By on June 21, 2012

Last March I shared some preliminary car reliability stats for the FIAT 500 and new Volkswagen Passat. The 500 looked very good at the time. The Passat was at the other extreme. Another three months have passed, and TrueDelta’s car reliability stats have been updated to include owner experiences through the end of March 2012. In these updated stats, the FIAT remains excellent while the Passat has improved. But in J.D. Power’s annual Initial Quality Survey (IQS), released yesterday, they’re both awful. What gives?

The 2012 VW Passat isn’t a puzzle. At 73 repair trips per 100 cars per year in TrueDelta’s stats, it’s faring much better lately, but remains about 50 percent worse than the average. We consider this (barely) “yellow” rather than “red” because the average is quite low. J.D. Power isn’t so kind, as its ratings are based on percentiles. If a model is in the bottom 30 percent, it gets the lowest score, two stars. (There is no “one star” score.) The absolute difference between a car’s problem rate and the average problem rate is not a factor. If models are tightly bunched around the average this absolute difference could be quite small even for a “two star” model. We have no way of knowing because numerical stats are not released to the general public.

One other factor: when problems occur. Judging from responses to TrueDelta’s survey, problems with the 2012 Passat seem most prevalent during the first few months of ownership. Now that many owners have had their cars for more than three months, the average repair frequency has improved. But J.D. Power only asks about the first 90 days of ownership. The firm also defines “quality” very broadly, though perhaps not so broadly that a dime store clock counts as a problem.

At 8 repair trips per 100 cars per year, the FIAT 500s in TrueDelta’s survey remain nearly repair-free. J.D. Power, on the other hand, not only gives the 500 two stars, but the FIAT brand (with the 500 its only model so far) tied smart for last:

How might this huge disparity be explained? I checked an active forum for the 500 to see if owners were reporting many problems. Active forums tend to make cars seem more troublesome than they actually are, as people with car problems tend to be vocal while those without them keep quiet. My search found two possibly common problems and one inherent design flaw: a gearshift knob that can break off, a creaky driver’s seat, and an “A/C on” light too dim to see in daylight. The first two were reported by only a few owners on a forum with over 2,000 members. The last was reported by more members, no surprise as it affects every single car. Could this dim light be responsible for the 500’s poor IQS score? Unfortunately, J.D. Power doesn’t publicly divulge the specific problems behind its ratings. Until there’s a fix, this particular problem won’t show up in TrueDelta’s stats. A creaky seat also wouldn’t show up until the owner has it fixed. It’s a minor issue so many might wait until the car needs to go to the dealer for something else. With J.D. Power’s survey, owners can report anything they don’t like about the car, even if they have no plans to have it fixed. Notably, none of these problems suggest that the 500 is a lemon that should be avoided.

A year ago I called Ford out for trying to preempt an upcoming bad IQS ranking by blaming their buggy MyFord Touch (MFT) system. TrueDelta’s survey responses suggested that their cars suffered from additional problems. Well, this year they trotted out the MFT excuse again. The story is a little different this time: the system has been fixed, just too late to help their IQS scores. While MFT is no doubt a major factor behind Ford’s IQS showing, it’s again not the only factor. For example, the Ford Explorer very commonly has problems with rattling A-pillar trim and mirror turn signal condensation. These aren’t major problems, but they have persisted into the car’s second model year. Ford seems to be finding and fixing such problems much more slowly than, say, VW (which aggressively investigated and resolved initial problems with the Passat). More evidence that MFT isn’t solely responsible for Ford’s poor IQS showing: the new Focus scores well in both surveys.

Any survey takes a snapshot at a point in time. Will the VW Passat continue to improve? Might FIAT 500 owners start reporting some truly serious problems? Will Ford start tackling common problems that have nothing to do with MFT now that they’ve (allegedly) fixed the system? TrueDelta will update its car reliability stats again in August. The more people participate, the more models we can cover and the more precise these stats will be.

To view TrueDelta’s updated repair trips per year stats:

Car Reliability Survey results

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability information.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

90 Comments on “TrueDelta and J.D. Power IQS updates: how bad are the FIAT 500 and VW Passat?...”


  • avatar
    Pch101

    Half of the IQS score is based upon design, not reliability. For example, a mechanically reliable car with an awkward NAV system will get dinged for the difficulties that the user has with the NAV, even if the NAV itself is working properly.

    Specific to the 500, it actually gets 4 out of 5 stars in the IQS powertrain reliability category. But it gets only 2 out of 5 for features and accessories quality.

    I suspect that JD Power identifies issues with its survey that your survey does not. These types of issues don’t necessarily result in a driver taking it in for repair. If the car has a powertrain problem (it stops running or runs badly), then it will almost certainly end up at the dealer, while some niggling but annoying issue that affects some other aspects of the car may not.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      “Work properly” is an interesting phrase. If it is hard to use, then you can easily say it doesn’t work properly, despite it being designed to work that way. Designing something to work a certain way is not an excuse for it not working “properly” but it does all but guarantee that it won’t.

      I see the JDP IQS as simply as this: How well does the car do what the consumer expects? Reliability of course is captured because something breaking is not what the customer expects. Parts being poorly designed are not what the customer expects, so they get tallied. Since the results are subjective, you likely will see systematic discrepancies based on the demographic that buys each car. If Lexus buyers aren’t interested in anything but smooth ride, quietness, and lack of repairs, you would expect it score highly. If Fiat buyers are expecting the greatest experience of their lives, they will report more nit-picky items.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “If it is hard to use, then you can easily say it doesn’t work properly, despite it being designed to work that way”

        The average TTAC reader probably believes that quality = reliability.

