Do you have an issue with a car dealership over a car you purchased, a refund on a warranty, or a wrong title? Did you buy a used car from a private seller, and now the car won’t drive? There are several legal options available to you, including suing the car dealership or private seller in small claims court. This article will help explain this process.

Common Types of Small Claims Lawsuits against Car Dealerships

We often hear the question: Can I sue a car dealership or private car seller in small claims? The answer is yes. Check your state’s DMV website or other government agencies to know your rights when buying a car. 

Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits against car dealerships:

  • The car had mechanical issues shortly after you bought it. 
    • For example, you bought a car, and the next day the engine started to act up.
  • The car dealership made a fraudulent misrepresentation or advertising regarding the car you purchased. 
    • For example, the car dealership lied that the car was never in an accident.
  • The car dealership refuses to fix your car after you purchased a warranty -
    • For example, you purchased a warranty when you bought the car, and you paid for repairs after having mechanical issues. Now the dealership or the warrantor won't refund you for the money you spent fixing the car.
  • The car dealership refuses to refund your purchase. 
    • For example, you canceled an extended warranty you purchase, and the dealership agreed to refund you but never did.
  • The car dealership or private seller refuses to give you the title documents. 
    • For example, you purchased a car, but the car dealership or private owner didn't provide you with the title documents to the car.
  • The car dealership or private seller engaged in some type of auto fraud. 
    • For example, this includes a “bait and switch” when the dealership advertises the car at a certain price and then says that the car is no longer available or inflates a vehicle’s invoice price. 

What to Consider Before Suing Your Car Dealership?

  1. Consider filing a complaint against the car dealership with the DMV: Some state DMVs have a Business Regulation Section or Licensing Board. Some of these DMV boards will investigate instances of auto fraud, note however that not all complaints get investigated.
  2. Consider filing a complaint against the car dealership with your state's consumer protection agency: Some states, or counties within a state, have a Department of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection office that will handle consumer complaints, regulate various businesses and industries and issue business licenses. Some of these government agencies deal with motor vehicle dealers and will handle complaints from buyers. 
  3. Consider filing a complaint against the car dealership with the Better Business Bureau: The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a non-profit that serves as an intermediary between companies and consumers. For example, if you want to complain about the car dealership that sold you a used or new car you can file a complaint against the dealership with the BBB.
  4. Try a Demand Letter to the car dealership or private seller: A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests or a demand for payment. For example, you could request a refund and explain why you are requesting a refund in a demand letter. Check out these tips on writing an effective letter, or generate and send one in minutes from your phone using our website.

How to Sue A Car Dealership in Small Claims Court

  • Prepare and File the Court Paperwork - If you end up in the 30-40% of cases where the demand letter doesn't work, you can prepare and file the court paperwork for small claims court next. The upside is that you can typically do this yourself and don't need to send much evidence with your filing. You just need to know the name of the party you're suing, the amount you're suing for, and answer some basic yes/no questions.

Again, you can do this yourself, or use Dispute's Small Claims Filing platform, which includes online paperwork prep, live online notarization, and online filing.

  • Serve the Defendant - After the court accepts your paperwork, you have to serve your court paperwork to the defendant to notify them they're being sued officially. This is also another point where people will often realize they should settle before going to court. This is the one step you aren't allowed to do yourself. To avoid bias, the court requires you to get someone else to serve your case and file a proof of service in court (a simple statement that they swear they served the defendant). The free way to do this is to get a friend or family member who isn't part of the case to help you. The hassle-free professional way to serve court papers is to hire a process server and let them take care of it.

Taking the First Step in Your Lawsuit

If all of this work seems complicated or daunting, rest assured that it's easier than it initially seems. 2.7 million small claims court cases are filed annually in the US, which is only growing as more people realize how easy it is to enforce their legal rights in court.

There's no rush. But when you're ready to sue a car dealership, you can get start with a simple demand letter online. Please get in touch with us if you have any additional questions.