By on January 24, 2017

car breakdown (dagnyg/Flickr)

Brian writes:

Hi there — I’ve been doing a lot of research (Googling) as of late to truly understand car reliability. I’ve been reading through sites like Carcomplaints.com, Truedelta.com, Consumer Reports, JD Power, specific car model forums, etc. What I really want to is, how accurate is this information? For example, you can look on Car Complaints and see that some models have awful reliability, but then you dig into it and realize it’s only five reported incidences of the same problem. And then you look at other websites that barely mention this particular problem.

So what gives? Even if it is a major problem, what are the chances you would end it up with it if you bought that particular model and year?

Sajeev answers:

I hope the accuracy you desire from reliability indexes isn’t expected in my response!

Remember, vehicles are not a typical widget rated as a single element. They are Russian Nesting Doll widgets with more layers than a skyscraper packed with croissants. The sheer number of fail points (triggering a customer concern) is mind-numbing. And not every “skyscraper” is the same: mid-cycle improvements, part number changes/upgrades, trim level changes, software updates, etc. mean it’s physically impossible to get this right.

Then again, faith shall be restored when these data sources go into a reliability index:

  • Manufacturer recall and TSB data
  • Short Term Customer Satisfaction data from third party information sources (like JD Power)
  • In-warranty repair and part number interchange and supersession data from manufacturers. (Honda, Toyota, Nissan, GM, Ford, etc)
  • Post-warranty repair data from all franchised dealerships and independent repair facilities. (Sears Auto, Goodyear, Firestone, etc)
  • Inventory churn rate from major auto parts manufacturers (Bosch, BWD, Denso, etc) and auto recyclers. (Car-Part.com, LKQ)
  • Keyword density or Word Cloud analytics on all automobile forums and major social media websites (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)

There’s the full spectrum, literally from cradle to grave. With months of tech geek labor to get these databases talking to each other, and countless formulas filtering all this data into a single year/make/model, you can see the lifetime repair cost of any vehicle. Maybe Watson‘s up for the gig.

Getting all that data, especially from car and component manufacturers?  Not likely.

What say you, Best and Brightest?

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

[Image: dagnyg/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

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96 Comments on “Piston Slap: How Reliable are Reliability Indexes?...”


  • avatar
    sirwired

    Of the data sources available, I think Consumer Reports’ survey is probably the best. It’s not perfect, but they likely have the largest sample size for most common vehicles; far more than any other review. (And it’s certainly better, and more complete, than the trash JD Powers publishes, and isn’t self-selecting junk like carcomplaints.com)

    Does it have it’s weaknesses? Yes. A vehicle that attracts enthusiasts or loyalists may be willing to overlook some problems when filling out the survey. Some models may attract more harsh reporting than a problem might deserve. Consumer Reports surveys subscribers, whose demographic and attitude towards cars may or may not even vaguely resemble yours. But, absent a database containing the info Sajeev is wishing for, it’s not bad.

    And you would not believe how some enthusiasts wish data could be tilted. I hung out an a forum for the B5 Passat, and during the height of the coil-pack fiasco, there were people arguing for CR’s ratings (which slammed every VW with the 1.8T because of consumers hitting the issue) argued that for widespread problems where the root cause was well known (this particular problem triggered a recall), they should issue a “tilt” of sorts so as not not penalize the car so much. Never mind that the issue left thousands of drivers stranded by the roadside with a flashing CEL… known issue or not, that’s a serious problem.

    And, of course, who could forget all the Ford fanboys arguing that the piles and piles of problems with early versions of MFT should be completely ignored in reliability ratings Because Reasons. (They usually blamed User Error, even when nearly every single review of every car equipped with the system reported problems.)

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      whether or not I agree with it (I don’t, the first couple years of MFT should never have happened) there is a point in that it was an optional feature. coil packs aren’t.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Since CR breaks down the reliability reports by system, you are, of course, welcome to ignore whatever category you like. (I don’t blame them for not splitting out results by trim or option code; that would reduce data sizes too much.)

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      I was at a party when I overheard two VW owners talk. One, who was throwing the party, owned a VW Jetta VR6 that was always in the shop for something or another. It currently was sitting in the back yard, having been last driven a few months ago.

      He said (from memory): “I told her if you want to get a reliable car, get a VW.”

      So yeah, car fanbois are a weird lot.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        As a multiple-time VW owner, I can’t seriously recommend anything of their as reliable other than cars with the departed 2.5-liter I5 (which did not exactly sip fuel as compared to contemporary competitors). In general, I recommend other cars, even though I love mine.

        And yes, I did own a Jetta VR6 (1997 with the 12-valve 2.8-liter), and yes, it was always in the shop for something or another.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It’s reported that CEO Mark Fields punched out the MyFord Touch screen in his personal Ford Edge out of frustration. It also troubled multiple members of the Ford family, including Edsel and Bill.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      As Jim said, infotainment issues and issues that render the car undrivable are completely different things.

      Saying all Ford’s are unreliable junk based on nothing but glitchy infotainment is silly. I don’t recall anyone saying that it should be ignored, just that the issues should be taken in context.

