BBB Auto Line Statistics Show Slim Chance of Relief in 2013

by Harry Bradley on February 6, 2014

BBB Auto Line Statistics 2013The 2013 numbers are in. The BBB Auto Line, the largest lemon law arbitration program in the U.S., recently published last year’s statistics showing continued slim recovery percentages for applicants to their program. As stated in earlier articles, the BBB Auto Line is a typical first effort in seeking relief under state lemon laws. It’s a place where owners can voice their concerns to the manufacturer through a neutral intermediary before proceeding further with a lemon claim. It’s fast and allows a consumer to fully and completely detail their vehicle’s problems in writing using simplified, pre-printed forms supplied by the BBB. The participant numbers and recovery percentages at first glance show good results for consumers resolving their disputes as 27% of those arbitrating received repurchase awards as well as a 26% of those reaching mid-arbitration settlements. However, the total number of awards handed out compared to the number of eligible participants shows that consumers as a whole fared much worse than first glance would indicate.

2013 BBB Auto Line Statistics show only 10.5% received a program benefit

Illustrated below are more revealing and less celebratory results from last year’s program given the totality of the Auto Line’s results for all claimants. Before I begin, I would like give huge credit to the BBB for transparency in publishing their total participant numbers. Transparency helps foster trust and confidence in any dispute resolution system and inspires faith that it operates fairly. The BBB takes a big step toward instilling a sense of fairness in their system with the disclosure of these numbers. I consider the Auto Line program to be the premium vehicle warranty arbitration service in operation today. However, given their continued slim recovery percentage for consumers, I think they can do better, as the numbers below indicate.

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The Stats

The BBB Auto Line statistics for 2013 are published here: AUTO LINE Stats

Total applicants
Total eligible
Total participants
Total receiving relief
Total receiving no relief

13,610 (78% eligible to participate)
4,338 (32% of eligible)
1,430 (33% of participants)*
2,908 (67% of participants)

*I have excluded repair and service contract awards from the award recipient totals shown by the BBB because I don’t consider awards like additional repairs to be an award at all. Claimants already have a vehicle warranty entitling them to repairs. Having failed to repair, claimants are asking for additional relief such as a repurchase – an award of yet more repairs is simply an empty box with “Award” written on it as these participants are leaving the process with no greater benefit than those they held when they started.

The Good – Strong Initial Interest

The first bit of great news concerning these numbers is the apparent strong interest in the program with 17,518 inquiries – consumers are aware of the program and want to take affirmative action in regard to their warranty disputes. In addition, 78% of those inquiring were eligible to utilize the Auto Line program as an available resource in their dispute with the vehicle manufacturer, which is also great news. Unfortunately, this is where the good news seems to drop off as we look at the actual participation numbers and awards granted which show that, on average, a claimant will most likely receive nothing from his or her participation in the process.

The Bad – Poor Continued Interest

The precipitous drop in utilization of the Auto Line process starts with a comparison of those who actually participated vs. those who were eligible. Participants represented only 32% of those who were actually eligible. The non-participation of more than two-thirds of eligible applicants is inexplicable as owners at this stage are already hopping mad at the customer non-service they’ve received and have already exchanged several calls with the dealer and the manufacturer’s call center and gotten nowhere. They’re ready to get on with the process of seeking relief. The BBB attempts to explain this low participation rate by claiming that eligible but non-participating claimants resolved their complaints directly with the company/dealer a “majority” of the time. Are they implying that over two-thirds of eligible applicants prematurely begin a lemon law review of their situation, as if the manufacturer didn’t already know of the problem? This is incredibly unlikely, but until the BBB publishes more data concerning non-participating applicants we can only speculate on the meaning of “majority” of applicants and “resolved.”

The Worse – Slim Chance of Recovery

The next unflattering aspect of the BBB’s Auto Line results from last year is the recovery percentage, or the number of those who actually received a benefit from the process. Again, let me say that this is a good program and provides benefit to consumers who have a vehicle complaint. They are fast and responsive and a consumer claimant will have a final decision in a matter of weeks. However, their numbers show that only one-third of participants received any additional benefit from participating (see note on non-beneficial awards above). Surprisingly, two-thirds received no benefit at all after full participation. The BBB seems to imply something altogether incredible with these results: that a majority of vehicle owners with problems who are willing to invest their time and energy to investigate, advocate, and participate in a claims review process are, at the end of the day, not entitled to any relief whatsoever. Can you imagine any other business which offers any other goods or services turning away two-thirds of those who make formal complaints and follow through with the entirety of the complaint process? This concept by itself is a little hard to wrap your head around, but these were the results again last year. Following this, the aggregate numbers are even more surprising.

