reasons to sue a car dealership in 2024


One major reason is if the car has a defective part that causes injury or damage. This could include things like faulty brakes, airbags that fail to deploy properly, ignition switch problems, and more. Even if there’s no specific manufacturing defect,

the car may be dangerously designed in a way that makes accidents more likely to occur through things like poor visibility, handling issues, rollover risk, and so on. Additionally, someone might sue a car if the manufacturer failed to adequately

warn consumers about risks associated with the vehicle through labels, manuals, advertising, and other means. Or, if the vehicle fails to perform as promised by the manufacturer or breaks down prematurely, violating an express or implied warranty.

Buying a car from a dealership can be an exciting experience. But it can quickly turn frustrating if the dealer engages in deceptive practices. While most car deals work out fine, some dealerships try to take advantage of customers.

In egregious cases, consumers may need to fight back through legal action. This article explores common reasons car buyers file lawsuits against dealerships and steps to build a strong case.

When To Take Legal Action Against A Car Dealership
When to Take Legal Action Against a Car Dealership

Deceptive Practices That Can Lead to Lawsuits

Not all buyer-dealer disputes merit lawsuits. However, some questionable dealership behaviors and practices may warrant legal escalation:

  • Fraud – Dealers falsifying financial information or lying about vehicle conditions to trick customers into purchases. This constitutes fraud in many cases.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tactics – Advertising specific cars at set prices then pushing customers into higher-priced vehicles.
  • Odometer Fraud – Illegally altering odometer readings when selling used cars to hide true mileages. This qualifies as felony fraud in most states.
  • Warranty Violations – When dealers refuse to honor original or extended warranty coverage by wrongfully denying repairs.
  • Unwanted Add-Ons – Charging for unnecessary rustproofing, accessories, or services customers did not authorize.

Spot Delivery Scams – Letting buyers drive vehicles home before financing is finalized, then later claiming financing fell through and demanding more money. Discrimination – Denying sales or financing based on race, gender or other protected characteristics.

Signs You May Need An Attorney

If you believe a dealership willfully mistreated you in one of the above ways, then legal action may be warranted. Consulting with a lawyer is especially prudent in situations like sue a car:

The dealer refuses to resolve an issue or honor a claim, even when you have strong evidence on your side. You suffered major financial damages from the dealer’s actions. This could be due to fraud, wasted fees, or a defective car.

The dealer uses aggressive tactics like threats when confronted over their behavior. You believe you were discriminated against during the sale process. The dealer has a history of similar complaints and lawsuits from other customers.

Signs You May Need An Attorney
Signs You May Need An Attorney

How to Build a Case Against a Car Dealer

Before suing, collect documentation and other evidence showing how the dealership wronged you. Useful items include:

Paperwork from the transaction like vehicle contracts, warranty info, loan agreements, invoices for add-ons, and advertising or quotes with misleading terms. Recorded phone calls and written communication with the dealership staff related to disputes.

Photos showing issues like vehicle damage that was concealed. Police reports if you uncovered something like odometer tampering. Account statements reflecting financial harm. Testimony from any witnesses to deceptive practices.

Additionally, gather background intel on the dealer. Search for past lawsuits, reviews complaining of similar conduct, or records of state consumer affairs complaints. This pattern can demonstrate the dealership routinely engages in questionable practices and sue a car.

Finding the Right Attorney

Not all attorneys have experience fighting car dealer fraud and misconduct cases. When researching potential lawyers, look for these key credentials:

A track record litigating auto dealer disputes, defective vehicles, and consumer law violations. In-depth knowledge of your state’s laws around car sales, lending, and the acceptable scope of dealer practices.Sufficient legal resources to match any aggressive defense tactics from the well-funded dealership legal team.

Ability to investigate dealership practices, including hiring automotive forensic experts if defects require technical analysis. Access to legal researchers who can gather background intelligence on the dealership from public records and proprietary databases.

Many attorneys offer free consultations, so you can vet their expertise in dealership cases before hiring them. Retaining counsel on a contingency basis is also common, where the lawyer receives a percentage of any settlement or award.