        JD Power measures quality as the sum total of reliability + design.

        The customers that pay JD Power’s bills are the auto manufacturers. They pay tons of money for JD Power data, and the data is oriented toward them. The paying customers get far more data than what is included in their press releases or in the consumer section of the website.

        With cars becoming more tech-oriented, it helps the manufacturers to know whether their cars are annoying to their customers. If they know this early in the game, then they may be able to fix these things with upgrades or a mid-cycle refresh.

        The average TTAC reader is not an automaker, and may not care about this. But they aren’t paying JD Power anything, either.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Exactly. If a customer is frustrated with the touch-screen system, or can’t figure out how to set the cruise control, that counts pretty much the same (in the totals) as a blown engine. Manufacturers do get the detailed data, but that doesn’t count for much bragging rights.

    • 0 avatar

      Very few cars have powertrain problems in the first 90 days, or even the first few years. Most problems will be in the other categories.

      People usually have even minor problems repaired, but as noted in the editorial there might be a delay.

      A bigger question is whether the issues are problems that can be fixed, or if they’re essentially designed into the car. The owner cannot necessarily tell whether an issue is “design” or “mechanical,” especially if they haven’t yet asked the dealer to fix it, and I’m not sure how J.D. Power handles those that could go either way. The dim A/C light is a good example. It might seem like a “design” issue now, as there’s no fix available. But if FIAT later comes out with a redesigned control that lets more light through, it will become a “mechanical” issue.

      We focus on problems that have been fixed because this greatly reduces the gray areas.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “The owner cannot necessarily tell whether an issue is “design” or “mechanical””

        The survey doesn’t expect the respondent to make that distinction. JD Power asks a boatload of specific questions, and then uses its own methodology to determine how those results get tallied and categorized. It’s not as if the survey asks, “Is your powertrain mechanically reliable?”

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        You mean issues with parts that ‘meet design intent.’ A lot of those issues you speak of are identified but design changes were not going to meet timing or their impact was underestimated by the OEM.

        JD power makes no distinctions between MDI or non MDI issues. They compile a list of straight up customer complaints and it is served cold, on the rocks. Their list is all inclusive.

        If you want to differentiate between JD power issues and warranty, you would need to work for a OEM. If you wanted to differentiate between your ‘design’ and ‘mechanical’ classifications, you would need to track a MY’s list of issues and their trend over the MY’s cycle. I know this specific topic you tried to cover accounts for a lot of ‘motivational’ guidance issued by the person who ‘trotts out excuses’ for MFT. And MFT accounts for a large number of JD Power complaints. Some of them due to the failure of the dealer in training their customer, some of them due to issues that ‘met design intent.’ Hence Mr. Fowler’s ‘trotting.’

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I signed up on TrueDelta, Mike, but I sincerely suggest that 1) JD Powers IQS is next to meaningless because its fundamental design is flawed from both a criteria and statistical basis, and 2) any meaningful & useful data pertaining to motor vehicle reliability/durability (i.e. the truest benchmark of quality) necessarily relies on a very large sample base of surveys of actual owners (e.g. Consumer Reports).

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Deadweight, I agree with you. I predict JD Power playing a lesser role in OEM’s decision making. They will feel it in their pockets as their guidance certainly isn’t free of charge.

        JD Power doesn’t really bring anything to the table as its survey based. OEM’s already have their own internal surveys. JDP’s relevance is left to their marketing dept.

      • 0 avatar

        Pch101:

        JD Power can ask all of the questions they want–and they do ask over 200 of them. I’d love to see the actual survey, no doubt the methodology is quite sophisticated. But they’re still limited by respondents’ perspectives and knowledge of the problem.

        Respondents often won’t know if the part in question is functioning as the manufacturer intended, and I doubt J.D. Power is checking with the manufacturer about every reported problem. Respondents will often see a mechanical problem where manufacturers see a design problem, or no problem at all. Participants in our survey are often dissatisfied when told that something they think is a problem is considered normal by the manufacturer.

        tresmonos:

        Even on the consumer site J.D. Power distinguishes between design issues and mechanical issues. The page for the FIAT 500:

        http://autos.jdpower.com/research/FIAT/500/2012/Hatchback/ratings.htm

        What I’m arguing is that Ford is trying to blame MFT entirely for their low ranking, when responses to our survey AND J.D. Power’s information both strongly suggest otherwise.

        The lowest rated Fords in IQS appear to be the Explorer (2*) and Edge (2*). The pages for these:

        http://autos.jdpower.com/research/Ford/Edge/2012/SUV/ratings.htm

        http://autos.jdpower.com/research/Ford/Explorer/2012/SUV/ratings.htm

        J.D. Power reports 2* “mechanical quality” (remember, there’s no 1* so no one looks like they’ve gotten the lowest score even when they have) for BOTH “features and accessories” and “body and interior.” MFT only affects the former. So what’s going on with “body and interior” with these two models? I note the specific problems with the Explorer in the editorial.

        J.D. Power also reports 2* mechanical quality for the powertrain in the F-150, but this probably doesn’t mean much. Powertrain problems are so rare in the first 90 days that it doesn’t take many to land a model below the 30th percentile.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        tres, I am pretty sure this is why anytime Consumer Reports comes out with anything remotely approaching specific criticism of any make/model, the manufacturers immediately jump into emergency mode, and do handstands to convince CR that the problems are sorted out.

