Edmunds.com NHTSA Complaints Activity Report

Edmunds.com NHTSA Complaints Activity Report

February 2013

Safety is an important factor in any vehicle research and consideration process. In order to stay abreast of safety trends related to consumer vehicle complaints, Edmunds analysts undertook a task that has now given Edmunds — and ultimately, consumers, the automotive industry and the media — a new way of looking at complaints.

The mission of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is to achieve "the highest standards of excellence in motor vehicle and highway safety." Part of achieving that goal is listening to what consumers have to say about their vehicles.

Consumers can complete an online form or call a hotline to report the safety-related complaints they believe they are experiencing with their vehicles. The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI), an office of NHTSA, reviews and analyzes all submissions to identify trends and conducts any necessary investigations.

Because consumers' descriptions and categorizations of their experiences vary, are not expressed in a consistent manner and are not adequately aggregated and analyzed by NHTSA-ODI, Edmunds recognized that there was a need to engage in a further review of the complaints and a deeper analysis of the complaints database. Edmunds did such a review and has re-categorized the complaints using new standard categories that Edmunds defined. Edmunds began with complaints submitted to NHTSA-ODI since January 1, 2005 for vehicles commencing with the 2005 model year. Edmunds continues to retrieve, review and categorize complaints data from NHTSA-ODI weekly, adding to an in-house database that now consists of more than 90,000 consumer vehicle complaints.

The Edmunds.com NHTSA Complaints Activity Report is the result of this examination of the frequency, trends and composition of complaint submissions at the automaker, brand and category levels. The Edmunds team performs a relative comparison among the automakers and their brands by weighting the number of complaints based on total vehicle sales. This result is expressed as "Complaints per 100,000 Vehicles Sold."

The Edmunds.com NHTSA Complaints Activity Report is published monthly.

More in depth analysis of the complaints data can be viewed as well as downloaded under the NHTSA Complaints Activity Report section of the Edmunds Data Center.


Complaints filed in February totaled 2,824 complaints, a decrease of 3.1 % from January. This is also a 21.7% increase from February 2012.

February 2013 Monthly Complaints Comparison

Manufacturer Highlights

2,358 out of 2,824 complaints, or 83.5%, were filed in February for the major automakers indicated below, with Nissan contributing to about 19% of the complaints. BMW of North America had the most complaints per 100,000 vehicles sold at 5.8. This is probably due to high complaint activity and low sales for the MINI brand.

February 2013 Complaints per 100,000 Vehicles Sold

February 2013 Complaints Received for Major Automakers

Complaints by Brand

Complaint submissions decreased by 3.1% in February. 32% of brands indicated a percentage increase in complaints filed. BMW saw a 73.1% increase in the number of complaints filed from last month. A recall for 750,000 BMW vehicles was issued in late February for 2007-2011 BMWs in the 3-Series, 2008-2012 BMWs in the 1-Series, and 2008-2012 BMW Z4s. The recall received wide media coverage and may have contributed to this increase.