Finding The Right Attorney
Finding the Right Attorney

Key Causes of Action Against Dealerships

Depending on the specific misconduct alleged, some common legal claims that may apply include:

If the dealer refuses to repair a vehicle under warranty. Failure to provide the sue a car or financing terms agreed upon. Knowingly concealing defects or lying about a vehicle to make a sale.

  • Odometer act violations – Tampering to hide a car’s true mileage.
  • Consumer protection law violations – Deceptive practices that violate state/federal consumer laws.
  • Lender liability – When the dealer brokers an unfair, abusive loan.
  • Discrimination – Denying financing or sale based on demographics.
  • Unjust enrichment – Keeping ill-gotten gains from practices like unnecessary add-ons.

If negotiations with a dealership break down after inappropriate actions on their part, legal counsel can assess the options and strongest claims available in your state.

Violating Lemon Laws

Every state has some version of a lemon law that provides consumer protection when you buy a defective vehicle that the dealer can’t repair within a reasonable number of attempts.

Breaching your state’s lemon law provisions gives you solid legal standing to sue the manufacturer and dealership to recoup your losses. Violations include:

  • Failing to honor your state’s lemon law provisions for refunds or replacements.
  • Not providing proper disclosures of lemon law rights.
  • Making too many unsuccessful repair attempts before providing a refund – generally 3-5 tries depending on the state.
  • Failing to cover warranty repairs and trying to charge you instead.
  • Being unable to fix the same problem after multiple repair visits.
  • The defect poses a safety concern but is not fixed.
  • The vehicle spent an excessive number of days in the repair shop.
  • The problems occurred within the first year or under a certain number of miles.

The Cost of Car Dealer Lawsuits

Going to court is not cheap. Attorneys generally front most costs, but customers may still spend thousands in legal fees depending on case complexity. However, many lawsuits settle out of court. If negotiations fail, a proactive attorney will only pursue litigation if potential damages exceed lawsuit costs.

Successful suits against dealers can still produce major payouts. Recent verdicts and settlements have awarded plaintiffs over $1 million in some dealer fraud cases. Even smaller judgments can compensate for financial losses. Holding dealers legally accountable provides motivation to reform shady practices that harm other consumers and sue a car.

The Cost Of Car Dealer Lawsuits
The Cost of Car Dealer Lawsuits

Alternatives to Sue a Car at Dealerships

For many disputes, options like mediation or arbitration provide alternative resolution paths without the time and expense of lawsuits. You can also file complaints with state consumer protection bureaus to trigger investigations into dealer misconduct.

Dealers risk heavy penalties and license suspensions if violations are proven. Lawsuits should not be the first reaction when disputes emerge. But if a dealer refuses to make things right, pursuing legal action, with evidence gathered

methodically, can become the necessary recourse. By standing up against dealer deception, consumers can send a message that underhanded sales tactics have consequences.

Sue a car dealers requires attorneys knowledgeable in state franchise laws, auto fraud statutes, and consumer protection regulations. Key credentials for representation include:

  • Extensive experience litigating dealer disputes, vehicle defects and consumer auto fraud claims. Access to automotive and financial experts supporting technical aspects of cases.
  • Ability to dedicate sufficient resources to counter aggressive dealer legal defenses.
  • Successful track record in these cases, including recovering monetary judgements. Local presence and familiarity with dealerships enables greater fact finding.

Many attorneys offer free case evaluations and handle cases on a contingency fee basis, minimizing plaintiff’s out-of-pocket costs and risks. Those with strong evidence against dealers should not hesitate to explore legal options.

Seeking Compensation Through Dealer Lawsuit Claims

Common causes of legal action in auto dealer lawsuits include:

Failure to repair a vehicle under its original or extended warranty coverage. Not delivering a vehicle or financing terms per the purchase agreement. Tampering with odometers to conceal a vehicle’s true mileage history.

