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woman complaining about car dealership service

Road rage: Can I file a complaint against a car dealership?

When your car starts playing up, it’s only natural to head straight up the road to the place you bought it for answers. If they prove less than helpful, though, you’ll be veering into the ‘can I file a complaint against a car dealership’ lane before too long.

Under Australian Consumer Law, we are all entitled to certain automatic rights, known as consumer guarantees, when we buy a car from a dealership.

These guarantees include that the car be of acceptable quality (ie: safe), lasts a reasonable length of time before needing repairs, that it matches the description and that it performs as expected.

If the dealership has failed to meet these basic requirements, you are entitled to a remedy – a free repair if it is a minor problem or a replacement or refund if it is anything major.


Woman pointing unfixed damage to car dealership mechanic


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced a renewed crackdown on the car industry in 2022, saying non-compliance with consumer guarantees (by both dealers and car manufacturers) was the most reported issue.

In 2023, almost three-quarters of automotive issues consumers raised with the ACCC related to consumer guarantees.

The blame game for a failure to comply often goes back and forth between dealer and manufacturer, with you, the consumer, in the middle.

How do I lodge a complaint?

If you’re looking up ‘how do I make a complaint about a car dealership’ you've probably already taken the recommended first step – raising the issue with the business itself. But it’s worth another go, particularly if the initial exchange with the dealer was heated rather than helpful, or you spoke to someone junior.

Before you try again, read the ACCC’s quick guide to consumer rights and guarantees so you are on solid ground when putting your case for redress. For example, did the car dealership mislead you about the condition of the car when you bought it? Or is your complaint about a mechanic not repairing the vehicle properly?

When you buy a used car from a dealer, you are also covered by the mandatory statutory warranty in your state or territory, so familiarise yourself with those entitlements. (And, remember, even if those protections have lapsed, you may still be protected by the consumer guarantees under the ACL.)

If you spoke to a salesperson the first time, call the dealership and ask to speak to the manager, or make an appointment to come in to talk about the issue in person. Take any invoices, correspondence or other paperwork you have with you. Be calm but clear about the issue and outline what you would like them to do about it.


Frustrated man lodging a car dealership complaint for his broken vehicle


What if the dealership refuses to help?

Knowing your rights is one thing. Getting what you are entitled to is not always straightforward, particularly if the dealership refuses to fix your car, maintaining the manufacturer is to blame or there is dispute about the circumstances of your complaint.

These are just some of the stories we’ve heard from car owners who came to Handle My Complaint for assistance after getting the runaround.

Graham* started having problems with the hydraulic pressure in his Audi just after the warranty had expired. He raised the issue with the dealership where he had his car regularly serviced for four years, but they refused to fix it. This was despite subsequent recalls for several Audi models with the same issue.

“They use the loophole by specifying a small VIN sample of all affected A1s to avoid the legal responsibility of repairing all affected vehicles,” he told Handle My Complaint. “Clearly, all A1s have hydraulic pressure issues.”

Similarly, Marion* had to have the engine in her Hyundai Sonata replaced – one of many Australians affected by issues with Hyundai engines – and was horrified when she began having similar problems with the new engine.

“The dealership that replaced the engine caused panel damage to the roof of my car, while my car was in the shop, and it hasn’t been repaired properly and they aren’t responding to my insurance company,” she told Handle My Complaint.

So she took it to another dealership, only to be just as appalled by their service, with calls going unanswered for six straight days as she tried to find out what was happening with her car.

“I need a resolution because it’s costing me too much money and causing so much stress. I can’t even sell the vehicle the way it is because I will lose so much money due to the issues,” she said.

If you are also going around in circles, you can escalate the issue and file a complaint about the dealership.



Where do I complain about a dealership?

Australia does not have a vehicle ombudsman. Handle My Complaint CEO Jo Ucukalo has been advocating for many years for an independent entity with the power to enforce refunds and repairs so that consumers are not left in limbo through no fault of their own.

Ms Ucukalo also lodged a Budget submission with the Federal Government, arguing for a National Recall Compliance System that would help address some of the recurring issues and, most importantly, quickly alert consumers to any safety concerns.

For now, when you have an issue with your dealership you can complain to the relevant consumer affairs or fair trading body in your state or territory. These government agencies can explain your rights and options in detail and may also be able to help obtain a satisfactory resolution. They act independently and while most do not have the power to enforce restitution, they can direct you to authorities that do should they be unable to resolve your complaint.

This guide to how Australian Consumer Law applies to motor vehicle sales and repairs also includes a list of all the relevant authorities in each state and territory, their contact numbers and websites.

We’re here to help

Still not getting the answer you hope for? Since February 2022, Handle My Complaint has handled more than 1000 vehicle complaints from people just like you, people who have been bounced from dealership to manufacturer and back again.


Couple happy with resolved car dealership complaint


We have also helped consumers bring attention to recurring problems with certain vehicles or manufacturers, such as the Toyota peeling paint issue and Hyundai faulty engines, which are now the subject of a class action.

Lodge a complaint with us and we’ll help you handle it.

*Names have been changed to protect consumer privacy.