      A car that won’t recognize your phone and a car that refuses to start 5 days out of the week should not be grouped together.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        It’s also not fair to continue to bash MFT. Thanks to software updates, it’s become quite reliable. I have it myself and it’s pretty darned good (very mature). Critics need to get over it.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Sync is no longer related to Microsoft, brn. Hasn’t been since v2.0 as I recall. We’re now in v3 and it is reportedly much better than before but in my opinion still questionable.

          However, even without Sync, I have yet to see a reliable Ford car, though their trucks aren’t ‘too’ bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      When it comes to cars specifically, I’ve found CR’s “Most Reliable” and “Least Reliable” indices questionable at best and often 180° out of phase with what owners tend to say elsewhere. JDPower and some others are only marginally better. I’ve discovered going to independent reviewer sites tend to give much more realistic data–once you’ve discarded all the obvious pro- or anti- sentiment which shows up in any poll.

    • 0 avatar
      DearS

      I’m really glad we have as much info as we do now, although it is challenging and time-consuming to make sense of sometimes.

      I used consumer reports, forums and other sites to get informed. I bought my Mazda3 5-speed and stayed away from the AUTO because of CR. I also expected to have suspension issues per CR. At 135k I had a bad control arm, tie-rod, and shocks. All expected items for most cars to need at this mileage. Replaced them with quality (Moog) parts. By balancing my expectations I am feeling pretty good about what I bought. Now this car I hope is going to be mostly troubleshoot free for the next 4 years!

  • avatar
    JimZ

    CR is probably most useful for finding what *kinds* of problems a particular car might have. but given its survey respondents are self-selecting (CR subscribers, who just by being CR subscribers seem more likely to complain) and the fact that CR’s “overall” rating for a car doesn’t seem to align with the individual ratings makes their reliability predictions somewhat suspect. For ex, they give the 2016 Volt “Better” or “Much Better” ratings in almost all of the individual aspects, then apropos of nothing predict it “much worse than average” overall, with no explanation whatsoever.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Why would CR subscribers naturally be more likely to report problems? (And isn’t that a GOOD thing? Don’t you WANT the repsonders to be complete?)

      And CR only does comparative rankings (for the overall rating), and they don’t even report absolute numbers, so any propensity to be picky should, all else being equal, affect all cars the same. (That said, not all else is equal, and an enthusiast-oriented car may attract more forgiving owners than, say, minivans.)

      And as far as the Volt goes? The “Predicted reliability” is strictly comparative. Each individual category may be comparative or absolute, depending on the overall rate of problems amongst peer cars. (They explain this in their page going over what the ratings mean.)

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The list looks good but very complex. I don’t see car manufacturers ever wanting to relinquish that kind of information, even companies that sell on reliability like Toyota. Once it’s out there it seems like it would be out of their control.

    Probably why indices based on self-reporting are the only ones out there and those have their limitations. TrueDelta is dealing with small sample sizes. Consumer Reports is probably the most expansive and reputable but they provide no measure of spread in the data, no quantitative difference between means of each manufacturer or vehicle, and no absolute failure or problem rate so you don’t know if a black dot is meaningfully different from a red one and how that may be changing over time as vehicles become more reliable as a whole. The Vibe/Matrix disparity anomaly is also peculiar.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      I remember reading their mag in the 1990s. It had the stink of bias so strong, you’d have to be biased yourself to not recognize it.

      One example: an advertisement showing someone with their legs sticking out of the trunk of a 1997 Taurus, with the caption that read:

      “Without Consumer Reports, you wouldn’t know that the Ford Taurus fold down rear seats can only be accessed by crawling in the trunk!”

      That’s total BS. We had a 1997 Sable. There were duplicate latches inside the car to release the setbacks. Only an idiot would crawl in the trunk to do it.

      Some 1996+ Taurus/Sables of that era admittedly didn’t have an obvious way to release them from inside as ours did. You had to slide your hand in above where the seat back met the non-folding part to access the release. Yes, it could be easier to find, but if I figured it out in 5 minutes…why couldn’t CR? Because it didn’t say Toyota anywhere on it.

      They seem to look for things to complain about on an American car, and they overlook things that should be exposed on import cars. The lower quality in newer Toyota interiors. No problem. Not even worth mentioning.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I know that Karesh and Lang are no longer popular here, but I would seek them out as well. Multiple sources with multiple methodologies can be helpful, if you are the type of person who is comfortable with ambiguity.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I don’t mean to bask Karesh (I support his initiatives), But I get emails all the time begging me for responses for cars that are underrepresented (no such emails for other cars I own).

      So I had 3 cars serviced, but I only reported it for the one that Karesh hounded me on.

      I loved the theory, but with no incentive for participants to keep it updated, I think the methodology doesn’t lead to significant accuracy… but I certainly appreciate his efforts.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Ha! I got one of those Karesh hounding emails last night.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        I have two vehicles registered with TrueDelta. (The third is too old. I intend to register its replacement.) Every three months, I get an e-mail reminding me to report any repairs. The reporting procedure is simple. The biggest nuisance is going to my garage to check odometer readings. I think his reminders do a lot to correct the self selection flaw that overweights rare complaints.

        • 0 avatar
          arach

          Do you have any “underrepresented vehicles”.

          My F350 is “underrepresented” therefore I get multiple requests hounding me to update it.

          My cadillac CTS, Hyundai Sonata, and jeep wrangeler are NOT underrepresented, therefore I only get one email.

          since I get hounded for the F350, I eventually post my repair. Since I don’t get hounded for the others, I don’t. I unfortunately skew the results, but thats also an issue with the sampling method.

