Complaints about cars top annual ranking of most popular US consumer gripes

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Consumers complained about cars more than anything else in 2016, according to an annual report released by consumer watchdogs on Thursday.

The list compiled by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI) based on an annual survey of state and local consumer officials ranks complaints about cars as the most frequently cited by state and local consumer agencies.

They ranged from advertising issues to mechanical problems to faulty repairs to towing disputes. Complaints about shoddy or incomplete home repair or construction ranked as the second-highest complaint category.

In addition to asking agencies for their most common complaints of 2016, the survey collected information on emerging consumer issues. Used car leasing and solar energy sales both popped up as areas of growing concern, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy for CFA.

Consumers lacking a good credit history are often drawn to used car leases, which require little or no down payment and can be arranged through a car dealer. However, such leases can carry high interest rates and are not afforded the protection of consumer laws designed for new car purchases, Grant said.

With solar energy sales, agencies reported an uptick in problems with aggressive sales, confusing contract terms and faulty installation.

Grant described local agencies as being often the first to hear about a consumer issue.

“It’s tempting to take state and local consumer protection agencies for granted,” she said. “They stand up for the little people.”

Frauds were among the “worst” complaints cited when agencies were asked about what most impacted vulnerable consumers. These included scams such as fake offers of employment, phony grants, rental scams, bogus health cures, loan scams and government imposters such as fake IRS agents seeking money for back taxes and penalties.

Amber Capoun, NACPI president and a legal assistant for the Kansas Banking Commission, said the imposter scams are especially troubling.

“It’s important for consumers to know that no one in government is going to call them, threatening arrest unless they send money immediately,” Capoun said.

Here is the complete Top 10 list:

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. Other 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; 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.

The types of complaints cited often land in the in-box of the ABC News Fixer, a consumer-help feature of ABC News. If you have a consumer problem, Stephanie Zimmermann, The ABC News Fixer, may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online.