How Consumer Complaints Lie To You

We are quite accustomed to searching for the valid experiences of other people before we risk purchasing something as significant as a car. And thankfully, there are so many sources to help us, from topical forums to the databases like the NHTSA. But can we really blindly trust anything we see out there? Turns out, the answer is not as straightforward as we would like it to be.

Consumer reports, even those we find on governmental platforms, can be quite misleading sometimes. Usually, they can be trusted, but there are still some exceptions to this rule. And history knows many instances when people’s opinions were manipulated or influenced with no ill intention.

How Consumer Complaints Lie To You
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The Number Of Complaints Can Be Misleading

The number of complaints received may not give us an accurate representation of the overall population of vehicles on the road. And let me tell you, this is a big problem.

Let me give you an example. Say a particular vehicle model has sold like hotcakes. Lots of people are buying it, so naturally, it will have a higher number of vehicles on the road. And with more vehicles on the road, there’s a higher chance that someone will experience a problem and file a complaint.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean the vehicle is unreliable or poorly made. It just means there are more of them on the road, so statistically speaking, there will be more complaints. But here’s the kicker – this higher number of complaints can create a misleading impression of the overall reliability of the vehicle.

If you want to know how really bad the model or year is, do some research to put the number of complaints into perspective. Try to find some information on the sales and popularity of the car. Look for industry or market awards that will help you dig up some more information. And always compare a few sources to get a broader picture.

What Can Warp The Numbers?

The number of official complaints and rants in forum threads often relies on the mass media. We live in the era of quick access to any kind of information. And the news spread like wildfire, sometimes amplified to get more views, likes, and ratings. The problems with this kind of access to information are overload and spikes in distress.

This is exactly what happened to Toyota Camry in 2004-2006 years. There were some concerns about acceleration issues and they got some spotlight in the news. However, the story got so much coverage it sparked a huge controversy. More and more doubtful drivers started flooding the NHTSA with reports of the same issue.

Reputable sources like Car Complaints attribute this massive attack of complaints to the instructions given in the news. The drivers were told to immediately report to the organization if they noticed something unusual with acceleration. The same problem, however, did not pop up that often outside of the NHTSA. The forums and similar platforms did not experience such a large amount of complaints. This alone makes us doubt the acceleration issue was as severe and common as the data might suggest.

How Consumer Complaints Lie To You
Image by master1305 on Freepik.

Opinions Are Biased

Human factors can never be ruled out when it comes to sharing experiences. It just happens naturally that our biases form our perspective on things. And unfortunately, that includes manipulating consumer complaints to unfairly damage the reputation of a particular vehicle or brand.

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Sometimes this act is malicious, but sometimes it is done to spice things out or simply for clout. But not only does it damage the reputation of the targeted vehicle or brand, but it also creates confusion and uncertainty for consumers who are trying to make informed decisions about their next vehicle purchase. And let’s face it, nobody wants to spend their hard-earned money on something controversial and risky.

So, what can we do about it? Well, for starters, we need to be skeptical of online reviews and complaints. Don’t just blindly accept what you read on the internet. Look for patterns in the complaints and consider the credibility of the sources.

Another way to avoid this info dumpster is to remember that consumer complaints are just one piece of the puzzle. There are other sources of information, like professional reviews and safety ratings, that can give us a more accurate understanding of a vehicle’s performance and reliability.

What Are The Alternatives To Consumer Complaints?

Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives out there that can give us a more well-rounded understanding of a vehicle’s performance and quality. 

First and foremost, we have objective measures. Things like safety ratings, reliability data, and industry awards can give us an unbiased assessment of a vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses. These are quantifiable metrics that have been rigorously tested and evaluated, so they carry a lot of weight in the industry.

Customer satisfaction surveys and awards can be just as valuable as consumer complaints. They give us insight into what’s working well for a particular vehicle or brand and what customers appreciate about their experience. And then there’s always the potential for crowdsourced data. 

Social media sentiment analysis can give us a real-time view of how people are feeling about a particular vehicle or brand. It’s not a perfect system, but it can be a useful tool for gauging overall sentiment and identifying emerging trends.

Certainly, none of these alternatives is perfect. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and we need to consider them all as part of a broader evaluation of a vehicle’s performance and quality. But the point is, we don’t have to rely solely on consumer complaints to make informed decisions about our next vehicle purchase.

How To Find And Evaluate Trusted Sources For Automotive Reviews?

With so many sources of information out there, it can be tough to know who to trust. Here are some pointers for finding and evaluating trusted sources for automotive reviews.

“Rule number one is to check the publication’s reputation. Look for reputable publications that have been around for a while and have a history of providing trustworthy reviews. Some examples include Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and Car and Driver”, believes Scott Mitchell, founder of

Rule number two: consider multiple sources. It’s always a good idea to read reviews from multiple sources to get a well-rounded understanding of a vehicle’s performance and quality. Look for patterns and consistencies across different reviews to get a better sense of what to expect.

And rule number three: avoid extreme opinions. Reviews that are overly positive or negative should be taken with a grain of salt. Look for reviews that offer a balanced perspective and highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of a vehicle.

Featured photo by on Pexels.