Higher-quality vehicles and automakers' emphasis on customer relations have caused warranty complaints to the Better Business Bureau to plummet, the bureau says.
In a new report, the bureau says it handled 37,862 consumer complaints against car companies last year. That figure was down sharply from the 244,300 complaints filed in 1984, the peak year for complaints.
Automakers are going to greater lengths to please consumers today, says Rod Davis, the bureau's vice president of dispute resolution. "There's been a real mind-set change," Davis told Automotive News.
General Motors, Ford Motor Co., America Honda Motor Co., Nissan North America Inc. and Volkswagen of America Inc. are among the automakers that use the bureau's free, voluntary resolution process.
The bureau mediates customer complaints covered by factory warranties. The out-of-court settlements include arbitration in about one of every six cases.
Bob Ottolini, GM's executive director of North American product development quality, says warranty complaints affect a company's bottom line and reflect customer satisfaction.
"Internally, warranty is the metric," he says.
In the early 1980s, the bureau's Davis says, consumer complaints were more likely to deal with big-ticket items, such as engines and transmissions. Now, he says, warranty complaints more commonly address minor issues, such as vibration.
Cutthroat competition in the United States makes speedy problem-solving a must for automakers, Davis says. Most consumers don't expect their vehicles to be perfect, he says, but they judge car companies on how they respond to problems.
Automakers are "really trying to satisfy the customer and get repeat customers," he says.
The bureau's resolution process generally takes 40 days or less. Decisions are binding on automakers, but customers can accept or reject the bureau's findings. Companies often will look to settle even if a complaint is marginal, Davis says.
"What we try to do is not make it into an adversarial process," he says.
The bureau, in Arlington, Va., says it has helped 1.8 million consumers settle vehicle warranty claims over the past 25 years. It has about 60 employees on its auto staff.
You may e-mail Greg Migliore at [email protected]