          Once again, its HELPFUL, but the method is clearly to get X number of responses for each vehicle, creating bias, as opposed to having a methodology that assures all vehicles are represented equally.

          heck, I’d rather connect a bluetooth module into each of my cars AND PAY FOR IT to support Karesh than have to respond to those emails. I’ll never respond to those emails equally, and therefore I’ll always be part of the problem.

      • 0 avatar
        Fred

        My TSX Sportwagon is underrepresented and I get very few emails from True Delta. Maybe once a quarter.

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          Truedelta is easy to use and give updates even with a couple of cars on their list.

          Auto specific forums, though mostly negative, can be an example of what could go wrong as owners are more likely to complain.

    • 0 avatar
      warrant242

      I still miss Lang. He always had interesting content from an unusual industry perspective.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I did love Lang for his anecdotes (I realize that anecdotes =/= data), he at least knew how to tell a story. How he got into movie cars, how he felt about the Panther basted Lincolns he had owned, why he never bought Northstar Cadillacs but would buy “Son of Northstar” Oldsmobiles.

  • avatar
    arach

    I have several SERIOUS issues with a few of these:

    Consumer Reports seems to hit cars equally with “my air filter is hard to change” and “My Engine Blew Up”. I was disturbed how much cars are hit by things that don’t seem like a big deal to me. I know it breaks down by systems, so I won’t say its not “helpful”, but to someone whose NOT a car person, they jump to the final ratings which is equally influenced by “My CD player lags” as “My Engine Blew Up”.

    I also have a concern looking at the “Keyword density”. I know from experience that the type of car you have has a big influence- If you have an enthusiasts car, say a Chevrolet Camaro, corvette, 911, Jeep, etc. then there’s a lot more online activity about specific cars and issues. Heck, when I had a Cadillac CTS, I had to go to the CAMARO forums to find out how to fix issues because on the caddy forums everyone just said “take it to the dealer”. I’ve never seen the advice “take it to the dealer” on the camaro forums!

    I work in industry, and I hate to say it but different companies have varying levels of diligence in submitting TSBs. I swear with Chevy, every issue I had had a TSB for it.. but go to Jeep, and despite there being gobs of people with the same issues on the forums, there’s no TSBs…

    I do think these guides and sources referenced can be helpful, but they also need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Heck, I traded in my cadillac for a hyundai because I wanted to buy a super reliable car and Hyundai near tops the reliability surveys. Several people on the hyundai forums traded in their hyundais for cadillacs because “Hyundais have known engine failures” and they wanted something more reliable.

    The 6.0 F350s gave so many people trouble that I was convinced to buy a 6.4L F350… several years later however, the 6.4Ls became equally as problemmatic.

    Porsche tops a lot of the quality surveys, but get on the forums and find out that “everyone” with a Porsche Cayenne has certain issues. Get on the Cadillac sites and find out that there’s huge issues with the DI engine when people don’t get oil changes. Buyers of different vehicle types often have huge impacts on reliability also.

    Wherever you look, you’ll find issues.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “Consumer Reports seems to hit cars equally with “my air filter is hard to change” and “My Engine Blew Up”. ”

      This. It’s hard to tell how many bad ratings come from actual breakdowns, and how many are coming from people who just aren’t happy with how something works.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      +2. The classic example being the Boxster/996. According to the class action, 1% of pre-99 and 8% of 99-2006 experienced a $15000+ complete engine failure that Porsche will be happy to deny warranty coverage for. That is not even the same sport at the VW coil pack problem, which itself is already pretty bad compared to say, bad window regulators or something.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    My favorite source of data is dealership techs. They know what works and doesn’t work locally, and they get a sneak preview of new problems.
    Unfortunately, it’s hard to collate that data, and they probably won’t open-up unless they know you, or you have mutual friends.

    Manufacturers have the same data, but it’s proprietary.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      The issue with asking repair people about reliability is that they don’t generally adjust their opinions based on sales volume, which they only peripheral knowledge of. They are, however, very good at telling you which cars are the easiest to work on.

      (I used to work in Tech Support for a wide-variety of products, and our view was Everything Is Terrible All The Time, since nobody ever called when it worked.)

      • 0 avatar
        arach

        Yeah. I called the dealership and asked if they knew about how reliable the manual porsche cayennes were. They said they’ve “never had an issue”.

        Well since there’s less than 100 sold/yr, odds are they’ve never even seen one! haha.

        Ask about a Toyota Camry, they’ll tell you all the issues they see.

        I think generally today, most cars are “pretty darn reliable”. not saying you won’t have issues, but its often more like rolling the dice and less like EOLs.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        It’s easy enough to figure out which cars are more reliable even from the tech support guys–just count the proportions of one model over the other during any given week or month. If one model comes in more often than others, then that’s the unreliable one. If one model comes in notably less often, then that’s the reliable one. Quite simple.

        Yes, I too worked tech support, though admittedly in a different industry. Typically, when I saw certain brands come in, I’d end up telling the owner the repair would cost more than the replacement.

