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For 6th year in a row, car troubles top annual list of consumer complaints

Patricia Sabatini, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Automotive News

Complaints ranging from deceptive practices and mechanical defects, to shoddy repairs and title issues propelled auto sales and repairs to the No. 1 type of complaint fielded by state and local consumer protection agencies again last year, according to an annual survey by the Consumer Federation of America.

The report from the Washington, D.C.-based association of consumer groups offers a snapshot of common ways people are being ripped off across the nation.

It was the sixth year in a row that auto sales and repairs ended up as the top consumer complaint.

"It is clear that auto sales and repairs are a longstanding problem and that consumers rely heavily on [state and local agencies] for assistance when they have suffered harm," said Erin Witte, the consumer federation's director of consumer protection.

One common vehicle-related complaint involves what is known as yo-yo sales.

In yo-yo scams, the dealer pretends the sale has been finalized and accepts a down payment, but hasn't actually obtained a commitment for financing. Days later, the dealer pressures the buyer to accept more expensive financing terms.

Victims on average end up with an interest rate that is five percentage points higher than the initial loan, according to Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

Some red flags include being asked to sign a contract with some fields left blank, an unclear interest rate or being able to drive away with the vehicle without a contract.

The consumer federation offered some tips to help consumers avoid auto-related rip-offs:


—Get your own financing before going to the dealership. Save time and hassle, and prevent the dealer from sneaking in extra fees by showing up with a pre-approval or check from your own local lender, the consumer federation said.

—Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle before buying. Pay your own mechanic for an honest opinion about whether the car is in good condition and safe to drive.

—Do your homework. Have the dealership provide a Vehicle Identification Number so you can check the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's website for open recalls. In addition, get a report from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System and do a Google search of the VIN.

Besides car troubles, other top complaint categories for 2021 included landlord tenant issues, such as rental housing conditions, security deposit disputes and rent increases; home improvement and repair contractors; retail purchase issues such as goods arriving late, receiving the wrong or defective product and refund and exchange policies; and consumer debt and credit issues

"Many agencies reported an increase in landlord-tenant complaints in 2021, the year during which the federal eviction moratorium ended, and states and localities decided whether to enact extended tenant protections," the consumer federation said.

Altogether, 23 agencies from 15 states participated in this year's complaints survey, including the Bucks County Department of Consumer Protection, the only participant from Pennsylvania.

To read the full CFA report, visit

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