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I just went through a process with my car that, for about a year, had an intermittent instrument cluster. It never failed when I took it in to the dealer to check and they couldn't find the fault. Finally it failed completely (just after the extended warranty expired, of course) and the company, after I discussed the issue with the national office, paid for the part (I paid the labour). What, I think, was the deciding factor in the company replacing it for me was that I had taken it in two-three times to have it checked prior to the warranty running out and the last time, just before the warranty expiration date, I made them document the problem history and that I was bringing it in because the warranty was going to end soon. The part alone was $800. – Cam in Vancouver

Not everyone is as successful in resolving automotive complaints as Cam. I often receive letters from frustrated motorists who have ended up in dead-end disputes with dealers or manufacturers. So is there anything you can do to better your chances of coming out on the right side?

"The main thing we would say to both the consumer and the business is to remove the emotion. If you are complaining, don't go in full of anger. Go in with the mindset that you're going to give the business the opportunity to resolve this. Another important thing: don't procrastinate on a complaint. If there's a problem, bring it to the other party right away," says Kevin Hollett of the Better Business Bureau in British Columbia.

Rather than focus on your disappointment, stay focused on finding a solution.

You have to know what you want before you can get it. At the risk of quoting Dr. Phil, "You have to name it before you can claim it." To complain effectively, you need to be clear about why you're dissatisfied, and what the business can do to resolve the issue. You might be seeking a simple apology, additional service, a replacement, or a refund. Getting this straight in your mind first will help you communicate with the business more effectively.

Make sure to keep a meticulous record of events, and hang on to all pieces of the paper trail. Retain all related receipts and invoices, any letters or e-mails, and keep a log of what's communicated during any telephone calls.

"We recommend that you attempt to resolve your complaint directly with the parties involved. For instance, take it to the salesperson you've been dealing with. If they can't handle it, that's when you start looking at the ways you can escalate your complaint, whether it's to a customer service manager, or even the company headquarters," says Hollett.

If you've escalated your complaint within the business without achieving resolution, there are organizations that can offer further assistance. The Better Business Bureau, which offers free dispute resolution services to the public, is one such organization.

In certain provinces, consumers have the option of complaining to the authorities that oversee the vehicle sales industry. The Vehicle Sales Authority in British Columbia and the Motor Vehicle Industry Councils in Ontario and Alberta, enforce provincial consumer protection legislation that applies to vehicle sales. Residents of the rest of Canada are advised to call their provincial or territorial inquiry line for assistance.

Apart from presenting the evidence in small claims court, a final resource for consumers with manufacturing defects or any warranty issues that are unresolved is the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP). If a vehicle is less than four years old and has no more than 160,000 kilometres, a neutral arbitrator will hear the case of any consumer who qualifies. Evidence from the consumer and manufacturer will be heard, and a decision rendered.

CAMVAP hearings are held locally, and there is no cost to the consumer. If you do end up in this situation, you're not alone. CAMVAP hears approximately 300 cases each year across the country.

Last year, in British Columbia for example, the BBB had 217 complaints filed against new-car dealers, 81 against used-car dealers and 87 complaints against auto repair shops.

"People also come to the BBB for pre-purchase information. We certainly recommend checking out a business before you do any transaction. What you want to look for is what their record in the marketplace has been. Because we handle complaints, we offer free dispute resolution services, and people can see how a company has responded to any complaints filed to the BBB," says Hollett.

"Every company gets complaints; it's how they handle them that's important – and what you should be considering before doing business with them."

Do you have a car-related question? E-mail Ask Joanne at