  • avatar
    Fred

    The cars individual forums are good place to know what’s going on and no one has yet mentioned True Delta. Techs like to complain about how difficult a car is to work on. My brother says he can’t work on new Volvos because proprietary tools are not available to him. He tried to talk me out of getting an Audi, which I found to be reliable. In the end up to 100,000 miles you should be ok even in something like a Fiat. After that is when the serious trouble starts.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      See the mentions of “Karesh” above. thats “True Delta”. Small sample sizes and poor sampling cause issues there.

      Funny about the Audi. I’ve never met an Audi owner with a car made it 100k unless it was an older pre-07 model.

      I’m not going to argue they don’t exist, but One of my best friends lost his A5’s engine over the age but under the mileage. Turbo issues and carbon buildup issues seem to be all over the place. the only people I know who “love” audis either lease them every 3 years or drive one thats 15 years old. My mother in law has 67k on hers and is full of issues, and its currently half torn apart because of the well known PCV failures.

      I wouldn’t touch an audi with a 10 foot pole… haha.

      But I drive a porsche and don’t have too much issues there… which is like 50% the same thing.

      I’m sure there’s plenty of people with good experience with Audis, but its always interesting how people’s experience is.

      AUDI is the ONLY company I’ve heard of with significant issues under 100k.

      After 100k, I don’t think “reliability” is as important as “repairability”. I’ve had cars with 3000-5000 “normal” repairs. Heck, a battery on a BMW is typically over 500 and you can’t do it yourself.

      I had a cadillac CTS and I always said “the worst thing about Cadillac is its pretty much just a chevy. The Best thing about cadillac is its pretty much just a chevy”. repair was a cinch. If you wanted a 100k+ mile “luxury” car, cadillac is such a good way to go because there’s not a repair on that thing thats expensive. You could probably replace the engine or transmission for less than it costs to replace an ECU in a Bimmer..

      I never knew if Hondas were “that reliable” or if it was that it took 3 minutes and a screw driver to repair anything that breaks. Who cares about clogged PCV valves when it takes $2.60 and 30 seconds to swap it out? Come to a VW though and the PCV costs $80 and takes 6 hours.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “AUDI is the ONLY company I’ve heard of with significant issues under 100k.”

        Nothing is worse than Maserati.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          I know that was true 10 years ago with the SkyHook suspension (or whatever they called it), and the dual clutch automatic. Is it still true now?

          All their cars are either entirely new models, or heavily updated. What are the trouble spots on current-gen Maseratis, assuming the transmissions and suspensions have been de-complexified?

        • 0 avatar
          arach

          As an ex-maserati owner, and a current Ferrari owner, I don’t know how to respond.

          My Maserati was about as much as a hassle as my Ferrari. My Ferrari cost me about $12k this year in repairs and maintenance.

          Actually the reason I have a ferrari is because I realized the maserati was just about the same price to maintain as a ferrari, and if I had to pay that kind of money for maintenance, I’d rather have a ferrari.

          So why do I have a hard time to respond?

          I put maserati at the bottom end of the exotics market. In other words, I would never consider Maserati a reliable form of transportation for anyone, and I can’t fathom that someone would buy a maserati thinking it was reliable transportation. Every Maserati owner I’ve met, like every ferrari owner I’ve met, has other forms of transportation and does not expect to get significant mileage out of the vehicle.

          Contrast this with Audi. Many Audi owners I know own a single vehicle (or use the Audi as their primary vehicle). it is to these buyers a luxury (or sport luxury if an S) class vehicle that they expect to get a full life out of.

          But yes, if someone suggested to me that they wanted to buy a maserati and reliability was even on their list of concerns, I would agree with you 100%.

          I would expect the average maserati to run more than $25k in service and maintenance to get it to 100k.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            arach,

            Which Maserati do you have? Is it one of the new ones (Ghibli, Levante, 2014+ Quattroporte), or something that uses an old platform like the GT or previous Quattroporte?

          • 0 avatar
            arach

            @Heavy

            I had a Quattroporte V. I liked it, but it was like a 4 door ferrari maintenance-wise. I had a late model DuoSelect too… because I hate autos and won’t drive one…

            I understand the argument that the Quattroporte VI and the other current generations are more more reliable, but I still would have a hard time mentally putting them in the “luxury” market. I’d stick them more with Porsche than Audi.

            A base Ghibli starts at 72k… and the dealer network is widespread.
            A base Audi is $31k… and dealers are closer

            Is there some overlap in the market? Yes, but I don’t think the Average Audi buyer and the Average Maserati buyer are anywhere close to the same ballpark.

            I’ll trust you that the reliability has increased, but even so, the cost of ownership is significantly higher for a typically Maser than for a typical Audi, and the clientele is quite different.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          “Nothing is worse than Maserati.”

          Really? Nothing? And just how long have you had this viewpoint?

          Why do I ask? Some reputations are grossly obsolete and your Maserati one may be among them.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        I put more than 150,000 miles on my 2011 Audi in just over five years. Needed nothing other than tires, oil changes, spark plugs, air filter and a battery in the five years I owned it. Also owned a 4Runner during the same time period that had far fewer miles on it, but needed a need wiper motor switch, several sets of front calipers (due to frozen pistons causing irregular pad wear) and had a transfer case that no longer shifted into low gear.

        BTW, just purchased another Audi and expect the same as the last one. Traded the 4Runner on a Grand Cherokee.

