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Consumer Confidential: GM probe, Starbucks charge, toy time

GM cars are being investigated for possible shifting problems
Here's your me-and-Mrs.-Jones Monday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Heads up if you drive a GM car. Federal safety regulators are investigating problems with the automatic shift levers on several General Motors vehicles that have caused at least seven crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the probe began with complaints about the Saturn Aura mid-size car from the 2007 and 2008 model years, affecting nearly 89,000 vehicles. But the agency is now checking to see if the problems extend to other GM vehicles. The Chevy Malibu from the 2004 to 2008 model years and the Pontiac G6 from the 2005 to 2008 model years have similar shifting systems, the agency says. GM says it's cooperating with the investigation.

--Starbucks is no longer charging extra for some coffee beans. The company has stopped tacking on a surcharge for bags of coffee beans weighing less than a pound after a Massachusetts consumer-protection agency fined the company over the practice. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation found in August that the coffee giant wasn't notifying customers that it was adding a surcharge of about $1.50 for bags of beans weighing less than a pound. That meant beans listed at $11.95 per pound ended up costing $7.45 for a half-pound -- not $5.98, or half the price. Starbucks quietly stopped adding the surcharge nationwide Nov. 7.

--Because it's never too early to think about holiday shopping, here's the word from Toys R Us: The company will kick off its Black Friday sales an hour earlier this year, opening its doors at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening. Toys R Us will be one of several stores opening on the night before Black Friday. Last week, Wal-Mart said it would open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Toy deals will include a free $50 gift card with the purchase of any Apple iPod touch; LeapFrog Leapsters for $24.99, marked down 50% from the regular price; 40% off Ultimate Optimus Prime Transformers, which are usually $79.99; and 10 Squinkies packs for $10, which are regularly $2.49 each. And I know I'll get in trouble for asking this, but what's a Squinkie?

-- David Lazarus

Photo: GM cars are being investigated for possible shifting problems. Credit: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News

 
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