Annual Consumer Complaints Survey Says Car Problems Really Grind Our Gears

There are plenty of things out there to complain about — after all, fighting back against the companies and industries that let down consumers is why we’re here in the first place. And according to a new survey from the Consumer Federation of America, the area we’re most cranky about is (drumroll, please)… car shopping! Of course, there are plenty of other consumer woes as well.

The top consumer complaints ranged from auto dealers selling customers lemons, to complaints over credit cards and problems with buying products on the Internet.

This year’s CFA list is a result of surveying 38 consumer agencies to see what kind of complaints were levied against companies in 2011. Last year those agencies tallied a total of almost 290,000 complaints, and ended up recovering or saving consumers almost $147 million. And if customers are lucky, some companies actually take those complaints to heart and try to change things for the better.

Without further ado, here are your top five most complained about areas. Check out CNN for the rest of the list:

1. Autos: Whether you got duped into buying a lemon, fell victim to false advertising or had your car towed, consumers grumbled the most about problems with cars. One major problem area, said the report, was customers in Florida getting tricked by a Craigslist seller into buying non-working cars or ending up with vehicles without titles.

2. Credit/Debt: No shocker here — credit card billing and fee complaints are in the same spot on the list for the third year in a row. This area also includes mortgage and predatory lending disputes, as well as abusive debt collection tactics. Basically anything where you’re involved with getting credit and owing an financial institution money.

3. Home Improvement/Construction: Plenty of people complained that they paid for work that wasn’t finished, was done poorly or was otherwise unsatisfactory.

4. Retail Sales: Complaints abounded in this area, from problems with false advertising, fraud, defective merchandise, gift cards and basically anything and everything connected to buying a product from a retailer. A big problem area this year included merchants not honoring promotional gift certificates or having unclear terms on when shoppers could use such vouchers.

5. Utilities: Billing disputes and service problems connected to phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services had a big chunk of complaints. Fees going up, outrageous bills or just shoddy service contributed to problems consumers complained about.

Top 10 consumer complaints [CNN]


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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I always wonder how much people complain about Auto issue not because the company actually did something wrong or misleading, but that the customer simply either didn’t listen or didn’t do any research for themselves.

    Or that the legal definition of “lemon” and a consumers’ definition are incredibly different. Like if you buy a used car and then it’s out of allignment 2 months later. That’s not a lemon. But I wonder if many consumer call it that out of anger.

    • ti_ana says:

      I was just out car shopping this weekend and I can certainly vouch for the “false advertisement” complaint. My husband and I found an advertisement on the dealership’s website for a pre-owned car listed at a certain price, called ahead to make sure the car was there, drove 60 miles to get there and when we arrived, the car had allegedly already been sold. (I have reason to believe it never even existed.) “Oh, no problem,” said the salesman, “I can find you a similar car and make you a great deal!” Then he proceeded to try to sell us several cars that were out of the price range we had already told him we wanted to stay under.

      Yes, we walked away, but it was an unpleasant situation all around. Do some consumers go out to make uninformed purchases that they then bitch about? Sure. But there is a WHOLE LOT of rampant unethical (and illegal) sales practices going on that can’t be overlooked.

    • Oh_No84 says:

      I dont think many people would.
      Normally people associate an expensive repair immediately after buying the car a lemon, but they dont use the term lemon as that is for new cars. They call it a scam.
      If there are expensive $500+ repairs that (not routine maintenance) that any mechanic should have seen then the dealer obviously covered it up.

      I know someone who bought a car and 1 weeks later the engine seized up. The used car dealer was obviously scamming people.

      The lesson of the day is always test drive the car to another mechanic and pay them $100 to $200 to fully inspect the car. If the dealer refused to let you do this then run away.

    • lyontaymer30 says:

      I ask that question about all. Because I work in an industry where contracts and information is important, and very rarely do most ppl read.

  2. umbriago says:

    So, in short, everybody’s peeved about every aspect of spending their money.