  • Consumer Protection Violations – Misrepresentations, false advertising or fraud violating state consumer laws.
  • Lender Liability – When dealers arrange predatory, abusive loan terms exceeding consumers’ means.
  • Unjust Enrichment – Dealers profiting through unlawful practices may have ill-gotten gains clawed back.

Recovering financial damages provides critical compensation for victims of dealership misconduct. Punitive awards also punish and deter unethical conduct that harms other consumers.

What Damages Can You Recover By Suing a Car Dealership?

The exact compensation or relief awarded will depend on your specific situation and location. But here are some of the potential damages you may be able to recover with an auto dealer fraud lawsuit:

  • Refund of your down payment
  • Refund of all monthly car payments made
  • Value of the trade-in vehicle if the dealer didn’t return it
  • Repossession related fees and costs
  • Attorney fees
  • Paperwork and title transfer fees
  • Costs associated with loss of use of the vehicle
  • Loss of wages from missed work due to the issues
  • Compensation for damage to credit, reputation or embarrassment
  • Recovery of fraudulent loan amounts
  • Reimbursement for rental cars or transportation
  • Repair costs paid out of pocket
  • Value of aftermarket parts and accessories
  • Punitive damages to punish intentional wrongdoing
  • Lemon law replacement or repurchase reimbursement
  • Canceling the financing contract if it contained excessive rates or fees


Do dealerships have to honor price mistakes?

Dealerships generally do not have to honor pricing mistakes or errors in advertisements. They can claim it was an inadvertent mistake. However, some states require dealers to sell at an erroneously advertised price or provide remedies. Consumers should consult local laws.

Can I sue a dealership for not giving me a title in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, dealerships are required to provide title within 15 days of sale. Failure to furnish title is grounds for a civil lawsuit against the dealership for actual damages, court costs, reasonable attorney fees, and punitive damages up to $2,500.

What can you sue a car dealership for?

Common grounds for lawsuits against car dealerships include fraud, breach of contract, violation of state consumer protection laws, illegal repossession practices, failure to disclose pre-existing damage, misrepresenting the condition of the vehicle, advertising false information, odometer tampering, and violations of lemon laws.

Can I sue a dealership for not paying off my trade in California?

In California, dealers who fail to pay off the loan on a trade-in vehicle as promised can be sued for fraud or breach of contract. The consumer may recover compensatory damages plus additional punitive damages for intentional wrongdoing. Legal fees may also be recovered.

Q: What types of damages can I recover by suing a dealership?

A: Common damages awarded include refunds of fees paid, repairs for defective vehicles, compensation for additional costs incurred, and punitive damages to punish dealers for egregious actions.

Q: How much does it cost to sue a car dealership?

A: Attorneys generally front most costs, but consumer legal fees can still total $5,000-$20,000+ depending on case length and complexity. However, strong cases settle more often, reducing costs.

Q: What is the statute of limitations for suing a car dealer?

A: Timeframes to sue a car vary by state and cause of action. Fraud cases often have 4-6 year limits, while breach of contract is 3-4 years in most states. Act quickly to avoid exceeding your state’s limits.


Dealing with an underhanded car dealership can leave customers feeling powerless, especially when negotiations fail to find a fair resolution. However, consumers have legal rights when dealers engage in fraud, discrimination, or other misconduct. By diligently documenting evidence, consulting specialized attorneys, and pursuing lawsuits only as a last resort, customers can hold even the most stubborn dealers accountable.

Winning judgments can provide financial restitution, while the threat of litigation may motivate dealers to stamp out the worst practices. Consumers willing to take a stand against dealer deception play an important role in reforming shady industry tactics. With persistence and the law on your side, you can achieve justice when wronged by a dealership.

The key points summarized are:

  • Consumers have legal recourse against misconduct like fraud.
  • Meticulously gathering evidence is key to building cases.
  • Specialized legal counsel is very important.
  • Lawsuits should come only after other attempts at resolution fail.
  • Successful suits can provide financial relief and deter future misconduct.
  • Consumers play a critical role in calling out the worst practices.

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