      • 0 avatar
        stevelovescars

        I was helping a friend look for a used car a couple of years ago. Her budget was tight but she insisted she wanted an Audi A6 wagon. We looked at three of them because the resale value seemed really low (another good indicator of long-term ownership costs, no?). Every single one of them was leaking oil horribly… all with fewer than 100k miles.

        My GF just got rid of her ’08 Audi A4. With 80k on the clock, fastidious maintenance at the Audi dealer since new, and easy driving it still needed $4500 in repairs due to leaking turbo seals plus was coming due for an expensive timing belt replacement. She was looking at a $6k bill on a car worth just about $8k in excellent shape. These leaking turbo seals appear to be common based on forum comments.

        Personally, I do look at resale value as an indicator of reliability. With the exception of Ferraris, which live in a world unto themselves apparently where money doesn’t matter.

        There is probably a good correlation between a car that is near worthless on the market with 50k miles on it and likely repair headaches. That said, repair costs do vary a lot. My Ford Taurus family truckster/winter beater isn’t the most exciting car but every repair I’ve had (not many, actually) has been dirt cheap. I even knocked off a side view mirror and got a new original replacement part for $40. I shudder to think what that would have cost on my Mercedes. I don’t have fond memories of the many headaches I had with my BMW E39 wagon, either. It was a lovely car but was a repair nightmare. I sold it with 2k miles left on the warranty. I would never own another BMW outside of warranty, either.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I wish I had researched my ’09 Clubman before I bought it. I fear the timing chain guides are going. And the oil consumption issues with the S models. And the water leakage issues I’ve had brings back the ghost of Lucas electronics.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      Minis:
      All the BMW costs and problems without the clout.

    • 0 avatar
      Windy

      It is a major variable when the level of maintenance is factored in I have a 2004 MINI Cooper S that I bought new on February 2004 158,000 miles later (oil change with full synthetic every 5000) I have had just 2 repair costs one of the viscoelastic engine mounts started leaking and the right front suspension has had a part replaced 2 times once at 60,000 and the same part at 138,000. I has never needed any oil between changes including once when I forgot and did not change between 140000 and 152000) the suspension part can be put to the broken down edges of rural maine roads where I live…

      Now some folks would call the reliability I have enjoyed unacceptable but I consider it outstanding. At no time have I ever been stuck and the those three items were caught and repaired at either old change/service time or by the state inspection in the case of the suspension part the first time.
      yet online i see how unreliable and fragile the MINI is supposed to be… and I expect both are right…

      Am I disappointed that BMW-MINI no longer provide updates to the builtin Navigation system (The last on also split the country at the Mississippi into a pair of DVDs requiring a change when going east or west in that area)… Yes I am; since the MINI system used in 2004 is the the BMW system from 2001 I should not be surprised at that but I was not expecting to have to go over to my iPhone nav due to outdated maps quite so soon.

      • 0 avatar
        nlinesk8s

        That’s because you have the pre ’07 Mini. The 07-’10 cars drink oil, and are frequently run low by non-enthusiast owners. Plus timing tensioners, plus fuel pumps, plus… Plus, BMW has taken over from the old English cars in terms of never-ending oil leaks. To a BMW owner, OFHG is a four-letter word (oil filter housing gasket, which leaks no matter how many times it’s replaced).
        I tend to look at Craigslist for older cars. Low resale is a warning, plus if all the cars you see for sale have low mileage or blown engines (like 125k or less for Mini S or RX-8), there’s probably a reason. Try finding a non-S Mini or Subie for sale with less than 150k or so; it’s not easy.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      what is it with German car companies and crappy timing chain tensioners/guides?

  • avatar
    TDIandThen....

    The list Sajeev has assembled looks pretty comprehensive to me – correct? If so, which rater or combination of raters comes closest to using or compiling data from the full list?

    Just by assembling the list TTAC has performed a service it seems to me. I feel under-informed on this issue.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’m not a huge believer in ANY reliability rating system.

    Fact is, these days, “unreliability” is a different issue than it was 30 years ago, when these rating systems became popular. Think about it – is there anything even remotely comparable to, say, a Yugo, or a Hyundai Excel, currently trolling the roads? I’d say there isn’t.

    Yes, some contemporary cars are more reliable than others, but it’s a matter of degrees now. Because the average car *is* highly reliable, a comparatively small variance makes it “below average”.

    And as far as CR is concerned…I’d like to see the ratings drilled down a bit. For example: lots of new cars are related “unreliable” when it comes to their infotainment systems. Now, does that mean the system literally broke down, or does it mean that the owner didn’t like the way it worked? That’s the kind of data I’d like to see.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    I like TrueDelta’s methodology, but it really does need more members.

  • avatar
    FThorn

    I’ve had all sorts of makes/brands. Current daily is 96 Caravan with 200,000 miles. Had fuel pump go out at 3 am on vacation once. Only time ever had to call a tow truck.

    Have three Toyotas right now. Two near 200,000, one at 90,000 and have not had any issues with them.
    Had two Accords. One with 160,000. It was very CLUNKY … but RELIABLE. Other was new, so it was good.

