In what could turn out to be a stunning reversal for the auto industry, late-model used cars have gotten less dependable for the first time since 1998, J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study has found.
The widely watched report card on how well cars hold up over time says owners of three-year-old vehicles (2011 models) reported six per cent more troubles than owners of three-year-old vehicles (2010 models) did last year.
Power says it's the first time quality has declined since the 1998 survey.
Automakers, especially the Big Three, are striving to convince buyers quality is continuing to rise and that their vehicles will run a long time without problems.
A Honda TV ad, for example, shows a proud dad pointing out to his blasé daughter that the car just hit 100,000 miles. Chevrolet's tag line asserts its trucks are the "longest-lasting, most-dependable."
Such claims will become hard to swallow if the latest Power VDS isn't simply a hiccup, but instead shows the start of annually declining dependability.
That's possible. Problems that showed up in the 2014 VDS suggest "a continuing challenge" for car companies in maintaining quality as vehicles age, said David Sargent, Power's global automotive vice-president.
"Some of the changes that automakers implemented for the 2011 model year have led to a noticeable increase in problems reported," he said.
The biggest contributor to the decline: engine and transmission issues. Those accounted for nearly six of the seven additional problems per 100 vehicles reported in this year's study.
The 2011 models had 133 problems per 100 cars, while a year earlier, 2010 models had 126 problems per 100.
Among engines/transmissions, "The decline in quality is particularity acute for vehicles with four-cylinder engines," Power reports.
In the move to smaller engines as a way to boost fuel economy to meet federal regulations tightening to an average 4.31 litres per 100 km (54.5 mpg) in 2026, automakers have saddled drivers with "engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts and lack of power."
Building new cars and trucks that remain largely free of troubles is worth repeat sales to automakers. Power data show 56 per cent of owners who reported no problems stayed with the same brand next time they bought a new car or truck. And shoppers are much more likely to avoid models from brands with low dependability rankings, Power data show.
The survey is based on responses from more than 41,000 original owners of three-year-old vehicles.
It is different from Power's Initial Quality Study, or IQS. That measures the number of things gone wrong with new vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership.
The VDS scores gives brands overall scores -- Lexus was by far the best -- and also breaks out the results into segments based on size and type of vehicle.
General Motors was segment champ, tops in eight. Toyota won seven.
Brand scores: The number indicates problems per 100 cars for 2011 models; lower is better.
- Lexus (68)
- Mercedes-Benz (104)
- Cadillac (107)
- Acura (109)
- Buick (112)
- Honda (114)
- Lincoln (114)
- Toyota (114)
- Porsche (125)
- Infiniti (128)
- BMW (130)
- Subaru (131)
- Chevrolet (132)
- Jaguar (132)
- Mazda (132)
- GMC (133)
- INDUSTRY AVERAGE (133)
- Ford (140)
- Nissan (142)
- Audi (151)
- Kia (151)
- Volvo (152)
- Scion (153)
- Chrysler (155)
- Volkswagen (158)
- Ram (165)
- Mitsubishi (166)
- Hyundai (169)
- Jeep (178)
- Land Rover (179)
- Dodge (181)
- Mini (185)
-- USA Today