        I know of no other publication’s opinions/surveys/data that has aa nearly the immediate and profound impact on the actions of manufacturers than CR.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “But they’re still limited by respondents’ perspectives and knowledge of the problem.”

        That’s true, but not on point.

        The respondent is asked a variety of questions about specific items related to the car. The respondent isn’t asked “Is there a design problem with the powertrain?”

        The surveyor isn’t asking the respondent to feign expertise that the respondent doesn’t have. They aren’t asking respondents to provide their personal opinions about design quality or reliability. The results that are reported to the public are a distillation of the data, not examples of the questions being asked.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Michael, J.D. Powers survey data fails to implement proper statistical control methods and it also implements a flawed metric for what does or doesn’t constitute a defect or problem.

        It also relies on highly variable and subjective non-technical responses, and most importantly, utilizes too short an interval to effectively measure what they purport to measure.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Michael,
        Just remember, the Edge/MkX and Explorer were the first two major nameplates to receive MFT that were significant to retail sales (so exclude the Focus). Take MFT out of the picture and you would certainly see a much better ranking. Fowler isn’t lying.

        Thank you for your clarification of the ‘mechanical’ term. But JDP still collects unbiased complaints. Trusting JDP’s discretion on this would be assinine. Your system is much better.

      • 0 avatar

        Pch101:

        When a respondent reports a problem, how does J.D. Power know whether to classify it as “design” or “mechanical”?

        tresmonos:

        I’m not disagreeing that Ford’s ranking would be better without MFT. But I also think Ford is trying to shift all of the blame to MFT, instead of just some of the blame. TrueDelta’s survey inherently excludes the MFT problems because they’re software based and/or design issues. The Explorer is still among the worst 2012s in our survey. I don’t know the MFT penetration with the Focus, but it is substantial. It got a 4* mechanical score from J.D. Power anyway. MFT is not standard in any of these models.

        Lincoln had only a single 2012 model with the system. It ranked below average anyway.

        I do wonder why Kuzak retired at age 60 after receiving much of the credit for Ford’s new cars. Was he the fall guy internally for MFT and the DCT?

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        I don’t think Kuzak was associated with MFT’s ‘lessons learned.’ He is more associated with the introduction of content that Ford views as a driver for it’s revival. I think the fall guys/gals were associated with the maturity of the product.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “When a respondent reports a problem, how does J.D. Power know whether to classify it as “design” or “mechanical”?”

        One would presume that the nature of the problem is part of it. “Car doesn’t start” is obviously a different sort of complaint from “Air conditioning controls are difficult to use.”

        According to an article in Car and Driver, the primary issues in the IQS are:

        Defects

        1) Wind noise (the leading complaint since the first survey in 1987)
        2) Abnormal noises under the vehicle (could be anything)
        3) Noisy brakes (squealing and clunking)

        Design Problems

        1) Hands-free communication not recognizing customer commands
        2) HVAC controls poorly located and difficult to use
        3) Automatic-transmission behavior and shift quality (dual-clutch transmissions, busier shifting with downsized engines and more gears)

        http://www.caranddriver.com/features/the-trouble-with-jd-powers-initial-quality-study-feature

      • 0 avatar

        We heard a lot about how Kuzak was responsible for the good aspects of Ford’s new cars. Then we hear that he has chosen to retire at 60, with no explanation. Why would someone who loves cars and who the company publicly credits for its return to health quit early?

        Deadweight:

        CR does not provide the public with information detailed enough to identify specific problems. Are you suggesting that they provide more detailed information to manufacturers, just like J.D. Power does?

        I’ve also critiqued CR’s methods enough times that there’s no need to repeat the critiques here. I’ll just say that if the survey itself is flawed, it doesn’t matter how many people respond to it.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Work-life balance? The man had a great 33 year career. I wouldn’t call that ‘quitting early.’ :)

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Michael:

        I am not following your logic here.

        Consumer Reports breaks down their survey to elicit specific information on particular problem areas, and in a way far more likely to cull data regarding major/driveability problems, than JD Powers could ever hope to (and CR also tracks responses and reports data over a 5 year or longer time frame).

        For example, CR categorizes:

        Engine – Major
        Engine – Minor
        Transmission – Major
        Transmission – Minor
        Drive System
        Fuel System
        Electrical
        Climate Control System
        Suspension
        Brakes
        Exhaust
        Paint/Trim
        Body Integrity
        Body Hardware
        Power Equipment

      • 0 avatar

        Pch101:

        I review over 2,000 repair reports a month. Often I follow up with owners when their response is unclear. You might be amazed how difficult and unclear categorization can be in practice, even after exchanging a few emails. Failures often aren’t total. The system continues to function, just not as well as the owner thinks it should.

        Noises are a great example, both because they represent a high percentage of problems and because they are especially hard to categorize. At what point do they cease to be inherent in design and become a defect? European manufacturers were hit hard in IQS when brake noises they considered normal were perceived as defects by American owners. We’re seeing a similar situation with shift quality.

        One way to draw the line: if the problem is fixable. But then how to distinguish between a fix for a problem and an improvement / upgrade? It’s not hard to come up with a formal rule. But applying this rule in practice won’t be simple.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “You might be amazed how difficult and unclear categorization can be in practice, even after exchanging a few emails”

        But this doesn’t really matter. Most of the time, the problems can be separated, and in any case, JD Power has a methodology for categorizing them. You don’t have to agree with their categories, but they are going to be consistent — for example, you can tell from the article that I previously quoted how some of these problems are categorized.