    My Jeep broke down a few times. Had Mercury break a timing belt and hit valve.
    Worst car ever was Olds Diesel Cutlass. Next was Chevy Spectrum

  • avatar
    BaBlogger77

    I normally just Google “[fill in the blank] car reliability,” and any number of enthusiast forums will appear. While I understand that normally people do not purposefully seek out these sites to shout from the proverbial mountaintop about how wonderful and problem-free their cars are, it will give me a pretty good idea of certain reliability trends that could possibly affect the make and model. Also, normally these enthusiast websites are viewed by a number of people with the same car. Statistically, while a larger sample size is better, you do not really need a huge sample size to see the odds that a certain problem will pop up. Also, unlike data from manufacturers or parties who are financially related to, or benefit from, the manufacturers, there is less of a financial incentive for third parties to fudge their true feelings or issues with a particular vehicle.

    I also have a rule of thumb that I never buy the first year of production of any model. If both are available at the same time, I prefer having the last year of an old model versus the first year of a new one, even though the new one normally has more technology. This, of course, assumes that the old model does not contain an advance roll out of some sort of new, major drivetrain component. Whether a transmission or engine is in its first year in a particular model is another thing that I often look into. Despite all of the advances in computer design and testing, I still do not believe that manufacturers truly have a complete grip on all of the potential reliability problems until its components are subject to the rigors of mass production and endless daily use.

    At least with European cars, I have found that this informal research show perhaps a broader trend of problems by make, which seem to go on for many years at a time. For the past few decades, some manufacturers often make engines that cannot seem to avoid major internal issues such as excessive oil consumption, while others consistently design or manufacture their vehicles with electrical, transmission or suspension issues. Do I really believe that this car company suddenly wakes up one day and makes a motor that can go virtually forever with only fluid and spark plug changes or an electrical system that works flawlessly? While you may not be able to necessarily pinpoint a problem down to the exact year and model, I find that old habits often die hard with car companies.

    I also like CR. Its data appears to only go back several model years, which have covered most of my car purchasing situations. However, I have on occasion bought cars so old to be beyond the data published by CR, which is where I find the enthusiast websites more helpful.

    • 0 avatar
      sarcheer

      You nailed it, the most prudent decision to make regarding reliability across all brands: avoid first model year production vehicles.

      Plus those first year vehicles rarely get good sales/lease incentives.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Admittedly, only once have I ever purchased a first model year of any vehicle–an ’02 Saturn Vue. Interestingly perhaps, while I heard of many issues with the Honda-supplied V6 drivetrain, I had absolutely no issues with the Opel-supplied I4 with dual-clutch 5-speed stick. I drove that car for over 130k miles and had only one major repair–a right-front strut replacement–under warranty. The clutch plates lasted the life of the car, though I understand the next owner had to replace them about 10k miles later. Don’t know where that Vue is now.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    You have to be old enough (me!) to remember a time when it was considered usual that you would bring your new car into the dealer at a thousand miles to have them fix the various things that were wrong. Today, even with the three Audis and six VWs I’ve had, only an early Passat fuel pump failure marred even any first ten thousand miles. So reliability is an altogether relative term. Almost all current vehicles are ridiculously reliable compared to four or more decades ago. I imagine that very long-term reliability would be crucial for those intending to keep their vehicle for a very long time. I normally go just three years.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    I quit looking at Consumer Reports some time ago. Partly due to the reasons others have mentioned, but most notably because of the contradictory info that they put out.
    Specifically, for me, it was some decades ago when Chrysler started selling vehicles with their first electronically shifted 4 speed auto trans. CU sent me a sample issue trying to get me to subscribe. There was a long article about the problems with the 4 speed Chrysler trans and how it sometimes left drivers waiting for a tow truck. Also described was the “limp home” failure mode where, if something went wrong, the trans would shift into 2nd. That could be exciting on a rainy or snowy curve if it had been in 4th gear.
    Less than ten pages further was a mid-size sedan comparison. Here CU rated the Chrysler as their top pick. Yet it had the same 4 speed trans that had been rated as a big problem.
    I agree with those that want info from the technicians that work on the cars. Collecting and sorting that data, particularly from techs with 10 years or more experience, would tell you a lot.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I use reliability data to get an idea of what I might expect from a car I’m interested in.

    For example, apparently Toyotas and Hondas do top the list of reliability and Wifey’s 2002 CR-V is no exception. However, I know of a few people who had Toyotas within the last 6 years who had significant issues with their cars, including a driveability issue with something not being right despite multiple dealer visits. When the lease was up, she desperately wanted something different, but her Toyota dealer literally “bought” her and leased her a new Camry for only 80¢ more per month! Same level of options as her last. Fortunately, this car is much better. Another neighbor had V6 engine problems in her Camry, which took a while to straighten out.

    Me? I knew that an Impala was a pretty reliable car, maybe not at the level of Honda and Toyota, but pretty good, and that’s why I bought two, so far. Why? Simply because I’m a Chevy guy at heart and DID NOT WANT A TOYOTA OR HONDA! Issues? Yes – two. Once-in-a-while drip from the front engine cover. GM fixed that, but as I’m in the long haul for this car, I paid for a timing chain – strongly recommended! Also, a purge valve in the emission system. That’s it. 108,000 miles so far.

    I look at reliability reviews with a tiny grain of salt, but take CR’s the most serious. I do belong to True Delta as well, and stay up-to-date when I receive e-mails.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Which engine does your (W-body?) Impala have? I though the later version with the 3.6-liter was a sweetheart, but even the earlier 3.5-liter and 3.9-liter versions were good. But the less said about the 5.3-liter “SS”, the better.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        IIRC Zackman had the timing chain replaced, while the engine was partially disassembled to fix an oil leak (?) I forget exactly what happen but would appreciate a reminder. 3.6L W-body Impalas are always on my radar as a cheap commuter that swallows up our crappy roads.

