Consumer Tips

PROTECTING YOURSELF IN A COMPLEX MARKETPLACE — Our researchers and attorneys provide key tips for how you can shop for the best bank, get the best car loan, protect against identity theft, and more.

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Being a consumer in today’s marketplace can be tough. Financial decisions in particular often require navigating a torrent of misleading advertisements and pages of jargon-filled small print. Even the simplest choices — everyday financial decisions like opening a credit card, creating a bank account, applying for a loan, or sorting through cell phone contracts — can take time, energy and knowledge that too many of us don’t have.
   
Many financial institutions don’t set out to make it easier for their customers:

  • 1 out of every 20 Americans — millions of consumers — have errors on their credit reports significant enough to raise their rate on loans.
  • Financing cars through dealerships costs consumers more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest.
  • From 2005 to 2010, identity theft rose by 33%. In 2012, an estimated 12.6 million Americans became victims. That is 1 victim every 3 seconds. 
  • Banks made around $11 billion in overdraft fees in 2015, fees they pitched as “overdraft protection” but actually cost consumers more.

Despite these practices, there are ways to protect yourself. We want to help. This is why we’ve created the following tip sheets based on common complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Read on. Protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

File a complaint if you have a problem

For all sorts of everyday consumer problems, there are government resources that can help. Federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Consumer Product Safety Commission exist to protect us from unfair or dangerous products. Submitting complaints to government agencies can help resolve your problem AND it helps these agencies hold companies accountable for unfair practices. For more information, consult our tip sheet on the subject, which includes information on how to contact the CFPB with financial complaints, the CPSC with toy and other product safety complaints, the NHTSA with car safety complaints, and DOT with air travel complaints: How to File a Consumer Complaint and Use Government Databases.

Keeping Track of Your Money:

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:

Common Consumer Problems:

Please note that these tips are not intended as, nor should they be construed as, legal advice. If you need legal advice dealing with a consumer problem, consult an attorney.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Proposed rule would remove unsafe, inclined infant sleepers from market

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

> Keep Reading

1 in 7 used cars at Texas AutoNation lots have unrepaired safety recalls, study finds

America's largest auto retailer AutoNation is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls, according to a study by the Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. Those recalls include explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and other defects with no known fixes.

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Unsafe Used Cars for Sale

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls. Those vehicles are potentially hazardous to the people who buy them, their passengers and everyone else on the road. Vehicles with defects subject to safety recalls – including malfunctioning Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches – have been responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Investigation finds 1 in 7 used cars for sale at surveyed Texas AutoNation lots have unrepaired safety recalls

AutoNation, America’s largest auto retailer, is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls including explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and defects with no fix available. Unsafe Used Cars for Sale, a new report from Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation, 1 in 7 cars for sale in Texas at AutoNation dealerships are dangerous to drivers, passengers and others who share the roads. 

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

The survey found numerous unsafe cars among more than 2,400 vehicles analyzed at 28 dealerships in 12 states. 1 in 9 cars for sale at all surveyed dealerships had active recalls and specifically, 1 in 7 cars at surveyed Texas dealerships have recalls. The recalled vehicles had defects that could cause vehicles to stall in traffic, seat belts to fail, Takata air bags to propel metal fragments at passengers, cars to catch on fire, or steering to malfunction.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

New analysis uncovers unsafe blood pressure medication distributed in US

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Proposed rule would remove unsafe, inclined infant sleepers from market

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

> Keep Reading

1 in 7 used cars at Texas AutoNation lots have unrepaired safety recalls, study finds

America's largest auto retailer AutoNation is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls, according to a study by the Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. Those recalls include explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and other defects with no known fixes.

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Investigation finds 1 in 7 used cars for sale at surveyed Texas AutoNation lots have unrepaired safety recalls

AutoNation, America’s largest auto retailer, is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls including explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and defects with no fix available. Unsafe Used Cars for Sale, a new report from Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation, 1 in 7 cars for sale in Texas at AutoNation dealerships are dangerous to drivers, passengers and others who share the roads. 