        A lot of the complaints made in the comments sections of car forums about these surveys don’t seem to reflect an understanding of statistical analysis. Just because there are some respondents who lie, are confused or are inept does not mean that the value of the survey is completely negated.

        Every survey will have some noise in it by definition — it’s a sample, not a perfect reflection of the population. However, the survey results are ranked, and most of the measurements are relative, which allows comparisons to be made among different makes and models. It is not likely that one model is going to attract a statistically significant greater proportion of owners or respondents who are liars, confused or inept, so the results can still be used.

        Some people also don’t seem to understand that the JD Power survey includes a great deal of detail…but you aren’t going to get that detail if you aren’t paying for it. Don’t assume that the brief summary that you find for free on the internet is representative of the data that is collected. If you want more, the problem isn’t with JD Power, it’s with the size of your checkbook.

      • 0 avatar

        Deadweight:

        A “black dot” in, say, “electrical” provides manufacturers with little actionable information. Which component is failing? A car has hundreds of components. Fifteen categories is far too vague. Does the problem affect 3 percent of cars, which IIRC is the minimum for a black dot? Or 13? Or 30? Is it a total failure, a partial failure, or just a noise?

        J.D. Power tells manufacturers, for a hefty fee, exactly which problems owners are experiencing. I have far less of a problem with the detailed data they don’t publicly release than with the vague summary ratings they do publicly release.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Michael, I think you need to read up on CR’s methodology (not only are their data statistically reliable, but each model year is statistically adjusted against newer versions, to control for variations based solely on wear & tear items):

        Read under -

        Reliability history

        -and-

        How to read the charts

        https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/04/a-guide-to-new-car-ratings-and-reviews/index.htm

      • 0 avatar

        Deadweight,

        I’ve read everything they’ve written about their methodology, which isn’t much.

        You’re misreading the sentence in question. They mean that they are adjusting for high and low mileage cars within a model year, not across model years. This doesn’t mean much. It doesn’t address any of the major concerns with their methodology, or anyone else’s for that matter.

        Tests for statistical significance also mean much less than you seem to think. You can get results that pass such tests using a badly designed survey and messy data, all you need to do is ask enough people the wrong questions.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @DeadWeight

        But TTAC exposed the Consumer Reports data as being based on very statistically invalid numbers for many models, and in some cases based on three year old data in the absence of any new customer reports. Micheal could go far more into as he wrote the pieces.

        Really all of the surveys are flawed in some way. Another huge problem that I have with all of these surveys is there is no weighting a problem.

        Yes, Consumer Reports breaks things out into categories. Can’t configure my Bluetooth to my infotainment system, so I go to the dealer? Well that counts as a problem – check! $1000 infotainment system repair because the screen failed and its built into one solid state component into the dash? Well that counts as a problem – check! There isn’t weighting to the severity of problems. If I look at engine problems needing a $37 cam position sensor that a baboon could replace is vastly different to endlessly replacing coils is vastly different to a failed head gasket. Yet they all count as one problem each.

        You have to take all of these surveys with a big grain of salt.

        There is one key point that the JD Power 90-day satisfaction survey is a massive leading indicator on and the auto makers do care about. Loyalty. The higher up you are on the 90-day sat, the more likely your customers will stick with the brand. Brand loyalty is darn important because it costs way more money to attract a customer than hold on to one.

  • avatar
    vvk

    I don’t understand why car owners would shoot themselves in the foot by responding truthfully to these surveys. If you say anything bad about the car you paid good money for, you will lose that money because when the time comes to sell/trade in the car will have poor quality ratings and the resale value will be low. Why would anybody say anything bad about the car they own?! It seems idiotic to me.

    I absolutely hate my 2012 Passat but I’ll be damned if I say anything bad about it in any of the quality surveys.

    • 0 avatar
      Botswana

      Never underestimate how much people like to complain.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Don’t buy cars that appeal to the idiotic then.

    • 0 avatar

      Different people see the world in very different ways. Some constantly try to game systems for their personal short-term benefit. Others realize that only by providing accurate information will manufacturers know they need to improve and feel compelled to do so. In the long term everyone benefits from the feedback provided by the latter group.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “I absolutely hate my 2012 Passat but I’ll be damned if I say anything bad about it in any of the quality surveys.”

      This is yet another reason why surveys are often such unreliable sources of information.

      You may lie about your car on surveys, but your hatred of your 2012 Passat is now an eternal and everlasting matter of public record, ready and available for all to see and read, and serving to amplify the negative sterotypes of VW’s in the U.S. I can already see your equity falling…

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      With all of the online reviews, message boards, and social media today manufacturers cannot afford to ignore public complaints the way they might have 15 years ago. More than ever the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the little guy has a chance to make his voice heard. Wouldn’t you rather have your Passat’s problems fixed rather than live with them for the next 5-10 years?

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      Damn, and I was thinking a diesel Passat (wow, a manual transmission is available!) would make for a relatively cheap, roomy next car that could also handle my long highway drives several times a year.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      So why did you lease it if you hate it so much?

      And do you hate it because of its (lack of) reliability, or for its (lack of) other characteristics?

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I’d also like to know why you hate it so much? I’ve read generally good things about them. Not my style of car since they Americanized it, but you really seem to dislike the thing!