  • avatar
    yamahog

    I think of reliability as a binary thing – how long would you expect the car to go doing by-the-book maintenance and how many things would you expect to break along the way (and to a lesser extent, what’s the cost of those things?).

    I like going to craigslist/autotrader/car gurus and filtering for cars with 150k+ miles, or 200k+ miles, ect. and figuring out what’s there. How often has it been repaired? How much does the vehicle sell for? What condition does it look like?

    The reality is that you’ll find almost every manufacturer represented in a search for used cars with over 200k.

    But you’ll notice that certain types of cars / models are very, very common for >200k. Large trucks (esp. with diesels), cars with truck powertrains (e.g Lincolns, Camcords, hybrids seem to make up ~75% of the vehicles with >200k miles.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    One thing I noticed is that despite many inconsistencies between the different sources, and even within the same source (CR Matrix/Vibe), one thing you can count on is that Toyota/Lexus is at the top and they’ve been there for a long time.

    Consumer Reports, JD Power, Long Term Quality Index, doesn’t matter where you look.

    Why is that? I have my own theories based on my experiences.

    -They use better materials, the soft bits last longer, plastics, hoses, etc.

    -They keep it simple, and when they do adopt a different technology, they do it right (dual port/direct injection turbo).

    -They fix problems relatively quickly. Transmission issues on 2007 Camry V6s, VVTi oil lines, cam gears, etc. They don’t let problems continue on and on for multiple model years like some companies (Volkswagen).

  • avatar
    JMII

    Seems like a crap shoot to me which is sad considering the vast amounts of information on the interwebs these days. I find the fanboy sites the best because if you see a procedure detailed there that means MANY people have performed it. As mentioned some “problems” are total BS I’ve seen radio static listed as an electrical issue… please. I like TrueDelta’s approach to problems. They kind of report things that fall into two categories: annoying stupid things and stuff where the car is undriveable. The annoying things can add up and make you wish you never bought a given model. However if the car is broken so bad you can not drive it that is unacceptable.

    Random examples of my experiences: I’ve had three Hondas (85, 89 and 93) all were as reliable as a sunrise. My Passat B5 – no sludge or coil packs but instead had the constant window regulator issues along with various random interior problems (sunroof switch, glove box handle, plastic peeling/cracking). According to Consumer Reports my Dodge Dakota would break by just turning the key. Well its going on 15 years and over 100K miles of towing with no major problems. Contrast that with my father’s Chevy Blazer that had to be towed back to dealership over five times for major electrical and transmission problems, not to mentioned two complete A/C system replacements! Our ’08 Volvo was highly rated by everyone, yet it broke so many expensive parts even our local Euro-specialist shop guy would shake his head every time I walked in. My Z breaks exactly the things the user forum claims will break. Considering I track this car I can’t complain, its actually super reliable given the incredible abuse level that track driving puts on the vehicle. In fact based on our current Nissan experience we just purchased an Infiniti Q60 to replace the Volvo.

  • avatar
    cheezman88

    I think the best way to do is find major issues with certain make and models. The other stuff you know can happen to any car and wont’ affect whether you’ll make it from point A or point B. Repair and parts cost is also important like someone else mentioned here. Sure you can try and fix it yourself, but if the part itself costs a lot or is hard to find, and you need proprietary tools, and it takes a week and bloody knuckles then it isn’t exactly reliable in my mind. Especially if you live in a place that has cold winters, you can’t really expect to work on your car when it’s below freezing out and you have no garage.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Chuckling at the lead picture in the story. There are so many of those 90s Cherokees running around here in the midwest. They just keep going and going. And with far less body corrosion than decade-newer Dodge pickups.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I dunno Indifan, I’m here in Indy and most of the newer ’97+ XJs have rotten rocker panels, with rust creeping up from the bottom edges of the doors, and likely (but not visibile) rotted out floorboards. But yes the “big rig” 94-01 Rams are even worse rust-wise.

      I’m not 100% convinced on the legendary I-6’s longevity. Way too many with cracked heads, low oil pressure at idle, and a multitude of issues with ancillary components (exhaust manifolds cracking, poor quality cooling systems). I’m more impressed with ‘jellybean’ Ford Explorers to be honest, particularly in 5.0L V8 and 4.0L OHV guise. If I didn’t already own an older midsize SUV, I’d focus my search on the Fords.

  • avatar
    zip94513

    The best source for me has been the forums of folks who have purchased the vehicles. You can read about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nothing will be more factual than owner forums IMO.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    I like to ask friends who work for automotive suppliers. They know firsthand which OEMs actually care about getting quality parts, and who just wants the cheapest stuff possible to keep the line running.

    There are real differences, and typically their feedback is consistent with the general public perception of automaker reliability.

    For example, a friend who works at a company that makes driveshafts was recently telling me about a test where they put a vehicle on rollers, run the driveshaft at its resonance frequency for an extended period, and then look for damage or wear.

    One Japanese OEM with an excellent reputation for quality and reliability runs this test for 200 hours.

    A quasi-domestic OEM with a poor quality reputation only runs it for 4 hours.

