Vehicle Dependability Study shows problems are rising

February 18, 2014 12:00 AM

Dependability is arguably one of the most important factors for car owners when they are choosing a vehicle. Particularly when purchasing a used car, it's an important aspect to consider. After all, buying an automobile is a significant investment, so it's worth ensuring that the vehicle will not demand excessive auto repair to function or experience major problems down the road. Ideally, the life of the car will match what the consumer paid for it, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. One would expect that vehicle dependability would improve with each passing year, but in fact, recent studies suggest otherwise. According to a new J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, problems are actually rising, whether or not you complete scheduled maintenance.

Recent changes impact reliability
This report analyzed and assessed the problems that car owners with 2011 model-year vehicles faced during the last 12 months. What the study found is that owners of 3-year-old vehicles reported more issues than those who had 3-year-old automobiles last year. J.D. Power then assigned a dependability score to the models examined, which was determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles. A lower score indicated higher quality. Overall, vehicle dependability averages rose by 6 percent from 126 PP100 in 2013 to 133PP100 in 2014. This is a significant finding as it's the first case since 1998 in which the average number of issues increased. David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, pointed out that automakers seem to have incorporated changes into 2011 models that led to greater problems than models in previous years.

So what were the major problems these car owners are facing? While they varied greatly, J.D. Power did find that engine and transmission problems increased by about 6 PP100 year over year. The company also determined that vehicles with 4-cylinder engines were especially susceptible to these problems. Overall, both smaller and large diesel engines experienced these issues more often than 5- and 6-cylinder engines. Sargent offered an explanation for this trend.

"Automakers are continually looking for ways to improve fuel economy, which is a primary purchase motivator for many consumers, particularly those buying smaller vehicles," he stated. "However, while striving to reduce fuel consumption, automakers must be careful not to compromise quality. Increases in such problems as engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts and lack of power indicate that this is a continuing challenge."

Standout vehicles remain relatively problem-free
On the other side of the spectrum, J.D. Power's research did reveal that there are a few reliable vehicle brands which may not be as problematic. For the third year in a row, Lexus was ranked No. 1 in dependability, with an impressive average of 68 PP100. Mercedes-Benz took the second slot, followed closely by Cadillac, Acura and Buick. J.D. Power also awarded one winning vehicle to a variety of categories, from Best Sub-Compact Car to Best Large Heavy Duty Pickup and Best Minivan. General Motors Company swept with a considerable eight segment awards for the Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS, Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Volt, GMC Sierra HD, GMC Sierra LD and GMC Yukon. Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corporation achieved seven awards and Honda Motor Company garnered six. 

Unsurprisingly, J.D. Power research found that dependability is directly related to brand loyalty. In fact, 56 percent of owners who didn't report any car problems stuck with the same automaker when they bought their next vehicle, while that percentage dropped to 42 percent among people who reported three or more issues. Additionally, the study determined that 23 percent of consumers avoided brands with low dependability rankings because of concerns about reliability. On the other hand, only 9 percent of car buyers pointed to that same worry as the reason for avoiding brands in the top dependability quartile.

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