      • 0 avatar
        vvk

        > I’d also like to know why you hate it so much?

        The good:

        – dirt cheap to the extreme — reason we leased it
        – very, very roomy
        – large trunk
        – generally good ergonomics and excellent feel of primary and secondary controls
        – great radio
        – bluetooth and features in general
        – plenty of power
        – good cruising ability and range
        – generally quiet
        – outstanding fuel economy
        – very comfortable/pleasant seats
        – real key, real handbrake
        – excellent clutch feel
        – acceptable steering feel
        – great interior quality and design (love the analog clock)
        – has spare tire!
        – has ABS, ESP, brake assist — saved us from a certain collision with a deer once
        – has trunk handles.

        The bad:

        – horrific ride and handling — this is why we hate it
        – poor brake feel (but good stopping performance)
        – pedals offset far to the right
        – no heated mirrors (Jetta S has them?!)
        – poor gear spacing and generally poor gearbox performance
        – too big for us — can’t reach kids in the back seat
        – trunk difficult to close, hinges crush luggage and no eyelets to lash it down.

        The ride and handling are the real killer with this car. The undamped up/down and diagonal motion is very pronounced. Imagine an old Buick with blown out shocks — this Passat is MUCH worse. Interestingly, I have read some European reviews of their version of the car and their complaints pretty much match mine.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        vvk – a comprehensive list. Some of the negatives you list I would have thought you would have picked up on before purchasing (like being too big and lack of heated mirrors). I assume you had test driven the car before leasing, which should have alerted you to the pedal and ride/handling issues.

        I have not test driven a new Passat but from the reviews I have read no-one seems to complain much about the ride and handling, which are your big issues.

      • 0 avatar
        vvk

        > Some of the negatives you list I would have thought you would
        > have picked up on before purchasing (like being too big and
        > lack of heated mirrors).

        It would never have occurred to me that a lowly Jetta would have better equipment than the Passat. I have had many European cars since my 1986 SAAB 900 and have never had one without heated mirrors before.

        We did not have our children/car seats when we test drove it.

        > I assume you had test driven the car before leasing, which
        > should have alerted you to the pedal and ride/handling issues.

        I have gotten used to offset pedals, so it is not a big deal.

        Ride/handling issues were not apparent until a few weeks into the ownership.

        We avoid driving it, so we have under 2500 miles in almost 7 months. It is a shame because it gets better fuel mileage than our BMW and does not require premium fuel.

      • 0 avatar
        svenmeier

        None of my modern cars have ever had heated mirrors. I see absolutely no reason to order that option. A useless costly extra option.

        And I live in Switzerland. It snows and gets very cold here.

    • 0 avatar
      CA Guy

      If misery loves company, I think someone on my street shares your pain. His new (still wearing paper plates) Passat was on the back of a tow truck as I dodged around it in my very reliable Infiniti last night. My own utterly unscientific survey of the last few weeks shows a preponderance of stalled late model German vehicles on the freeways and streets around SoCal, with various Audis and VWs Jettas leading the pack. To be fair, both cars appear to be selling extremely well here so the problematic ones may be a small sample…

      Edited to note: In your responses I see that your concerns with the VW are more with design and engineering rather than reliability.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The Wall Street Journal’s auto reviewer reported underhood temperatures so high with his Abarth test car that they triggered a check engine light.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      The actual quote is:

      “The Abarth’s turbo also raises the temperature under the hood, where the battery lives. On our test car the heat caused one of the battery leads to get so loose the computer threw a “check engine” fault code at us.”

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting. Was this conclusion reached by engineers after a thorough analysis? Who suggested that heat was the cause? Dan Neil doesn’t provide a source for this information.

        Maybe some engineers or mechanics can and will correct me, but I’ve never heard of heat causing a loose battery lead. My sense is that when a battery lead comes loose this is usually because it was never sufficiently tightened in the first place.

        I assume this was a press fleet car. So was the battery even installed for the first and last time at the factory? How can anyone know that it was properly tightened at one point, and that heat was the reason it became loose?

        I suppose there’s an easy test. Tighten the lead. Drive the car hard. Does it come loose again when underhood temp reaches a certain level?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        As is Mr. Karesh, I am quite skeptical of the claim that heat would loosen a battery cable.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        When all else fails mechanics use heat to separate recalcitrant metal components from one another, so I don’t see any mysterious forces at work.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Pre-production units’ battery cables are routinely unhooked at the factory as soon as the vehicle is gate released. This is to prevent battery drain during transportation. Transportatoin and handling lead times of pre-production units can fluxuate due to various circumstances. In this instance, (I assume) the dealer prep would be at fault.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “When all else fails mechanics use heat to separate recalcitrant metal components from one another, so I don’t see any mysterious forces at work.”

        Occam’s razor would suggest that somebody didn’t tighten it sufficiently. The guy who preps the press cars probably forgot to check it.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Most people are shocked by how hot a turbo gets. After a spirited drive the turbo gets red hot. If you open the hood at night, it is quite a shocking sight.

      I’m with Michael Kreash though- engine bay heat does not loosen bolts.

      • 0 avatar

        The exhaust/turbo got so hot in a Pontiac Sunbird 1.8T I owned back in the 1980s that the plug wires (that passed through the manifold) disintegrated and had to be replaced every 10,000 miles. At 24,000 miles the exhaust manifold itself cracked and was replaced with a new design that provided more space around the plug wires. There was no intercooler to help reduce system heat.

