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Why Americans are less satisfied with their cars

A price tag hangs from the rear view mirror of a car for sale at a Chrysler dealership in Colma, California.

People’s satisfaction with their vehicles has fallen to a five year low, according to a survey out on Tuesday from the American Customer Satisfaction Index. That’s despite the fact that car sales are basically back to pre-recession levels.

The survey doesn’t pin down what caused the drop in satisfaction - though, one culprit that has been mentioned is incentives. As in: People have come to expect big ones.

Robert Passikoff is president of Brand Keys, a consultancy that looks at brand loyalty. He says he’s old enough to remember the first time Chrysler did a cash-back offer.

“Who would have thought that I could buy a car and they’d give me money back?” he says. “Now I’ll give you money if you can find a car that’s not giving you money back at some point.”

Today’s expectations, though, don’t match the current reality. Analyst Michelle Krebs with AutoTrader.com says post-recession automakers have been more careful not to overproduce vehicles. That means they don’t have to slap fat incentives on them.

This affects car buyers now entering the market, especially if it’s been years since they last shopped for a car.

They’re used to these big incentives and they just aren’t there,” says Krebs.

Still, Krebs says the number one complaint she hears isn’t incentives, but electronics.

“They’re not intuitive, they don’t operate the way people think they should,” she says. “So there’s a great amount of dissatisfaction around those.”

The survey also found car owners who’d had a vehicle recalled rated that vehicle 6 percent lower than those who hadn't.

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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