Auto dealers are often said to be the face of the industry… and if that’s the case, the Consumer Federation of America may have shed some insight into why so many Americans opposed a bailout of the industry. In a survey of 31 state, county and municipal consumer protection agencies from 18 states in 2010 [PDF here], the CFA found that auto dealers, suppliers and service garages were the number one source of consumer complaints for problems such as
Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
As if car dealers didn’t have reputation problems already…
According to the report,
Auto repair problems were the fastest growing complaints at the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Its Bureau of Auto Repair shut down five Purrfect Auto Service shops after finding evidence of repeated fraud. In addition to information from complaints, the consumer agency obtained declarations from several former employees about the company’s practices and used undercover vehicles to gather evidence. Among other violations, the company allegedly charged for parts and services that were not needed, and that in some cases were not provided.
Other auto-related issues include a spike of complaints in Massachusetts about Toyota Tundra frame rust, “car buying companies,” unexpected towings, car title loans, online car sale fraud and defective tire sales. Here are a few anecdotes:
When a Virginia woman had her car towed to a repair shop because it was vibrating violently, she was informed that it was probably the transmission. She agreed to pay $3,000 for the work, and two weeks later the car was ready. But when she drove it from the shop, it shook worse than before. She brought it back, and after keeping the car for a month, the shop said that it could not find the problem and suggested that one way to stop the vibration would be to remove some of the bolts that attach the engine to the frame. But another shop that the woman consulted advised her that removing the bolts could allow the engine to fall off. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services tried but failed to convince the first shop to take the car back for further repairs or return the woman’s money. Now she is looking into other options such as small claims court – and a new mechanic.
A Massachusetts woman placed a $1,000 deposit on a used car, but when she returned to complete the purchase, the dealer talked her into buying a different car on condition that a problem with the brakes would be repaired. But when she took the car through the required safety inspection it failed because of the brakes and an exhaust problem. Apparently the mechanic at the dealership had removed a fuse so that the brake warning light would not come on rather than actually repairing the brakes. After the Consumer Assistance Office – Metro West got involved the car was repaired correctly.
The moral of the story: even those in the most basic customer service positions need to understand that their behavior reflects not just on them and their business, but on the larger auto industry as well. And no matter how much things improve on the OEM side, if the servie isn’t there, the entire industry continues to suffer from a bad reputation.