How To File a Complaint About Your Vehicle

How To File a Complaint About Your Vehicle

Your Information Could Provide Safety Data to NHTSA


Your brakes are performing unpredictably and the mechanic at the dealership hasn't been able to fix the problem. You think you should report the problem but you don't know who to tell or what to say. What do you do next?

Filing a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) takes only 10 minutes and can be submitted online or over the phone -- Monday-Friday 8am to 8pm at (888) 327-4236; TTY: (800) 424-9153. It's important for you to share the information about your vehicle to improve the safety for other owners. In fact, many recalls, such as the recent Toyota incidents involving unintended acceleration, were initiated by concerned owners who took the time to contact the NHTSA.

The complaint form is actually handled by the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) which is within the NHTSA. After filing the complaint, you might be contacted by an engineer for follow-up questions. Regardless, your issues will be investigated to see if they are part of what the NHTSA refers to as a "safety defect trend."

The online form is easy to understand and complete. But before beginning, compile the following information, which will be required:

  • Model year of the vehicle involved
  • Make of the vehicle (for example, Toyota, Ford, etc.)
  • Model of the vehicle (for example, LS, Flex, etc.)
  • Component of the vehicle (for example, tires, radio, etc.)
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN), a unique 17-digit number and letter combination found on both the vehicle itself and the registration form

The rest of the form will prompt you to fill in a description of these elements:

  1. The events leading up to the "failure" that you are describing.
  2. How often the failure occurs and its consequences.
  3. What has been done to correct the failure, such as repairs or replacements.

Keep in mind that the NHTSA system allows for complaints about vehicles, tires, equipment and child restraints. Once the complaint is filed, either online or by phone, the review process will begin. For more information of the recall process, please see this page on defects and recalls.

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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