Auto gripes trail other complaints, FTC report says

Among automotive-related complaints tracked by the FTC in 2016, the most common complaints were about new-vehicle sales, followed by used-vehicle sales, renting and leasing, financing, warranty plans and services, parts and repairs, and price-fixing and price-gouging concerns against gas stations and oil companies. Photo credit: DAVID PHILLIPS

The auto industry draws great scrutiny from consumer advocates, but consumers appear to be less irritated by their auto experiences than they are other common sales and service encounters.

There were more complaints regarding banks and lenders and telephone and mobile services last year than auto-related complaints, an annual report from the Federal Trade Commission showed.

Auto-related complaints totaled 94,673, or 3 percent of the complaints tallied by the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, vs. 143,987 complaints about banks and lenders, or 5 percent of the total.

The Consumer Sentinel Network is a free, online database of consumer complaints available only to law enforcement. It draws on data from the FTC, Internal Revenue Service, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, state law-enforcement agencies and nongovernment groups such as the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The 2016 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book is based on unverified complaints reported by consumers. The data are not based on a consumer survey and do not include complaints related to do-not-call violations.

Debt collection

The largest source of complaints by far was debt collection, representing 28 percent of all complaints compiled.

Auto-related complaints dropped to No. 8 in the report’s list of complaint categories, falling behind No. 7 shop-at-home and catalog sales. Also ahead of autos: imposter scams; identity theft; telephone and mobile services; and prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries.

Looking just at complaints from military service members, auto-related gripes dropped another rung, to No. 9, pushed lower by complaints related to credit bureaus, information furnishers and report users.

Within the auto-related complaints category, the most common complaints were about new-vehicle sales, followed by used-vehicle sales, renting and leasing, financing, warranty plans and services, parts and repairs, and price-fixing and price-gouging concerns against gas stations and oil companies.

Bank beefs

Complaints about banks and lenders include deceptive or predatory mortgage lending practices; problems with modification of mortgage terms; miscellaneous customer service and account issues with bank or credit union products, including payday loans, student loans, auto title loans, fees and overdraft charges; and other finance company lending products, services and practices.

The total number of auto-related complaints fell from 2014 and 2015 levels. In contrast, complaints about banks and lenders, shop-at-home and catalog sales, and prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries all rose from 2014 and 2015 levels.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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