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Why are cars the biggest gripe for consumers?

Toyota cars for sale.

Fewer Americans are driving. A new report from researchers at the University of Michigan claims that driving, and even car ownership, is on the decline. Why? Maybe consumers are fed up. According to the Consumer Federation of America's top 10 list of consumer complaints, cars rank as our top gripe.

Considering how much time we spend in our autos, the frustration might seem obvious.  Still, financial expert and author Lynnette Khalfani Cox says we shouldn't forget how much money we spend on them.

"Consumers feel, and I think rightfully  so, cheated if something goes wrong with their car," says Cox, "particularly a new automobile that they expect to be up to snuff."

Cox says the top complaints are about performance, engine, and safety issues.  But also there are the little things, like whether windows roll down.

What you do if you own a lemon (a car that's constantly in and out of the shop)?  State laws might offer some recourse most consumers aren't aware of, in some cases a total cash buy-back of your lemon.


Consumer Federation of America: Top Ten Complaints in 2012

1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
2. Home Improvement/Construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job
3. Credit/Debt: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics
4. Utilities: Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service
5. Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver
6. Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform
7. Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations
8. Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics
9. Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practice, failure to deliver online purchases
10. Household Goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances


One caller asked for advice on buying cars:

Dean from Virginia Beach is getting ready to teach his teenage daughter to drive, but needs a second vehicle for her and the family to use.  He wonders whether he should go buy a new or used car for her.

Cox also answered questions about home ownership:

Amy from San Diego says she hopes to be a homeowner, especially before mortgage rates go up again.  She and her boyfriend went to a mortgage broker for help finding their dream house, but Amy wants to know if they should go directly to the bank.

Click play on the audio player above to hear the conversation and advice.

 

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

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