        Despite the extreme heat, no bolts ever came loose under the hood.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I dunno about the Passat, but I know that the Fiat 500 probably has some of its problems because it was designed by the same team that made the new Mini Cooper.

        Plus, its a retro-design that was based on a rear-engine platform, copying that for an FF as well as styling meant for a far simpler car will only have negative effects.

        Just look at the new Beetle.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        I would be so showing my glowing red turbo off

      • 0 avatar
        CA Guy

        My 1985 300ZX with a Garrett turbocharger had an auxiliary cooling fan that dealt with this issue very efficiently during 11 years of collective ownership between me and a friend.

      • 0 avatar
        tayu

        Thank you for mentioning this–I have not owned or even spent much time around a car with a turbo, and this is a REALLY interesting detail that I’ve not come across before.

        Very cool. I will make sure to check this out if the occasion ever does arise…

  • avatar
    afuller

    One of the issues with the “early” 500s that came to the US was a slow clock.

    You can find a number of complaints about it and it would lose a few minutes a week.

    The fix was to replace the gauge cluster.

    Mine doesn’t have this issue and I think the dealership set the clock about 5 minutes fast anyway. I keep thinking I should reset the clock but since I’ve actually begun showing up at work on time even though I think I’m late this may not be the worst.

    I’ve had no issues with my 500 although I’ve only got a bit over 2000 miles on it. I installed a new shifter knob so no worries about it breaking off and I’ve not noticed a creaky seat.

    I don’t buy a car based on worries about resale value down the road, normally when my car goes away it’s about used up anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      If this problem only affected early cars, then it shouldn’t affect IQS, which surveyed people who’d had their cars 90 days from February through May 2012. So the earliest cars in the survey would have been purchased in December.

      This also explains why I didn’t find this problem on the forum, as I looked at the last month or so.

    • 0 avatar
      nickeled&dimed

      Huh. I guess everyone sees ‘problems’ differently. I agree that a slow clock is a problem but it’s not something that I’d notice or be bugged by it enough to report/fix it. My Subaru clock gains about a minute every three days, but I reset it every time I fill up and then forget until it gets bad again.

      This might be something that JDP picks up on but TD doesn’t

      • 0 avatar

        JDP is more likely to have this sort of problem reported. But we do get reports of clock replacements for this problem. They were very common with one model, but I cannot recall which one offhand.

        With the 500, I suspect it’s not in our results because it only affected a small number of early cars.

  • avatar
    carguy

    IQS is just too fuzzy a measurement to be really useful. It just measures how you feel about the car during the first 12 weeks of ownership. It says nothing about medium and long term reliability or even the maintenance experience. They need to break out this score into more focused categories and also be more open about how the scores are computed.

  • avatar
    iainthornton

    I doubt the 500 will come to be seriously problematic – that platform and most of the engines never have been, and they’ve been around long enough.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    How did Jaguar get so high up there?

    • 0 avatar
      meefer

      I’m a bit surprised at this too, but mostly because I thought the nav was defective on the test drive but the sales guy said “no that’s normal.” And I thought MMI was slow……

  • avatar
    jaydez

    As someone with a 2012 Focus and MFT running the newest version (3.0.1) I can tell you it’s FAR from “fixed”. It is simply better than it was. I still has many bugs that need to be worked out and responds very slowly to touches.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dual Clutch Transmission has a lot to do with their IQS score because most people expect it to act like a normal auto. I certainly does not and you have to get used to the way it drive and realize that the car will act more like a manual that you dont have to shift (most of the time) yourself.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      jaydez, you hit this post on the nose. Dealer education is critical. And leaving important tasks such as educating the customer to a dealer is a risky endeavor.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Ford has reprogrammed them to behave more like a normal manual. I don’t think the salespeople really even knew what the hell a dual clutch transmission was.

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      Could you give an example of it acting more like a manual?

      I didn’t know the Focus had the first few days I had one as a rental car last week – I just thought to myself, “Wow, an Automatic that isn’t completely retarded.” It didn’t catch me off guard with shifts because it seemed to shift when I would expect to be shifting. It’s about 7 million times better than the automatic that was in the Fusion I drove a few months back.

      I generally don’t like Automatics, but I found the one in the Focus surprisingly enjoyable… The biggest thing I noticed is that it didn’t have the usual disconnected delay feeling when you push the throttle, and wasn’t constantly and unexpectedly downshifting… but when I did put my foot in it, the downshift was quick and smooth. Also, when it was in “S” mode, it would downshift (and seemed to rev-match) when I pushed the brake… again, very smooth.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    My description of “reliability” has to do with the car. Will it strand me? Will it cost bucks to keep it on the road?

    Ergonomics have nothing to do with it. You bought the car but found out your butt is too big for the seat? Duh! You should have known that going in – your fault, not the car’s. Same with knobs and gadgets. Ditto for panel fit as long as the car doesn’t disintegrate before your eyes or while buzzing down the road.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I read else where that Ford faired badly in the IQS because people were confused by the Ford Touch system. One would assume people will eventually pull out the manual and study up on it and those complaints would disappear.

    • 0 avatar

      You read this elsewhere because it is what Ford wants you to read.

      I personally had no problems with MFT in the vehicles I’ve tested. But plenty of owners have reported systems that either operated very slowly or froze up–not just a matter of reading the manual.

