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Mechanic shaking hands with satisfied customer after resolving a car complaint

Driving change: Take control of car complaints

Having trouble getting the dealership to take your car troubles seriously? Is the manufacturer giving you the runaround?

It’s easy to feel like you’re a voice in the wilderness when you’re being shunted from dealer to manufacturer and back again, each blaming the other – or you – for the vehicle’s faults.

Handle My Complaint CEO Jo Ucukalo says it’s an effective tactic, as most consumers simply give up.

A man frustrated by the blame game between the dealership and manufacturer over his car's troubles


Those who turn to Handle My Complaint (HMC), however, find there is power in numbers – and the stories that data tells.

“We’ve received more than 1000 vehicle complaints through our complaint handling system since February 2022 and clear pictures quickly emerge - pictures that enable us to get results,” Ms Ucukalo says.

When people lodge a complaint with HMC, they are asked to provide details such as when and where they bought the vehicle, as well as who they previously contacted about the issue. Most have already complained to the dealership and the manufacturer without success.

“Even though they could have taken their complaint to Fair Trading, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commision, or a consumer tribunal, or even a lawyer, most give up,” Ms Ucukalo says.

“They come to us for a last-ditch attempt to get results and are surprised at how quickly we can get a response from manufacturers that have been ignoring them or fobbing them off.”

The HMC difference

Consumers can take back control by lodging their complaint with HMC, as Hyundai and Toyota owners have seen.

“We send your complaint to the manufacturer’s head office but, unlike the individual, can combat the standard reasons given for rejecting claims,” Ms Ucukalo says.

These include blaming the owner – you didn’t service it as per the schedule, you haven’t washed it properly – or the fact the vehicle is secondhand.

“Our sophisticated complaint handling system reveals patterns and makes it hard for manufacturers to dismiss issues as isolated incidents or, worse, blame the consumer,” Ms Ucukalo says.

This was particularly evident in two high-profile cases that HMC has been instrumental in bringing to national attention, organising media coverage for affected consumers and advocating for change.

Hundreds of Toyota owners affected by large chunks of paint peeling from their cars turned to HMC for assistance in 2022 after the manufacturer refused to take them seriously.

“We have even managed to get refunds for car resprays for owners who went to the consumer tribunal and lost because we were able to demonstrate that the paint peeling issue had nothing to do with their care of the vehicle and everything to do with the paint used,” Ms Ucukalo says.

HMC is now helping Hyundai owners affected by a similar paint peeling issue to raise awareness and push for a fair outcome.

Then there are the Hyundai owners who came to HMC desperate for help after their cars suddenly lost power, often at high speed. Anne-Maree Johnston’s car burst into flames in the garage, and her house could have gone up in flames, too, if she had not acted quickly.

These potentially deadly cases are now the subject of several class action lawsuits, one over faulty engines, the other over defective anti-lock braking systems.

Pushing for change

Ms Ucukalo says the number and severity of complaints being lodged about vehicles show the need for a radical overhaul of the industry, in particular the way recalls are handled.

At the time of the fire, Ms Johnston’s car was not under recall in Australia, despite issues with the same model overseas. It was recalled two years later.


A woman experiencing Hyundai engine failure


In a submission ahead of the 2023-2024 Federal Budget, Ms Ucukalo called for the establishment of a National Recall Compliance System.

“The system would bring together siloed information at the national and state level, streamline the vehicle recall process and improve safety,” she argues.

“It would ensure that consumers are quickly advised of potentially fatal problems with their vehicle, as well as helping them get redress for any issues.”

While she is still awaiting response from the Federal Government, Ms Ucukalo says the evidence is clear that consumers deserve a better, more transparent way to resolve vehicle issues.

“The data does not lie. In fact, it paints a pretty sorry picture of the way Australians are treated when they have an issue with their car, particularly if it’s secondhand,” she says.

“What many owners don’t realise is that they do have protection under Australian Consumer Law and manufacturers have certain obligations.

“Handle My Complaint will continue to advocate for change and push for those rights to be upheld.”

Our car is a big part of our lives. So, if you’re having problems with your car, don’t let the dealer or manufacturer fob you off. Know your rights and don’t give up, we’re here to help you handle it.