JD Power Survey Shows Decreasing Reliability

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Lexus GS450Forget what you thought you knew about newer cars. They are actually getting worse. Well, some of them are. For the first time since 1998, JD Power’s annual report shows a decrease in average vehicle reliability. Independent information service company JD Power released their 2014 Vehicle Dependability Survey on February 12th, and it shows a six (6) percent increase in problems for 2011 model year used cars. This is a drastic change, as vehicles had been getting more reliable.

“Until this year, we have seen a continual improvement in vehicle dependability,” David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, said in a video accompanying the press release. “However, some of the changes that automakers implemented for the 2011 model year have led to a noticeable increase in problems reported.”

You might initially think of problems with touch screen infotainment/navigation systems, as new generations of iDrive, SYNC, and UCONNECT all receive poor ratings when they are first launched. However, JD Power reported the decrease in reliability mainly comes from engines and transmissions.

“Automakers are continually looking for ways to improve fuel economy, which is a primary purchase motivator for many consumers, particularly those buying smaller vehicles,” said Sargent. “However, while striving to reduce fuel consumption, automakers must be careful not to compromise quality.” Sargent said the main problems with four cylinder engines are hesitation, rough shifts, and lack of power.

2011 was after Hurricane Katrina’s gas spikes, and after President Obama’s CAFE directive that raised the average mileage standards manufacturers must meet. In order to meet the new standard, and consumer’s demands for better mileage, manufacturers started adding direct injection, continuously variable transmissions, lighter engine components, cylinder deactivation, and other technologies that might not have been ready for production.

The good news is there are some winners this year for reliability. Lexus soared past the competition, with only 68 problems per 100 cars built. Meaning, some owners had no issues at all. Second place manufacturer Mercedes-Benz had 104 issues per 100 vehicles, and Cadillac rounded out the top three most reliable, with 107 problems per 100 cars.

GM had the highest number of segment winners, with 8 cars winning their class. The Camaro won for most reliable sport coupe, the Volt won best hatchback. Toyota took home 7 awards, including most reliable midsize premium sedan, the Lexus GS. Honda was third, with 6 model winners, like the most reliable compact SUV, the CR-V.

The JD Power surveys matter, as it is a large sample at 41,000 vehicles, but also as a barometer of future buying. Many customers buy a car based on expected reliability, or avoid certain manufacturers due to perceived unreliability. Manufacturers that did well in the survey, like Toyota and GM, can expect positive press and bragging rights from these surveys, and down the road, an increase in sales.

Here’s a look at the survey results:

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