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I hate to complain, but...

As the information services correspondent for OOIDA, I have received a number of questions and comments including complaints about goods or services that truckers have purchased from a variety of sources. Naturally, these hard-working truckers would like to either get what they paid for or their money refunded, but many times they just don’t know how to go about doing that. Here is some useful information that should help:

I recently received a handy little book called the “Consumer Action Handbook.” It is published by the U.S. General Services Administration, and it’s free for the asking. It is full of valuable information on everything from buying tips to how to complain after you buy something that you aren’t satisfied with. You can get your copy by writing to: Handbook, Federal Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009 or by calling 1-888-878-3256. This is a book that is definitely worth the space on your bookshelf.

While you’re waiting for your copy, I’ll give you a little preview. Let’s say you bought a gadget for your truck that was supposed to help you save money on fuel costs and the darn thing just doesn’t work. You either want a new one that works or your money back, but you don’t know how to go about getting the problem resolved. Here are some hints from the handbook:

First, read the instructions that came with the product. That’s a tough one for those of us who are impatient and don’t have time to wade through the endless pages of directions in five different languages, but believe it or not, it’s worth it. The warranty could be voided if you don’t use or maintain the product as instructed.

Next, save everything. Keep a file for things like receipts, warranties and owner’s manuals. These documents come in handy whenever something goes wrong.

If it comes to the point when you have to make a complaint, you’ll need to know where to direct it. Most people initially contact the place of business that sold them the product or service. You could also complain directly to the consumer affairs office of the company that manufactures the item or to the corporate headquarters.

When you make your complaint (letter, fax, e-mail or telephone call), be sure to plainly state your name and address, any account numbers and a telephone number where you can be easily reached. Give them as much information as you have available on the item or service in question, but try to be brief. There’s no point in using profanity or making threats. Tell them precisely what you want done to resolve your complaint. If you’re making a telephone complaint, be sure to write down the name of the person you talked to and make note of comments or promises made by this party, along with the date of contact. Give them a reasonable time frame for which you expect results and mark it on your calendar. Consider making your written complaint via registered mail with a return receipt requested and keep copies of any written correspondence regarding the complaint.

Once a reasonable amount of time has elapsed without any action towards a resolution, it’s time to call in the big guns. The next step is to file a complaint with your state’s attorney general’s office, consumer protection division. You can also complain to the Better Business Bureau and any commission that may have regulatory jurisdiction over the business that jilted you. Give them any information that you have regarding your complaint and the steps you’ve taken so far in order to get it resolved.

Another source of help can be found through various call for action media programs. You can contact local newspapers, TV and radio stations, which may be connected to a network of consumer hotlines. These hotlines will assist you with your complaint. It sounds a little drastic, but it might just be what you need to achieve results … and you could become a celebrity of sorts to boot!

Small claims court is also an option for complaint resolution. Fees are usually minimal, and you won’t need an attorney for your day in court. The small claims court is informal, and judges shouldn’t intimidate you. If the other party doesn’t show up in court, you may automatically receive judgment in your favor. If you want your day in court, but still feel a little hesitant about presenting your case, you might consider sitting in on a small claims court session or two so that you’ll know what to expect when it’s your turn.

The important thing to remember is don’t give up. You can get your complaints resolved with some patience and lots of persistence.