main image

How to File a DMV Complaint in California

Camila Lopez - Car Dealership - June 5, 2024

Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a complaint letter to a business?

Start Letter

Contents

    The California Department of Motor Vehicles regulates different types of businesses within the automotive industry, such as salespeople, dismantlers, and car dealers. They also investigate complaints against these businesses. In this article, we will define what each of these businesses are and the steps you can take to resolve a dispute you may have with these businesses.

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a complaint letter to a business? Check out our demand letter tool.

    When Can You File a Complaint With the California DMV?

    Here are some examples of complaints that can be filed with the California DMV:

    • Misrepresentation. For example, at a Santa Monica car dealership, the salesperson falsely claims that the car you decide to purchase has advanced safety features, but after the purchase, it's revealed that the car lacks those features. 

    • Undisclosed Damage. For example, you buy a used car from a dealer. The dealer says the car has not had any prior damage. After a few days with the vehicle, you notice the back bumper has duct tape around it, indicating previous damage. 

    • False Condition. For example, you visit a local Los Angeles car dealer to purchase a vehicle. The dealer claims the car is new. After submitting your payment, you find out the car was, in fact, used.

    When can you NOT file a complaint with the California DMV?

    1. The DMV does not investigate complaints under the California “Lemon Laws.” 

      1. If you purchase a “lemon,” which is a car that does not perform according to its promised warranty, California Lemon Laws can provide you with legal protections.

      2. You can find the Lemon Law arbitration request form on the website of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

      3. More information on the California Lemon Laws complaint process can be found on the Arbitration Certification Program website. 

    2. The DMV does not investigate complaints against private sellers. If you bought a car from a private individual (not a dealership) and encounter any issues with the vehicle, the DMV cannot handle your complaint. See California DMV

    3. The California DMV does not regulate complaints against car dealerships, manufacturers, or distributors. Submit the mediation request form on the New Motor Vehicle Board’s website to file a complaint against those types of businesses.

    4. The California DMV does not regulate complaints against auto repair businesses. Visit the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) to file a complaint against those types of businesses. Review our guide on how to file a complaint with the BAR here

    Who Can You File a DMV Complaint Against in California?

    In California, you can file a complaint with the DMV against different motor vehicle businesses. 

    Here are some of the main businesses you can file a complaint against:

    • Vehicle Dealers

    • Salesperson

    • Dismantler

    • Registration Services

    You may be wondering what these businesses actually are and who belongs to each of these categories. In this section, we will define each business type to help you determine if you can file a complaint with the California DMV. 

    Vehicle Dealers

    A vehicle dealer is a person who buys a vehicle subject to registration for the purpose of resale.

    You can file different types of complaints against vehicle dealers with the California DMV. For example, a complaint may be filed against a dealer if a dealer sells a used car to a client after advertising that the vehicle is in new condition.

    Salesperson

    A salesperson is a person who sells vehicles or vehicle contracts. They may also supervise a car sale or vehicle contract sale that is performed by a dealer.

    You can file different types of complaints against a salesperson with the California DMV. For example, a complaint may be filed against a salesperson if, before signing a contract, the salesperson fails to disclose to a client that their new car will not be in stock for at least another year, leaving the client paying an additional fee for a temporary car.

    Dismantler

    A dismantler buys, sells, or deals vehicles with California registration for the purpose of dismantling them. They may buy or sell vehicle parts that are new or used.

    You can file different types of complaints against a dismantler with the California DMV. For example, a complaint may be filed against a dismantler if a dismantler sells a non-registered vehicle to a consumer. 

    Registration Service

    A registration service is a person who processes registration applications, transfer of ownership, registration renewals, and dismantler documents

    You can file different types of complaints against a person that offers registration services with the California DMV. For example, a complaint may be filed against them if they claim to have processed a registration application, but did not actually complete the transaction. 

    Steps to File a Complaint With the California DMV

    1. Prepare your information

    2. Submit a DMV complaint form

    3. Wait for a response

    1. Prepare Your Information

    What to prepare before filing a complaint: 

    • Before submitting a complaint to the DMV, prepare any supporting documents to send along with the complaint form. 

    • Additionally, make sure to gather legal information about the business, as you will need it to complete the form. This may include the business’s address, legal name, or contact information.

    • You can visit the DMV website to find legal information on a regulated business.

    2. Submit a Complaint Form

    To submit a complaint with the California DMV, fill out the online Complaint Form.

    Any questions you may have about filing a complaint can be directed to the California Department of Motor Vehicles at (800) 777-0133.

    3. Wait for a Response

    • You should receive a confirmation email after submitting the complaint form. 

    • The California DMV will review your complaint to determine if further action will be taken. 

    • The DMV may open an investigation regarding your complaint. 

    • An investigation can lead the DMV to take criminal or administrative action against the stated business. This may mean the business will be fined or suffer other consequences. 

    Alternatives to Filing a Complaint With the DMV

    If you filed a complaint with the DMV against a DMV-regulated business but weren’t able to resolve your dispute, consider the following alternatives. 

    • You can send the business a formal complaint letter outlining your complaint against the business. Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a complaint letter to a business? Check out our demand letter tool.

    • You can file a consumer complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB will review your complaint, and if they accept it, they will contact the business to try and resolve the complaint. The BBB will notify you if and when the business responds. Learn more about filing a complaint with the BBB.   

    • You can file a complaint with the California Attorney General. The California Attorney General serves as the state's leading legal advisor, responsible for advising and representing California in court. Additionally, they also have a role in investigating consumer complaints against certain types of businesses and individuals in California. Here is a guide on how to file a complaint with the California Attorney General.

    • You can take the business to California small claims court and have a judge determine your case. Small claims courts handle a wide variety of disputes against all types of automotive businesses, including vehicle dealers, as well as private individuals that sell cars. 


    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a complaint letter to a business? Check out our demand letter tool.

    Author

    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

    Subscribe for Small Claims Tips