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

The survey found numerous unsafe cars among more than 2,400 vehicles analyzed at 28 dealerships in 12 states. 1 in 9 cars for sale at all surveyed dealerships had active recalls and specifically, 1 in 7 cars at surveyed Texas dealerships have recalls. The recalled vehicles had defects that could cause vehicles to stall in traffic, seat belts to fail, Takata air bags to propel metal fragments at passengers, cars to catch on fire, or steering to malfunction.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

New analysis uncovers unsafe blood pressure medication distributed in US

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

1 in 10 surveyed daycares still using deadly, recalled infant sleepers

Three months after nearly 5.4 million infant sleepers were recalled for causing 36 infant deaths, a new survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education (U.S. PIRG) and Kids in Danger (KID) revealed that many child care facilities continue to use these dangerous inclined sleepers. The survey began after PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber discovered that his own son’s daycare in Philadelphia was using the recalled products.

“Every day, millions of parents drop their kids off, assuming their daycares have the information they need to keep their kids safe,” said Garber. “This failed recall is a wakeup call that our current system leaves too many infants at risk from these dangerous sleepers.”

U.S. PIRG and KID blamed the situation on confusing messages about the recall. Initially, a consumer warning for the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play on April 4th linked deaths to infant rollovers, leading some parents and facilities to conclude that proper use would keep babies safe. But a more complete analysis revealed some deaths occurred when the child was buckled in, leading the company and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to fully recall the 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play sleepers soon after on April 14. On April 26, nearly 700,000 units of the Kids II Rocking Sleeper were recalled.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Unsafe Used Cars for Sale

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls. Those vehicles are potentially hazardous to the people who buy them, their passengers and everyone else on the road. Vehicles with defects subject to safety recalls – including malfunctioning Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches – have been responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Driving Into Debt

In much of America, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies – including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies, and meager support for other modes of transportation – have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Fixed for the Holidays

Why Shop Refurbished?

Black Friday prices year-round: You can usually find great deals on used electronics, getting something that’s like-new, but for a sizable discount. Technically, the minute you open a new device, it becomes used, so the difference between a used and new item can be negligible. You can get an item that’s close to new at prices lower than Black Friday deals.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2017

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

30 Years of "Trouble in Toyland," 30 Years of Safety Improvements | Anna Low-Beer

Every year, U.S. PIRG Education Fund releases Trouble in Toyland, a report on toy safety which examines toys bought at major national retailers, looking for safety hazards including toxic toys, choking hazards, labeling violations, powerful magnets, and excessibely loud toys. We continue to find these hazards on store shelves, which indicates the need for continued vigilance and adequate enforcement of safety regulations. But despite lingering dangers, in the last 30 years, we've come a long way in terms of both policy and compliance with standards.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

Media Hit

America's largest auto retailer AutoNation is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls, according to a study by the Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. Those recalls include explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and other defects with no known fixes.

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls. Those vehicles are potentially hazardous to the people who buy them, their passengers and everyone else on the road. Vehicles with defects subject to safety recalls – including malfunctioning Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches – have been responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.

Every AutoNation location surveyed was found to have unsafe, recalled used vehicles for sale.

• Researchers surveyed used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations in 16 metro areas across the nation during July and August 2019. Out of 2,429 vehicles surveyed, 285 had unrepaired safety recalls. 

• Some dealerships had a significantly greater proportion of used vehicles under recall than others. At the Chrysler Jeep West (CO) location, nearly 1 in 5 used vehicles had an unrepaired safety recall. At the Honda Fremont (CA), Hyundai Denver (CO), Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and Fiat Johnson City (TN) and Subaru Spokane Valley (WA) dealerships, more than 1 in 6 used vehicles contained an unrepaired safety recall.

• Even “certified” pre-owned vehicles often have unresolved recalls. Our survey found 14 instances of “certified” cars with unrepaired safety recalls.

All vehicle safety recalls should be taken seriously, and vehicles should be repaired before sale to consumers for use on the roads. Some victims have been killed within hours of when a dealer handed them the key to a defective car.

69 of the 2,429 used vehicles surveyed contained recalled Takata airbags that have been linked to 24 deaths and over 200 injuries globally. Exploding shrapnel from defective airbags has caused blindness and brain injury, as well as death from blood loss.

Some recalled used vehicles at AutoNation had no remedy available. 

Of the vehicles surveyed, 47 (16 percent of recalled vehicles) had an unrepaired safety recall for which a remedy wasn’t available at the time of the analysis. Consumers who purchase such a vehicle may have to wait for months or longer before their unsafe recalled vehicle can be repaired.

AutoNation advertises that its used vehicles are “worry free.”

AutoNation claims on its website that “we take the risk out of buying a pre-owned vehicle,” and that “as an industry leader we hold ourselves to higher standards.” It also purports to “provide promises and processes you won’t find anywhere else,” and advertises its pre-owned vehicles as “worry free.”

