how to file a car dealer complaint with the california dmv

Filing a Complaint with the Department of Motor Vehicles

You should know that DMV has limited resources to review and catalog these complaints. Your information will be reviewed by Investigations and Audits and/or Licensing Operations. Not all complaints are investigated.

Use the (Record of Complaint Form (INV 172A) to register a complaint regarding a new or used vehicle dealer, a broker, dismantler, registration service, vehicle verifier, misuse of Disabled Person Parking Placard/Plates, driving school or traffic violator school. Only written complaints, submitted on this form, are accepted.

DMV investigators conduct selective investigations of these licensees and their activities, based upon the department’s priorities, patterns of misconduct and the availability of personnel. Your complaint will be kept on file in case an investigation is undertaken against this party or firm. If this occurs, you may be contacted.

You should know that, even if DMV conducts an investigation, this can only result in criminal or administrative action against the licensee, and may not result in any monetary judgment or award to you or other victims. Your only recourse to recover a financial loss, or to seek another remedy, is to consider filing a civil claim against the licensee.

Typical Complaints within the Department’s Jurisdiction:

  • Counterfeit/fraudulent/forged DMV Documents
  • Odometer Fraud
  • Dealer Did Not Transfer Registration to Buyer Within 60 Days
  • Dealer Overcharged for DMV Fees
  • Unlicensed Dealer, Dismantler, Registration Service, Driving School, etc.
  • Certain Fraudulent Misrepresentations
  • Violations of the Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act
  • Violations of the Moscone Vehicle Leasing Act
  • Misuse of Disabled Person Parking Placard/Plates

You Should Know:

  • It is your responsibility to read and understand your vehicle sales contract before signing it.
  • The term “AS – IS” means exactly that. Inspect a potential purchase carefully, or have it checked by a mechanic.
  • Be aware there is no “cooling off” period on vehicles purchased from a dealer unless you obtain a contract cancellation option, which is available to you when buying specified used cars from a licensed dealer.
  • If you signed a contract and later decided you do not want the vehicle, you may still have to make payments, as required by the contract. You may wish to contact an attorney for assistance. Failure to pay may damage your credit. Returning the vehicle to the dealer does not cancel the contract or release you from the agreement. The dealer may have the vehicle towed elsewhere and you will be charged for towing and storage.

DMV Cannot:

  • Give legal advice or discuss a case prior to investigating a complaint.
  • Act as a go-between to settle contract terms for buyer or dealer.
  • Investigate complaints against private parties, unless the complaint is for suspected odometer mileage fraud, counterfeit/fraudulent/forged DMV documents, or they are acting as an unlicensed motor vehicle business.
  • Recover money or property for the consumer.
  • Investigate most complaints about the condition of used cars. “AS-IS” on a contract or Buyers Guide, displayed on the used car window, means you will pay all repair costs after you sign the contract, not the dealer. (Safety equipment problems are handled by the California Highway Patrol.)
  • Resolve disputes over money owed to or by another party.
  • Force a dealer to take back a vehicle after a contract is signed.
  • Investigate verbal agreements or statements, made by the dealer, about the vehicle.


You can seek remedy through the courts, which may award money or order actions to help you reclaim property. To do this, you can contact a private attorney or legal aid group. Legal aid agencies may give free legal advice or represent people who cannot afford private counsel. Legal aid groups are listed in the white pages of the local telephone directory.

You may choose to file a case in Small Claims Court, where claims are limited to $5,000. Some courts provide advisors to explain procedures and prepare claims. Check for Small Claims Court in the County Government pages of local telephone directories.

Many consumers feel it is worthwhile to contact their local Better Business Bureau to register complaints regarding area businesses. Also, many local television and radio stations offer free consumer assistance through a special telephone number or address.

Other DMV Resources:

Private party vehicle sales: problems with transfer and registration.

Contact nearest DMV Field Office. Check state government section of local telephone directory for telephone number and location.

Lemon Law information

Contact New Motor Vehicle Board. Call (916) 445-1888.

Bond information for dealers gone out of business, how to file a claim against a dealer bond.

Contact DMV Occupational Licensing Unit. Call (916) 229-3126, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

To File a Record of Complaint:

Before filing a complaint with DMV, attempt to resolve the problem with the other party or firm.

If your attempts are unsuccessful, and you wish to submit information for our files, complete the enclosed Record of Complaint Form (INV 172A) and attach photocopies of all documents related to the complaint. Do not send original documents.

Refer to the back of the attached Record of Complaint Form for statewide office locations. Send the complaint and photocopied documents to the Investigations District Office closest to where the sale took place or dealer is located. Remember that civil or small claims actions are the means by which you may seek damages or reimbursement of any loss you may have suffered. DMV cannot assist you in this aspect of problem.

See web site “Consumer Information” for additional information that will assist consumers who are planning to purchase or have purchased a vehicle.

dmv car dealer attorney helpful links

DMV Car Dealer Attorney Links

National Consumer Law Center

National Association of Consumer Advocates

Consumer for Auto Reliability and Safety (C.A.R.S)

Consumer Action

Public Justice

Public Citizen

Center For Auto Safety

Consumers Union

Consumer Reports

National Highway Traffic Safety Agency

Federal Trade Commission

Elder Financial Protection Network

Consumer Rights Law Blog

UCL Practioner

Lemon Laws Blog


DMV Car Dealer Education



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          Provides information, resources and services for several consumer needs, including vehicle registration and renewal.

  • New Motor Vehicle Board: Provides a free consumer/dealer mediation service to settle disputes regarding new vehicle purchases.
  • Department of Consumer Affairs: Allows consumers to file complaints against businesses licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Bureau of Automotive Repair: Provides tips on keeping vehicles in their best-running condition and finding reputable repair services. Also provides services for retiring and replacing or repairing high-polluting vehicles.
  • Air Resources Board: Provides information regarding California’s air quality and tips consumers can use to reduce their environmental footprint. Also contains information regarding hybrid vehicle eligibility for using carpool lanes.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Provides information regarding environmental protection, and educational resources for finding how to best manage our impact upon the environment.