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Cars With The Most Complaints

For a car that not many people buy, the Mini Cooper gets plenty of safety complaints.

The Cooper had the most safety complaints last year among vehicles sold, beating out some of the most-purchased cars in America that get plenty of consumer complaints themselves.

Only 66,123 Minis were sold in 2012, but they yielded 123 complaints per 100,000 cars sold, according to an analysis of data from Edmunds.com by the website 24/7 Wall St. The complaints were made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, in 2012.

A complaint, however, doesn’t always result in a recall. The NHTSA reports that it received 41,912 complaints last year concerning potential safety defects, down from 49,417 the previous year.

Manufacturers filed more than 650 safety recalls last year, affecting more than 17.8 million vehicles, child seats and vehicle equipment, according to the NHTSA, which helped recall more than 9 million vehicles and 60,000 other items such as tires and equipment.

The most common complaint was about the powertrain, according to Edmunds data from February 2013, which is the same data the 24/7 website used to determine the most complained about cars. The powertrain accounted for 40% of complaints, and includes the car’s engine, transmission or driveline. Symptoms include unintended acceleration, improper shifting, engine surge or hesitation, stalling, overhearing, failure to start and fluid leaks.

Here are the top 10 most complained cars in 2012, starting with the worst:

  1. Mini Cooper: 123 complaints per 100,000 cars sold, with 427 complaints in 2012. The Cooper’s most common problem was the powertrain, followed by problems with steering, airbags and seat belts. Steering was the most common problem reported in February this year. It was one of the lowest selling cars, with 66,123 Minis sold in 2012.
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  3. Jeep Wrangler: 69 complaints per 100,000 cars sold, with 2,036 complaints last year. Unlike other makes, Jeep complaints weren’t largely limited to one component of the car. Each of these accounted for more than 10% of complaints: powertrains; interior electronics and hardware; chassis suspensions and axles; fuel, emission and exhaust systems; and steering.
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  5. Smart: 56 complaints per 100,000, with 25 total complaints. It sold 10,009 electric cars in 2012, though Smart owners don’t come back. Less than a third trade in for a second model, and the average Smart car that is traded in is three years old — the lowest age of any car brand. Still, the cars sell quickly, leaving car lots in an average of 38 days.
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  7. Chrysler Town & Country: 40 complaints per 100,000 sold, with 1,166 complaints in 2012. Most of the complaints were about the interior electronics and hardware, which includes interior door locks, power accessories, heating and ventilation systems, keyless entry, or loss of electrical power.
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  9. Dodge Grand Caravan: 39 complaints per 100,000, with 2,304 total complaints. The Grand Caravan is the most popular car sold by Dodge, but received more complaints than any other car it manufactures. The biggest problem was its interior electronics and hardware. Still, the company is on pace to sell more Dodges this year than it did last year.
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  11. Nissan Altima: 38 complaints per 100,000, with 2,485 complaints in 2012. Nissan had a far lower customer loyalty than any of the other large car makers, with 42% of owners buying another Nissan when trading one in last year. The other big automakers — Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and Toyota — each had at least 47% loyalty. Nissan owners also traded in their cars sooner, with the average trade-in 5.4 years old, younger than the average for other major cars.
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  13. BMW 3 Series: 36 complaints per 100,000, with 676 complaints last year. Most of the complaints about the 3 Series were about the powertrain. BMW sales have risen every year since 2009.
  14. Volkswagen Jetta: 34 complaints per 100,000, with 667 total complaints. Most of the complaints were about the powertrain, followed by the interior hardware and electronics, and the body and glass.
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  16. Ford Escape: 33 complaints per 100,000, with 4,958 total. Ford was America’s best-selling make for the past three years, but it also led in complaints with nearly 5,000 filed last year. About 60% were about its cars’ powertrains. But Ford has some of the most loyal customers, who keep their vehicles for about 6.4 years, and almost half of its customers trade in their Ford for another one.
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  18. Hyundai Sonata: 27 complaints per 100,000, with 1,025 total. The powertrain was the area most complained about, followed by interior electronics and hardware, and airbags and seat belts. Hyundai sales have increased every year since 2005, with about 700,000 sold in 2012.