However, former AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson has admitted that vehicles with safety recalls are far from “worry free.” In 2016, Automotive News reported that he said: 

"These are not that the wrong tire-pressure sticker is on the car or some other little minor item. …These are significant safety recalls, and we feel the time has passed that it's appropriate to take a vehicle in trade with a significant safety recall and turn around the next day and sell it to consumers.”

His statement was referencing the promise that AutoNation made in 2015 not to sell used vehicles with unrepaired recalls. But this pledge lasted less than 18 months. On November 28, 2016, AutoNation walked back on its promise and began to market recalled vehicles.

Many recalled vehicles are at dealers with service shops capable of making repairs in-house.

Most AutoNation dealerships are franchisees which sell new cars that are affiliated with a specific manufacturer and have service shops that specialize in fixing that manufacturer’s vehicles. Since recalled vehicles typically must be returned to an authorized dealer for repairs, this should make it easier for those dealerships to make repairs to used recalled vehicles of the same brand, as a service department capable of making the repairs often exists on site. But, our survey found 62 used vehicles that were being sold by AutoNation dealerships of the same make as the vehicle under recall. 

Dealers’ sales of used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls may be illegal. 

All states prohibit licensed dealers, including those that sell used vehicles, from engaging in practices such as bait and switch, false advertising, unfair and deceptive acts and practices, fraud, violating express or implied warranties and the common law duty of care, negligence or causing wrongful death. AutoNation’s failure to repair recalled cars despite promising that it is selling vehicles that are of high quality may violate these provisions. 

Auto dealers should not sell unrepaired recalled used cars to consumers. To help address the risks posed by AutoNation’s sales of unsafe recalled vehicles to consumers:

Policy recommendations

  • The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., should grant the relief requested by Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, U.S. PIRG, and the Center for Auto Safety, and overturn the Federal Trade Commission’s consent orders with GM and with the automotive dealership chains CarMax, Lithia, Koons, West-Herr and Asbury that allows them to advertise that unsafe vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls are "safe," "subject to rigorous inspections," "repaired for safety," and "certified," as long as they merely disclose that the vehicles may have an open safety recall.

  • The Federal Trade Commission should prohibit AutoNation and other dealers from engaging in deceptive and unfair practices, such as advertising its used vehicles as “worry free” and high-quality when they have unrepaired safety recalls. 

  • State attorneys general should investigate AutoNation and other dealers who engage in such practices, and enforce existing state laws that prohibit them from selling unsafe, unrepaired recalled vehicles to the motoring public. 

  • AutoNation should honor the commitment it made in 2015 and re-institute its former policy of not selling used cars with unrepaired recalls. Dealerships across the country should follow suit and implement policies that prevent the sale of used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls. 

For consumers

  • As long as dealers continue to sell vehicles with unrepaired recalls, consumers should investigate any used vehicle they plan on purchasing to make sure that it does not contain unrepaired recalls. If the vehicle does have an unrepaired recall, consumers should refuse to buy it until it has been repaired by the seller at an authorized dealership.

  • If you recently purchased a used car, you should look up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) at www.safecar.gov. If there is an unrepaired recall, go to any of the manufacturer’s authorized dealerships to have it fixed. 

  • If you own a vehicle that is subject to a safety recall, and the parts are not available to fix the recall, insist on getting a safe loaner or rental vehicle from the manufacturer. 

  • Consumers or surviving family members harmed by dealers who sold unrepaired, recalled used cars should consult an attorney in their state who specializes in representing consumers in auto warranty and auto fraud litigation.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

AutoNation, America’s largest auto retailer, is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls including explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and defects with no fix available. Unsafe Used Cars for Sale, a new report from Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation, 1 in 7 cars for sale in Texas at AutoNation dealerships are dangerous to drivers, passengers and others who share the roads. 

“By selling recalled cars with safety defects, AutoNation endangers customers’ lives before they even reach home,” said Adam Garber, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog. “The only way that AutoNation can ensure a ‘worry-free’ purchase is to repair every recalled vehicle before selling it.”

The survey found numerous unsafe cars among more than 2,400 vehicles analyzed at 28 dealerships in 12 states. 1 in 9 cars for sale at all surveyed dealerships had active recalls and specifically, 1 in 7 cars at surveyed Texas dealerships have recalls. The recalled vehicles had defects that could cause vehicles to stall in traffic, seat belts to fail, Takata air bags to propel metal fragments at passengers, cars to catch on fire, or steering to malfunction.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

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