The 5 most complained about cars

Wondering which vehicles get the most complaints? We tell you the five models most likely to have their owners swearing on the side of the road.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 25, 2014 12:12PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News. 


Money Talks News on MSN MoneySome vehicle models seem to be born lemons. Whether it's through faulty design, poor manufacturing or plain dumb luck, some models experience the same problems over and over again.

It could be a transmission that gives out well before its time. Or maybe the electrical system decides it no longer wants to open doors automatically. Once you start talking to other owners with the same vehicle, you realize that, oh, everyone has this problem.

Wouldn't it be nice to have that information before buying your next car?

Fortunately, there is a way to figure out the cars with the most complaints.

The most complained about cars this year

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the go-to source for car complaint information. The federal agency collects consumer complaints and files them away in a public database. If too many complaints come in about a safety issue, the NHTSA may investigate and require a recall.

Jack Gillis, a consumer advocate, analyzes the NHTSA data each year and assigns vehicles an index score based on the number of complaints compared with the vehicle's sales.

These are the vehicles topping the 2014 Car Complaint Index:

  • Nissan Pathfinder.
  • Infiniti QX60.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe.
  • Ford Focus.
  • Cadillac ATS.

While the top three vehicles had complaint index scores above 20,000 -- 29,527, 23,691 and 23,657, respectively -- the number drops off significantly between the third and fourth spot, with the Ford Focus having an index score of 13,179. Again, these numbers represent an index score and are not the actual number of complaints.

You can view the rest of the top 20 list here.

Car on road (© Brand X/SuperStock)Do your homework before buying

While the Car Complaint Index can be helpful in weeding out models with the most complaints, what about when you want to buy that 2009 Chevy Uplander or 2012 VW Jetta? How do you know if those might be a headache waiting to happen?

Before buying a used car, head to the NHTSA website and search for complaints yourself. You'll find the 2009 Uplander has two complaints, one regarding the electrical system and the other about engine power. Meanwhile, the 2012 Jetta has 102 complaints, one investigation and three recalls.

Of course, it's not surprising that more popular cars may have more complaints. Rather than looking at the number of complaints, it may be more beneficial to scan them for common themes. Is the same problem occurring again and again? Then, before buying a used car, ask whether that particular problem has already occurred and been fixed.

You can search the NHTSA website here, and if you want to file your own complaint, here's a direct link to the form.

This new NHTSA site lets you type in a car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, to see if the car has been recalled but not fixed.

The NHTSA database can be helpful, but it shouldn't necessarily make or break a car purchase. For more tips and advice, check out our article on Carfax and how else to protect yourself from buying a clunker.

More from Money Talks News


Aug 25, 2014 9:27PM
Interesting that 2 out of the 5 were luxury cars. So paying a buttload doesn't promise a good car

Aug 25, 2014 6:26PM
From all the recalls I would say anything gm would be the worst cars
Aug 26, 2014 6:33AM
So, they listed the top 5 vehicles for complaints, but did not list the complaints themselves?
Aug 26, 2014 8:40AM
Worked a long time in the auto industry and I can tell you that a lot of these complaints are problems with the customers and not the car. You would not believe how many cars we "repaired" to make the customer happy. That would mean replacing good parts and at times telling them that our number one worlds best highly trained technician fixed it. They would then go away, come back for a oil change in a month or so and tell us that she was running great. In house records noted NPF (no problem found) on these cars and we would bill the factory for check out time which was little and absorb the rest. With these customers you always wished that they would buy some other brand next time around and haunt them instead.   
Aug 25, 2014 8:30PM
Considering all the crap your govt has your manufactures go through it's a wonder any of them work.
Aug 25, 2014 8:06PM
GM should be 1 thru 5,biggest American traitors and junk makers
Aug 25, 2014 8:52PM
GM used to be a proud brand. Jump in bed with the Govt and you turn to trash.
Aug 26, 2014 10:36AM
Sounds like the Nissan Pathfinder is living up to its name, though. It finds the shortest path to the repair shop.
Aug 25, 2014 8:41PM
every time i see a GM on the side of the road,it makes me sing"LIKE A ROCK'
Aug 26, 2014 11:33AM
Wonder why the Focus is the best selling small car in the world for 2 years now...Maybe MSN is full of crap...
Aug 26, 2014 10:49AM
I love my Saturn's and F-350's.   Like any car/truck, the owner has an impact on it's reliability.
Aug 25, 2014 11:04PM
I am willing to bet Educated in MI is either more ignorant than all the other posters here or is a good union man who gets all his propaganda from the UAW newsletter.
Aug 26, 2014 9:24AM

Ford Focus?

Why would anybody complain about a car that costs about 12 bucks...

Aug 26, 2014 7:25AM
I currently own a 2008 Ford Focus that had only 45,000 miles on it when I bought it. I found out that rats chewed the 3 main electrical coils, yet since it was under warranty, I had not have to spend any money to replace the coils. It runs pretty good.

So I'm guessing the complaints are for the 2014 Focus and not the earlier models. 
Aug 26, 2014 3:24PM
The problem is, Americans are born complainers. They complain about anything, and everything. It's damn if you do, or damn if you don't. If you don't like your car, then buy a horse. Then you will probably complain about horse farts. Never happy about anything.
Aug 26, 2014 1:12AM
Confirmation!  I had a 2003 Focus station wagon that did, indeed, have a bad rear wheel bearing.  But that's the only problem I've had with My favorite fords since.  Uh, until my 2013 C-Max had a coolant leak around the exhaust manifold.  Fixed  on the 100K warranty and I love the car.  Drive one, they're greaaaat! 
Aug 26, 2014 8:57AM
All cars are POS's, just some are bigger POS's than others. 
Aug 26, 2014 11:48AM
I currently own a 2002 Ford Focus ZTS Manual with 182,000 miles on it. I bought it used with 80,000 miles. This car is great. I have had no major issues with it and the transmission and engine are still working strongly. I only now have to replace the Cat Converter and Alternator. Not a big deal as the car is 12 years old and this stuff does break down eventually. I previously bought a 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer brand new way back and that thing was a POS. It was also manual and the transmission went bad a little after 100,000 miles on it. I also had other major issues with it. Garbage. I'm happy with my Focus and will continue to drive it into the ground. Anyway 3 of my friends have the new Focus and love it. No problems thus far with about 50,000 on it.
Aug 26, 2014 10:34AM
Is anyone else glad that the pretentious "all-that" has been "run outta town on a rail?"

Aug 25, 2014 11:41PM
If the Ford Focus is such a bad car, why is it in demand? Even to the point that I have been offered considerably more for mine than it is worth. And that is by more than one dealer as well as private individuals.
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