When comparing the total number of eligible applicants (13,610) to the number actually receiving relief through the process (1,430) a consumer’s chance of recovery drops to a staggeringly meager 10.5% relief rate.

Percent of eligible applicants receiving relief
Percent of all eligible applicants receiving no relief

To be fair, the BBB has little control over eligible applicants who withdraw their complaints or otherwise choose to discontinue a review of their claims. However, the question remains, where do the almost 90% of aggrieved vehicle owners go who were once fed up enough to initiate a complaint, but then left with nothing from the service they contacted to intervene? I have my doubts that the manufacturers unilaterally provided the requested relief without additional incentive, and I would certainly hope that consumers didn’t just give up. Until the BBB releases more information on the non-participation survey results we won’t know who received early benefits and who walked away empty-handed. In any event, the data released for 2013 shows that the overall recovery rate for applicants to the BBB Auto Line is only 10.5% of all eligible applicants. This is far below the result we should expect from an open, neutral, and fairly compensating dispute resolution process, unless of course we presume that the 68% who voluntarily declined to participate received voluntary, additional benefits from the manufacturer, and that the 67% of those who fully participated but left empty-handed actually deserved to receive nothing. If any of those claimants deserved something more, then the BBB needs to do better.

Keep This in Mind – You Must Advocate Your Own Complaint

I wish to make an important point here: the BBB Auto Line is an adversarial process. It’s you vs. the manufacturer. It’s not a cooperative effort and the BBB is not your advocate or supporter. They will not take sides; they are merely the forum in which your complaints will be heard and will remain neutral throughout the claims process. You have to be your own advocate or find a qualified advocate just for you. I can’t count the number of calls I’ve taken from vehicle owners who said they received advice from the manufacturer about proceeding on their claims. Their adversary in the process (manufacturer) was advising them (claimant) how to proceed! This is the proverbial spider’s invitation to the parlour. Clients have commented to me that the manufacturer advised them they aren’t eligible for relief or eligible for the type of relief they are requesting, or they don’t have enough repairs to win their claim or the statute of limitations has passed or some other such nonsense. My point here is that you have to find someone for you. Taking the advice of your adversary in a contested proceeding is not in your best interests. At the minimum, disregard it; a better option is to find someone to advise you and only you.

Still a Good Program

I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that the BBB Auto Line is anything but a potential benefit to the consumer. The review service they provide has helped many, many people resolve their lemon law disputes with auto manufacturers and provided a benefit where previously there was none. My criticism is leveled at the fact more should receive that benefit. Their numbers from last year indicate that yet again too many eligible claimants receive no demonstrated benefit from the process. In this regard, the BBB needs to do better.

How to Have a Good BBB Auto Line Experience

For tips on how to have the best experience with your Auto Line process, see my previous post which walks you through the process: How to File a BBB Auto Line Claim.  As always, if you are unsure about your rights under the lemon law, talk to an attorney. Most will not charge for an initial consultation and can tell if you likely have a good claim within 5 minutes so don’t be shy about calling. Having someone on your side in a potentially daunting, adversarial process like the BBB Auto Line can make all the difference.

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Dan June 6, 2015 at 4:04 pm

These data make sense. I recently filed a lemon law claim with the BBB. Within 24 hours, GM called and started the process of working directly with me. I didnt even have time to complete the BBB process because there’s a substantial amount of paperwork that must be filled out and it takes several days, and dealer cooperation, to obtain the required docs.

So the BBB claim that people work directly with the manufacturer or dealer is absolutely true.

It’s very disappointing that it takes this step to get the manufacturer to respond. I tried the GM help line which was a joke. They knew nothing and only wanted to negotiate for more time to research the problem with tech support (this had already been done – twice – and they still couldn’t fix the issue).

GM still has some work to do to get their house back in order.