    Also, only on CNN can a top ten list be twelve items. The other seven are “services,” internet sales/tenant versus landlord disputes (tie), fraud, real estate, and household goods and home solicitations (tie).

    Though in my view, and it’s probably a bad one, that a whole lot of fraud is just stupidity/greed (tie) on the part of the victim.

  3. PragmaticGuy says:

    Much of this could be titled….”Due Diligence….why it’s important.” But, I wonder how many people have a problem, want it resolved this minute and then complain… places like the Consumerist. As for the problems with autos in Florida. Well, that’s self-explanatory.

  4. scoosdad says:

    Were “too many surveys” on any of those lists?

    Seriously, I’m so sick of being hit almost immediately by a pop-up on a web page, or a phone call asking me if I’d participate in a survey of some sort.

  5. ECA says:

    Ya know..
    Thee are so many ways to SCREW the public, that its JUST SCARY..
    But, then comes the fun part. regulations tend to be a SLAP on the wrist, or the corp just passes the bill along to the consumer.
    SUE the corp, dont matter, as the consumer ends up paying for it..NOT THE OWNERS/CEO/MANAGERS..
    its the same with towns/cities, when an IDIOTS does something WRONG and you SUE the city, WHO PAYS?? not the mayor, not the ones that HIRED them, not even Their boss’s.. The PUBLIC pays.

    For anyone that dont know this..there was a Type of business design setup for ONLY small business..
    Its called LLC(limited liability corp/company) which mean that if something happened, you could sue the Company and NOT the individuals. unless the individual DID it.
    Look at all the listings of the major corps and companies..they are ALMOST ALL LLC.
    YOU CANT sue the idiots responsible for the companies Outcome, any more.

    AS to cars.
    Do you understand what happens during a flood? What happens to the cars? Look up their history BEFORE YOU BUY THEM. IF’ they went to canada, dont buy them.
    there are secondary companies that buy UP flooded cars..refurbish them(dry them out) and resell them.
    They get them CHEAP, as it takes TIME to recondition the car, and Clean out all the electrics, and PUMP out the water in the engines, and GET THE SMELL OUT..
    Also there are Bumps and bruises on many of these cars, as they DONT SIT around in the water..Many bumps can be fixed, others, they CUT the cars in half, and wield them with ANOTHER car..
    you have to know when the Flood years happened. its not noted in carfax.

    retail sales.
    from the OLD DAYS of having a small MALL/area stores only a couple miles away. lets look at that from a 20 mile area, now. You take out 100 stores in a 20 mile area, condense them into 1 BIG store 20 miles away, with only 3 times the people to keep it up…and WORK them like dogs, as those that were NOW unemployed can/will take their jobs..
    NOW that you have CUT the expenses from 100 business to 1 BIG location, HOW do you make Profit. I should say it that way..MORE PROFIT is a better way.
    Walmart did something interesting. They took out MUCH of the middle men. Which CUT their costs, but NOT PRICES..(they still wanted PROFIT). And many other corps are looking at THAT design…but after you CUT all the middlemen, and HOURS, and EMPLOYEES, and cut customer service..whats left?
    The OLD ideal of business Plateau, is being SHIFTED/SHAFTED..
    First you build in/in CRAP AREA/LAND/Away from the major sources.
    Then you cut middlemen. go direct to the makers.
    Then you cut people WHO know products/services that KNOW how to do things PROPERLY(they tell you what you need to know so you dont make mistakes and NEED to buy NEW/MORE materials)
    Then you cut people in the middle, First the dead weight, then the idiots(theres more out there) and just KEEP hiring until yo find the person that JUST WORKS.
    Then you cut corp back, the book keepers, and the paper work people, you have cut 90% of the personnel, so you dont need most of them, and computers are WONDERFUL things.(waiting for embedded tags in all personnel)
    One way or another, you CUT personnel.

    Good luck.