Americans love their cars, but their cars -- and the auto industry -- doesn't always love them back.
Auto-related problems are the most common complaints among consumers, who cited everything from misrepresentations in sales to leasing disputes, according to a new report from the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators. The report surveyed 39 state and local consumer protection agencies in 23 states about the most common complaints they received last year.
Leasing used cars is emerging as a sore spot for consumers, who may be attracted to the practice since it typically requires little or no down payment. But interest rates can be high, and "lemon laws" and other regulations may not apply to used cars that are leased, the study said.
"Consumers may be stuck with used cars that repeatedly break down or be on the hook for costly repairs," the study noted.
In one case, a Massachusetts consumer who leased a used car asked the auto dealer to fix electrical problems in the vehicle. The dealer said he would fix it for $4,000, and when she asked to be let out of the lease the dealer refused. Auto-related laws in Massachusetts don't apply to leasing used cars, unlike new cars that are leased, the group said.
Solar energy sales are another emerging problem, the study found. Complaints about high-pressure sales, confusing contracts and faulty installations are increasingly reported by consumers. The groups said consumers should be wary of door-to-door solar energy salespeople.
"Be very careful if someone appears at your door to try to sell you something," they noted in the report. "Don't agree to buy on the spot, especially if it involves a substantial amount of money or financing. Ask for the information to be left with you and do your homework."
While cars were the most frequently cited complaint, the fastest-growing consumer issue is fraud, the groups found. A number of scams are now on the rise, including apartment rental scams and fake offers for everything from jobs to loans. Complaints about imposters posing as local officials are also increasingly common.
The second- and third-fastest growing complaints relate to the telecom industry and health services, respectively. Cable companies are frequently cited in billing complaints, while health service organizations stir complaints about billing and collection issues, the study noted.
Below are the top 10 consumer complaints, according to the groups' survey.
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. Utilities: Installation issues, service problems, billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service
4. Retail sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver
5. 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
6. Health products/services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, medical billing issues
7. Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform
8. (Tie) Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics
8. Household goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances
9. Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases.
10. Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations, abusive sales practices, and failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations.