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Auto sales, home repair, debt disputes top consumer gripes

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The new list of the top consumer complaints is out and once again problems with auto sales and repairs are No. 1. Home improvement and construction along with credit and debt disputes continue to be high on this year's list.

Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), said the list shows "the persistence of complaints related to economic hardship" from foreclosure problems to landlords skimping on the heat as well as "the boundless creativity of scammers to find new ways to fleece consumers."

The top 10 list of consumer complaints for 2012 is based on a survey by CFA and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators of forty state and local consumer protection agencies across the country.

Complaints related to autos are all across the board and include: misrepresenting the true mileage of a used car, selling used vehicles with undisclosed mechanical problems, deceptive sales practices and unlicensed used car dealers.

(Read more: Auto insurers don't play fair with customers, study finds)

"It's really no surprise that auto transactions continue to lead the list of complaints. Not only have cars become more complex and expensive, but many dealers still can't get it right when it comes to treating their customers fairly and with respect," said Jack Gillis, CFA's director of public affairs and author of "The Car Book 2013."

The report suggests various ways you can protect yourself. They include:

  • Get a second opinion about any significant car repair. You'll probably need to pay for the mechanic's time, but it could save you money and a lot of hassles in the long run. Get a written estimate so you won't be surprised by the charge for the diagnosis.
  • Before buying a used car, check its history so you'll know what you're bargaining for. Most states participate in the National Motor Vehicle Administration, which lets you get information about the title, confirm whether the mileage that shows on the odometer is accurate, and whether the car was previously declared a total wreck.
  • Don't buy any used vehicle until you have it inspected by an independent mechanic you trust to look for hidden mechanical or safety problems.

(Read more: Watch out for the 'change my address' scam)

Here are the rest of the nation's Top 10 Consumer Complaints for 2012:

2. Home Improvement/Construction: The most common problems reported were shoddy work and failure to start or complete the job on time.

3. Credit/Debt: Complaints ranged from billing and fee disputes to bogus credit repair and mortgage-related fraud. The agencies reported various illegal or abusive debt collection tactics, including harassing phone calls and attempting to collect a debt that was not owed.

4. Utilities: Service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas service were frequently cited.

5. Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates and failure to deliver were listed.

6. Services: Complaints included misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses and failure to perform.

7. Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations and do-not-call violations were among the complaints.

8. Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes as well as illegal eviction tactics were included.

9. Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices and failure to deliver online purchases were among the complaints.

10. Household Goods: Complaints included misrepresentations, failure to deliver and faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.

The consumer protection agencies were asked what new laws they would like to see passed this year. The list included:

  • Require online businesses to have customer service phone numbers with live personnel to make it easier for consumers and consumer agencies to resolve complaints.
  • Give consumers an automatic right to cancel vacation travel club memberships, any purchase costing more than $1,000 and any transaction for which they cannot get financing, such as car purchases.
  • Telemarketers should be required to keep recordings of the entire calls, not just the portions where consumers agree to the purchases, to capture all representations that were made.
  • Consumer contracts and terms of service should be limited to a certain length and required to be written at a sixth-grade reading level.

You can read the full report at Top Ten Consumer Complaints 2012.

(Read more: Why aren't phone companies doing more to block robocalls?)

—By CNBC contributor Herb Weisbaum. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @TheConsumerman or visit The ConsumerMan website.

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