      • 0 avatar
        fredtal

        the article was quoting Ford a lot. I’m also basing this comment on my own lack of understanding on these infotainment systems. I haven’t had much time with them and struggle to get the radio to play, so I just write them off as junk.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Ford got away with calling their customers morons to deflect from their own failings. Many of their customers didn’t mind…

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I don’t recall Ford ever calling customers morons. Ford admitted that the initial MFT offerings had issues, which is why there were multiple updates leading up to what was basically a from-the-ground-up rewrite of the system, which is what launched in March.

        Ford has stated that better customer education is needed regarding MFT and the PowerShift transmissions, and that’s true. Past the initial update that came shortly after launch to address some actual reliability problems all of the Powershift reflashes have been to try to make it feel more like a traditional automatic because people aren’t being educated to understand that the shifts will feel more like a manual transmission, and that is causing people to believe they have transmission problems when none exist.

        On the MFT front there has been a major push for better salesperson education on the system as well as a lot of investment in teaching dealers how to teach customers how to use the system effectively and easily.

        At this point MFT works the way that it should, some screens may be a bit slow to load, but nothing that isn’t par for the course for any automotive infotainment system. The issue is dealers that still just have customers sign the papers, throw them the keys, and tell them to have a nice day. A proper delivery on a vehicle with the MFT system can take about an hour to go over all of the features of the vehicle as well as the MFT system. Once you understand how it works and how it’s designed, it makes a ton of sense and it’s both powerful and easy to use. Customers who aren’t given that introduction and who aren’t technically adept however will probably experience some frustration trying to figure it all out for themselves.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        @NulloModo Try getting a digital camera that doesn’t include a DVD or CD-ROM explaining features in great detail. How about an official YouTube vid doing the same? With a link detailing PowerShift trannys?

        IDK, but after you’ve spent 5 hours at the dealer and get handed the keys, you’re tired and not fully paying attention to an MFT lecture.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        DenverMike –

        Some Ford/Linoln vehicles do come with a DVD that demonstrates a lot of the features (I can’t seem to figure out what the reasoning is behind which do and which don’t however). Ford also has a Youtube channel and updates how-to guides on a variety of features (the MFT video does need to be updated to the new system though).

        Yes, after going through the test drive, negotiations, paperwork, etc, many people are tired and ready to go home. Some customers prefer to do all of the wheeling and dealing online or over the phone, and that makes the delivery easier – I can have the car cleaned and ready and take the time to show them how everything works while the paperwork is being prepared when they come in. Other times I’ll just schedule a time for the customer to drop in the next day to go over everything if they’re not up for it right then. The system does have a built in help function and voice command list that can be brought up at any time, and Ford has done a good job at improving the manuals that come with the system to explain the use more clearly and completely. Dealers also now have to have a monthly technology class that’s open to any current owner having trouble.

        The problem is that some dealers don’t enforce training and thorough delivery processes, and Ford has limited control over what individual dealers do. To Ford’s credit they do take survey results very seriously and there are survey questions directly related to Sync and MFT. If a dealer is underperforming in those areas then considerable amounts of money from Ford are withheld, so there is financial incentive for recalcitrant dealers to get their houses in order.

        The system got a bad wrap early on because of the complexity and the stability issues. The March update solved the stability issues, increased the speed and responsiveness greatly, and cleaned up the interface to make it more logical and easy to use. MFT overall is a good system, and it does more than pretty much anything else on the market. The complexity in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, because basic functions are easy to access and you only have to go as deep into it as you want to based on how much you want to customize.

        Ford got into a bit of a pickle by pushing technology that used to be found in a loaded S-Class into mainstream vehicles and expecting a dealer network that wasn’t used to it to be able to effectively explain and demonstrate it to customers who previously hadn’t had similar systems in other vehicles. The dealer education part has caught up, and while MFT was perhaps either a bit overambitious or underdeveloped initially (or both) it’s now where it needs to be. Adding more hard buttons as seen in the interior of the upcoming ’13 F-150 and Super Duty, as well as the ’13 Escape and ’12 Focus shows that Ford is listening when it comes to customer input on how the system operates.

        When it comes to the Powershift, it’s a great idea, and a change that needs to happen. A traditional torque-converter automatic is just inefficient in comparison, but obviously the Powershift needed a bit of polish. I could have sworn I’d seen reference to the ’13 Escape and ’13 Fusion being equipped with the Powershift transmissions last year, but now the Escape has launched with a traditional automatic and references to the powershift have disappeared from the Fusion order guides. I’d like to see the Powershift in both products because I feel it’s superior to a traditional automatic, but Ford seems to be listening to those who don’t like the shift feel and isn’t going to release it until it feels normal to everyone, which I suppose is a smart choice.

        I do think that some people are just more sensitive to the DSG shift feel than others. I had a customer purchase a Focus with the Powershift and he brought it in several times saying the shifts were jittery, but every time I rode with him I didn’t feel anything that didn’t feel normal and natural, though he swore it was jerking while we drove. Since then he’s told me that it doesn’t feel odd to him anymore, so it could just be that there is an adjustment period.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        So Ford Powershift is like living with a knee injury, basically.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Ford usually has someone show customers how to use MFT. I don’t know how much that actually helps.

      Regardless of what the IQS survey says, the fact I just took my Focus in for 4 recalls is telling.

      They also can’t fix the A-pillar buzz on the Explorer. The best current fix is duct tape.

      • 0 avatar

        Hmmm, I thought they had an actual fix for the A-pillar buzz.

