How To File a Defective Car Complaint to the NHTSA?

You have certain expectations when you purchase a car. You expect that it will be safe, reliable, and perform as advertised.

Yet sometimes, you end up with a car that just doesn’t work the way it should. Whether it’s an issue with the brakes, engine, or another component, a defective vehicle can pose serious risks to you and other drivers on the road.

As a California lemon law attorney, I can tell you that there have been instances where automakers failed to take responsibility for selling faulty vehicles. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your options when it comes to defective cars.

The Lemon Law In California

One way to hold manufacturers accountable is to pursue compensation under the state’s lemon law. This law provides remedies for customers who have tried unsuccessfully to get their car fixed by the manufacturer in the form of a buyback or replacement vehicle.

To qualify as a lemon under the lemon law in California, a vehicle must:

  • Have one or more defects/nonconformities that substantially impair the vehicle’s use, value, or safety; and
  • Have been subjected to a reasonable number of repair attempts by a manufacturer-certified facility to fix the defect or nonconformity; or
  • Have been out of service for repairs on one or more defects/nonconformities for at least 30 days; and
  • The defect or nonconformity must not have been caused by driver abuse or neglect.

Additionally, you can put the manufacturer on notice by filing a defective car complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is a government agency dedicated to improving auto safety and ensuring that defective vehicles are brought to light.

In this post, we’ll go over the steps you need to take to file an NHTSA defective car complaint. We’ll also discuss what information you need to include in your complaint, and some tips for avoiding common pitfalls.

Tips For Avoiding Common Pitfalls

1. Gather Evidence

The first step in filing a complaint to the NHTSA (and pursuing a lemon law California claim, for that matter) is to collect evidence. The more substantiating evidence you have, the stronger your case will be.

Some key pieces of evidence to include in your defective car complaint would include:

  • Documentation of all repair attempts made by the manufacturer, including dates and reasons for the repairs.
  • Photos and/or videos of any defective components or issues.
  • A detailed description of the defect(s), with supporting documentation, wherever possible.
  • Expert testimony or reports from mechanics or auto experts.

The more evidence you have to support the defect, the better chances you have of earning justice.

2. What to Include in an NHTSA Defective Car Complaint

Once you are ready to file a defective car complaint with the NHTSA, you will need to provide a few pieces of information – along with the evidence you’ve collected. These include:

A. Your Name and Contact Information

The first thing you need to include in your NHTSA defective car complaint is your full name, address, phone number, and email address. This allows the investigators to contact you to discuss your complaint further and provide follow-up information if needed.

B. Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

This helps investigators identify when and where your car was manufactured. You can find the VIN on the vehicle identification sticker on your car’s dashboard, near the base of your windshield – or on the inside of the driver’s door. It can also be found on your vehicle registration and title documents.

C. Make, Model, and Year of Car

This information allows the NHTSA to gather any historical data on recalls and complaints related to similar cars. Be sure to provide the correct make, model, and year – any errors can significantly slow down the process of resolving your defective car complaint.

D. Vehicle Mileage

Next, you’ll want to include your vehicle’s total mileage and whether you purchased your car new or used. This information is important in determining whether your car is defective, as mileage can impact the lifespan of many vehicle components.

E. Any Damages

You should also include any damages or injuries that you have suffered as a result of your defective car. This can help the NHTSA better understand the full impact of the issues with your vehicle and may even influence them to take further action.

3. What Not to Include in an NHTSA Defective Car Complaint

While filing a defective car complaint to the NHTSA is fairly straightforward, there are some key pieces of information that you should refrain from including. These include:

A. Background Narrative

Unlike lemon claims, where a California lemon law lawyer may use personal narratives to help strengthen your case – defective car complaints are much more formal. The NHTSA investigators may only review the evidence and information that you provide. So, it is best to focus on the hard facts. Otherwise, you can run the risk of your complaint being dismissed.

B. Faulty or Inaccurate Information

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when filing defective car complaints is including information that is not accurate. This might include incorrect vehicle details, such as the make and model, or faulty evidence, like old photos of a defective component. To ensure your defective car complaint is taken seriously, it is essential to be as accurate and thorough as possible.

C. Multiple Complaints

If you have multiple car defects, be sure to file them as separate complaints. While a California lemon law lawyer may be able to combine multiple defective cars into one lemon lawsuit – the NHTSA will only accept a single defective car complaint per vehicle. So, it is important to be focused and thorough in your complaint.

Need a California Lemon Law Attorney?

At Cline APC, our team of experienced California lemon law lawyers is dedicated to helping defective car owners get the compensation and resolution that they deserve. We’ve helped countless clients successfully resolve California lemon law claims – and are committed to providing the same high-quality legal representation for you. 

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced California lemon law attorneys. We’ll review your case and let you know what options are available to seek justice. Call 888-982-6915, send an email to or fill out a free case evaluation.

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