10 most common consumer auto complaints

Consumer Federation of America releases most common auto complaints and solutions.


At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, www.nhtsa.gov, you can look for information about car recalls, search for complaints from other individuals about the same problem, and report auto safety defects. You can also get information and file complaints by calling 800-424-9153.

Reining In Rogue Auto Dealer

Last year based on an anonymous tip, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection in Maryland began to investigate a man for selling used cars without a dealer’s license. Records subpoenaed from the four closest auto auctions revealed that he was operating in ten states and had sold more than 50 cars in Maryland alone. The agency identified ten consumers who were willing to testify in court and is working with the Office of State’s Attorney to prosecute the man.

Unlicensed dealers sell cars in parking lots, on streets, in driveways, at gas stations and online. These sales may seem like good deals, but the cars are often not reliable and carry no warranties. Check with your state or local consumer protection agency about your rights if something goes wrong.

On the Road Again

Auto financing and repossessions are also high on the list of complaints that state and local consumer protection agencies handle. In one case described by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, a family’s car was repossessed after the breadwinner lost his job and fell behind on the payments. Reviewing the paperwork, the agency found problems with the original contract and was able to convince the car lot to return the car, renegotiate the terms of the contract, forgive all fees, and give the consumer a check for $200 to compensate for his inconvenience.

When you’re financing a car through the dealer, don’t be rushed or pressured into signing the agreement right away. Take the time to read it carefully, ask questions, and if there is anything you don’t understand, show it to someone you trust before you sign on the dotted line and drive the car away.

Lease Larceny

A New Jersey woman complained to the Union County Division of Weights and Measures/Consumer Affairs about a problem with a car lease. She had returned car at the end of the lease period, with 1,000 fewer miles on it than the limit provided under the contract, and she had photographs to prove that the car was in immaculate condition, inside and out. The dealer even remarked on what fine shape the car was in. Nonetheless, six weeks later she received a bill for $1,600 for damage to the vehicle. When the agency contacted the dealer, it was referred to the company’s leasing division in another state. From there agency was referred to the legal division in yet another state. Finally the company acknowledged that New Jersey law gives the consumer the right to get an independent appraisal for any excessive wear or damage that a lease company claims. Since the consumer had never been given that opportunity, the company agreed to drop the charges.

When you return a car at the end of a lease, keep a copy of the lease agreement, note the mileage on it, and take photos so you’ll have proof if there are any questions later about the terms of the lease or the condition of the vehicle.

No Lemon Aide

A used car advertised on Craig’s List for $1,300 seemed like a good deal, but the woman who bought it soon discovered that it was a lemon. Since the seller was a private individual, not a car dealer, the Broward County Permitting, Licensing and Consumer Protection Agency could not intervene and referred the woman to civil court.

It can be risky to buy a car online from a stranger, especially if the seller is an individual, not a dealer, as you may have little recourse if something goes wrong. Check to see if the website where the car is being offered provides buyer protection. If it doesn’t and you can’t see the car in person and have it checked out by a mechanic, it may be better to look elsewhere for your next set of wheels.

Driven, Pushed and Pulled into Bad Deal

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