        If not, then this further supports what I said in the editorial: Ford hasn’t been identifying and really fixing minor problems like this one nearly as quickly as they should be. This particular problem would have been fixed by some other manufacturers within months of the 2010 launch. Here we are, nearly two years later, and there’s still no fix.

        It would appear that Ford might have finally fixed the peeling chrome on Taurus tail lights, but not before some owners had them replaced multiple times.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        There is a fix.   The TSB is 12-1-11.  There are revised A-pillar trim pieces to correct the issue.  The rattles should only effect vehicles built before 11/21/11. 

        If yours is still rattling it’s likely the dealer you took it to didn’t replace the part as per the TSB. 

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Had the recall done, twice. The buzz came back, twice. I had my Ford NVH engineer father in-law take it into Dearborn yesterday. Ford has done a poor job of diagnoising problems or reacting to what they have discovered. The windscreen/a-pillar issue with the Explorer started back in 2010. Even if they had a fix in November 2011, that is too late.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    RE: MFT’s bugs, or shall we call them features?

    I remember, from looong time ago, around Windows 95 time frame, an e-mail that made the engineering rounds. It said something to the effect: “If a car performed like a computer” and had several hilarious sentences like: “you want to change the radio station, but open the rear trunk instead”.

    Now that this is not a joke but real, it is no longer funny, only annoying.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      Here’s the list. It went around as one of those chain mail things that everyone forwarded to everyone else before we would just share it on Facebook.

      For the Love of Cars and Computers

      For all of us who feel only the deepest love and affection for the way computers have enhanced our lives, read on…
      At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”
      In response to Bill’s comments, General Motors issued a press release stating: If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:
      1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.
      2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
      3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.
      4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
      5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five per cent of the roads.
      6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation” warning light.
      7. The airbag system would ask “Are you sure?” before deploying.
      8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your cr would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna
      9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
      10. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.

  • avatar
    chromaphase

    Shaking my head at the latest IQS especially in regard to the 500.

    Since April, my daily driver is a 500 Sport 5SP (02/12 build) from the amigos in Toluca. Maybe I’ve had too much of Sergio’s brand of Kool-Aid but nothing but praise for the little guy.

    No question my clock is several minutes FAST after a few weeks. Not a major issue to set the clock and certainly not one worth replacing the cluster over. Some have had problems at the dealer with the swap.

    Most impressed with opportunities from Fiat/Chrysler to interact with me about the car both online and over the phone. Korean and Japanese makes I bought new in the past didn’t do the same.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Car of the Year? Truck of the Year? J.D. Power surveys? When these awards are used in national ads all it means is the some clueless corporate VP has accepted them as gospel. I’m a member of True Delta. I think Michael’s True Delta will be about as good as gets. True Delta has real reports by real people. Good enough for me.

    You pay your money and you take your chances. Do some research and get the odds more in your favor. My biggest fear is a mob of torch wielding fan boys all chanting “I DRIVE THE PERFECT CAR”.

    Ford should’ve known many computer uses loath Microsoft.

  • avatar
    Boff

    Hey Karesh, did you see my shoutout to truedelta on the Fiat forum??

    To some extent I think the IQS ratings are affected by the price of the car. The Fiat is a small cheap car and it shows in a few obvious ways. The door panels for instance scratch ridiculously easily and within weeks mine looked like a 2-year old rental car. But look around your new XF and the style and materials are mesmerizing.

    But on the whole the Fiat I think is a solid little car…a real car as I like to tell people. The doors close with a nice thunk and the suspension makes no noise at all. Other things that IQS respondents may have reacted to:

    1) Phone pairing and iPod integration is far from foolproof
    2) The door panels thing, actually all other surfaces also scratch easily
    3) The car comes with an outrageously chintzy pull strap for the hatch.
    4) The car is very slow compared to most compacts today
    5) The ride is jiggly compared to most compacts today…but you get used to it and the nicely padded seats compensate
    6) Rattles and squeaks
    7) The seat height adjusters are super flimsy and prone to breakage

    • 0 avatar

      Good point on the door panels. That’s something that might show up in JDP more than it would in our survey, as most people wouldn’t try to have the panels replaced under warranty. Especially since they’d just get scratched up again.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    a gearshift knob that can break off, a creaky driver’s seat, and an “A/C on” light too dim to see in daylight

    these 3 issues dont think will leave u high n dry on an autobahn,
    well the shift knob if broken should atleast still get u sail back to port under your own steam, unless is broken all the vay in the bottom so u cant even see her!
    creaky seat is a sign of u got too much fat in your derriere, still not loose spring protruded out to insult your dignity.

    on a small car if your a/c is on and u cant tell the power is lacking then they’re doing an excellent job.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    “You have to take these surveys with a grain of salt.”

    I agree, but it’s a good place to start your research then go online for specific “problems” associated with your final choices.

    It’s kind of irrelevant if it’s an all new model, but if a Camaro is what you want, no survey or online rant is going to put your ass in a Mustang or Chally.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    JD Powers have political and monetary tie-ins with Toyota. One look at the number of awards JD gave to Toyota and this pretty much tells the story.

    Toyota Tundra won JD powers award six years in a row..
    http://www.tundraheadquarters.com/bl…ability-award/

    Then the Tundra was recalled for rust..

    • 0 avatar
      svenmeier

      I have heard about this claim. Is there any truth to this?

      I’ve never owned a Toyota (nor do I ever plan on buying one). I have a friend who bought one of those new Yaris cars and he’s already hating it due to some issues which the dealership cannot seem to fix.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India