.
  • Avoid aftermarket parts, as they could void your warranty.
  • To prevent later allegations of misuse or neglect by the defendant, document maintenance according to your vehicle manual’s recommendations and bring the vehicle to the dealer in a clean condition.

Contacting the ManufacturerCar problem

The dealer may recommend you contact the manufacturer’s customer resolution program, which may hurt your chances of getting the best legal outcome. Everything is recorded, and one may inadvertently make statements that would later be misconstrued.   While waiting for a response, it is easy to miss the statute of limitations (time or mileage limit) for filing a lawsuit.

In our capitalist culture, when facing a possible lawsuit, would a for-profit company backed by a legal team more plausibly: a) eagerly help, or b) start preparing a defense?






Contact us for more information on how to deal with various dealership issues.



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