February 2013 Complaints per 100,000 Vehicles Sold

Brand February 2013 Complaints % Change February 2013 vs. January 2013 Top Category for 2013 Year-to-Date Brand Complaints February Model Complaints Leader(1) Top Category for February Model Complaints Leader(2)
Acura 15 25.0% Powertrain (41%) MDX Powertrain
Audi 24 33.3% Steering (48%) S4 Steering
BMW 116 73.1% Powertrain (38%) 3 Series Powertrain
Buick 24 100.0% Powertrain (25%) Lucerne Powertrain
Cadillac 11 -31.2% Powertrain (22%) DTS Steering
Chevrolet 295 -10.1% Powertrain (26%) Cobalt Fuel/ Emission/ Exhaust System
Chrysler 70 -7.9% Powertrain (39%) Town and Country Interior Electronics/ Hardware
Dodge 187 -3.1% Powertrain (33%) Grand Caravan Interior Electronics/ Hardware
Fiat 2 N/A Brakes (50%) 500 Brakes
Ford 474 20.9% Powertrain (60%) Escape Powertrain
GMC 55 0.0% Powertrain (38%) Acadia Powertrain
Honda 120 -23.6% Powertrain (31%) Civic Powertrain
HUMMER 5 0.0% Powertrain (50%) H3 Airbags and Seatbelts
Hyundai 94 -11.3% Powertrain (29%) Sonata Airbags and Seatbelts
Infiniti 17 -10.5% Airbags and Seatbelts (33%) JX Airbags and Seatbelts
Jaguar 1 -50.0% Powertrain (67%) XK-Series Powertrain
Jeep 181 11.7% Powertrain (33%) Wrangler Fuel/ Emission/ Exhaust System
Kia 37 -46.4% Powertrain (34%) Optima Interior Electronics/ Hardware
Land Rover 4 33.3% Body and Glass (43%) Range Rover Body and Glass
Lexus 12 -7.7% Body and Glass (24%) ES 350 Brakes
Lincoln 10 -23.1% Powertrain (52%) LS Powertrain
Mazda 33 -13.2% Powertrain (58%) MAZDA3 Tires and Wheels
Mercedes-Benz 46 -8.0% Fuel/ Emission/ Exhaust System (45%) E-Class Fuel/ Emission/ Exhaust System
Mercury 41 95.2% Powertrain (47%) Mariner Powertrain
MINI 27 -3.6% Powertrain (40%) Cooper Steering
Mitsubishi 4 -20.0% Airbags and Seatbelts (33%) Lancer Airbags and Seatbelts
Nissan 421 -6.0% Powertrain (58%) Altima Powertrain
Pontiac 102 41.7% Steering (29%) G6 Exterior Lighting
Porsche 0 -100.0% Powertrain (100%) -- --
Ram 3 -62.5% Steering (27%) 1500 Powertrain
Saab 7 75.0% Fuel/ Emission/ Exhaust System (36%) 9-3 Powertrain
Saturn 41 -30.5% Powertrain (40%) Aura Exterior Lighting
Scion 22 57.1% Body and Glass (33%) tC Body and Glass
smart 0 -100.0% Powertrain (25%) -- --
Subaru 39 -20.4% Powertrain (30%) Outback Powertrain
Toyota 237 -22.3% Powertrain (28%) Prius Exterior Lighting
Volkswagen 41 -46.1% Powertrain (59%) Jetta Powertrain
Volvo 6 -57.1% Powertrain (40%) C70 Chassis suspension and axles
Total 2,824 --      

(1) The Model Complaints Leader is the Model for each Brand which received the most complaints for the reported month and year.
(2) The Top Category is the complaints category for that Model Complaints Leader which received the most complaints

Category Breakdown

Complaints concerning the Powertrain saw approximately a 1% decrease from January; however, it still continues to be the most complained about category, making up 40% of all complaints received. The largest increase in complaints from January to February came from Interior Electronics / Hardware, with a 20.4% increase from the previous month. A majority of these complaints were about Interior Electronic malfunction.

February 2013 Complaints by Category


Category Definitions

Airbags and Seatbelts
Complaints related to the functioning of airbags and seatbelts. Examples include: air bags that don't deploy when expected, air bags that deploy on their own, seatbelt retractor or buckle difficulties.

Body and Glass
These complaint reports include mechanical faults related to the integrity of body panels or problems with external systems such as windshield wipers, doors or cargo hatch operation. Concerns with design factors such as outward visibility and blind spots are also included.

Complaints related to issues that occur when braking, such as: pull left or right, brake lock-up, high or low pedal effort, long pedal travel, reduced braking effectiveness, noise and vibration, and warning lights associated with the brake system.

Chassis suspension and axles
Complaints in this category describe symptoms related to a car's suspension, not including steering, but including symptoms like suspension noise and/or vibration, suspension breakage, separation of a tire and wheel from the vehicle, stability/traction control malfunction or warning lights.

Exterior Lighting
Includes complaints dealing with the operation of headlights, turn signals, brake lights, any other exterior lighting or their associated control systems. Examples include: one or both headlights fail prematurely, loss of tail or brake lights.

Fuel/Emission/Exhaust System
These complaints involve a vehicle's fuel, emissions or exhaust system. Examples include: gas gauge malfunction, fuel tank overflow, fuel tank leakage, fuel or exhaust smell, fire, etc.

Interior Electronics/Hardware
Concerns with interior electronics or interior hardware components such as interior door locks, power accessories, heating and ventilation systems, keyless entry systems or a loss of electrical power.

This category includes complaints associated with a car's engine, transmission or driveline. Symptoms reported here are generally dynamic issues such as unintended acceleration, improper shifting, engine surge or hesitation. Other complaints such as stalling, overheating, failure to start and fluid leaks may also be included.

These complaints describe problems with steering a vehicle, such as: drift or pull to one side when driving straight, loss of steering response, loss of power assist/high effort, unusual noise and/or vibration that occurs while steering, steering that sticks or freezes.

Wheels and Tires
Complaints filed here relate to wheel and tire problems such as tread separation, valve stem leaks or rim failures, but they can also include problems with tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) or difficulties with the spare tire and jack.

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