  • avatar
    lot9

    CR acts like it is the GOSPEL on Autos Reliability, but they are not the BIBLE on it.

    CR reliability reports are worthless. I see it as a SCAM on their subscribers. They only let their subscribers submit reports…and even they can be bias in CR favor. After all, they are preaching to the choir.
    Why not let the Public submit reports also and get a truer picture of the car’s reliability?

    Their reliability reports were being contradicted by what their owners/ subscribers were submitting in the “Owner’s Comments”, section.

    Well CR could not stand for that…so what they do….REMOVED the comment section! And they refuse to bring it back.

    Great ethics for a Consumer Magazine!

    They can not let a little truthful input from their owners cloud their reliability reports.

    For years they recommended VW’s , even when they are at the bottom of their own reliability list.

    I do not go on one website reports, but look at many. Owners comments are still the “proof in the pudding”. Then, you have to vet those comments.
    I weed out “dead battery issues, etc” ones after the auto is 3 yrs old, kind of thing.

    Most auto reviewers that I read, do not even refer to it. It is all too subjective for them to use.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      CR was/is very careful to separate their assessment of the car, like a typical car reviewer might view it, and their reliability prediction. Since they present both scores; “Is this a nice car?” and “will it break?”, what’s the problem?

      And what do you mean, the CR subscribers are a “bias in CR’s favor”? I’m not even sure what that means… in “favor” of CR? Huh?

      In any case, CR’s audience IS their subscribers; it makes sense that is the survey pool, and not, say, an enthusiast that has never read CR in his/her life and may answer very differently on the survey.

      And surveys (which go out to every subscriber) are approx. 1 Metric *bleep*-ton more useful than counting how many users choose to leave a comment. (Not to mention comment sections are notorious grounds for fanboy’s, vendettas, etc.)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The main thing I see burn people is not reliability itself, but rather the profound cost of an expensive unreliable car. Even the BHPH-market 7-Series buyer isn’t expecting a Camry experience out of his car; he is, however, somehow shell-shocked when something goes wrong in the charging system and he ends up having to spend $500 on a pricey absorbent-glass-mat battery and the cost to program it to the car (because BMW).

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      This! It’s really annoying when the CV boots on a Ford fail at 60k miles, but the cost of the repair isn’t a deal breaker. Wish Ford had paid a little more for the part so it would last past 100k miles. In contrast, the cost of parts and shipping delays in getting parts make well used German luxury cars can make them a more risky choice as a daily driver.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    I’m always amazed how often I run into the “Japanese Conspiracy” theory regarding Consumer Reports.

    People will swear up and down that Consumer Reports is an opinion survey, and that because Japanese cars have a better reputation, people “lie” and say that their Toyota Camry was super reliable, when in reality, it had all sorts of problems.

    Everything I’ve seen is that the people that participate log all of their service history and turn it in, they don’t just give a shoot from the hip “feeling” about whether the car was reliable. And then CR has list of where the problem areas occur after collecting survey results, with things like “brakes, body hardware, transmission, etc”

    I’m sure there’s room for improvement, but my personal experience and with friends and family have lined up really well with their findings.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    Here’s The Problem:

    Everyone you could source vehicle reliability data from has incentive to slant it.

    Manufacturer warranty data?This needs no explaination. The notion of submitting internal warranty data to a publicly available database would trigger coronaries in every automotive marketing department on the globe.

    Independent garages? “T & A Automotive” (tire and alignment,clearly ) management probably just figured out what Excel was last year. Mom and pop smaller garages have better things to do then play statistician.

    Dealers? The moment dealerships started sending repair data to a third party they’d get “leaned on” by the manufacturer to cease and desist. Used car dealers wouldn’t be so handcuffed ,but by definition they can’t totally vouch for the history of their inventory good or bad ,so the datas skewed. Not everything positive or negative is documented on a Carfax.

    Now we come to the worst offender -user reported surveys. We know from psych studies people attach greater positive association to expensive products then they do cheaper equivalents.

    Say a Range Rover blows its engine in 30,000 miles. The owner will shrug and say “eh,stuff breaks” because it’s a $70,000+ high status vehicle. If a GM/Ford/Chrysler/Cadillac/Lincoln so much as cracks a windshield ,it’s an unreliable Detroit POS worthy of the crusher. We see it all the time on the internet.

    BMW E36 M3 cracks a chassis subframe ? “German cars need maintenance dude”.

    Mercedes AMG fails its ABC components? “German cars need maintenance dude.”

    C5 Corvette glovebox light burns out -“what a POS.Typical GM Quality!!!!Down with the UAW!!! Wish I bought a BMW!!!!!!”

    Or we have the opposite problem-regular people don’t know a lot about cars ,so easily fixed yet dramatic failures like an Alternator problem get higher profile then quiet but expensive defects . Insidious , car killing problems like the Northstar head bolt problem won’t be identified by lay people accurately -as most would say it’s a head gasket problem , which means a prospective buyer might erroneously conclude they could fix an afflicted Northstar vehicle in their garage.

    So instead of a user reported database of actual reliability issues,you’d have a database cataloguing social repuatuon of major automakers .
    This is the weakness of Consumer Reports,albeit they do try to mitigate that bias best they can. Unfortunately ,they’re probably the closest practical execution of what the author wants .

    Reality,thou art harsh.

    • 0 avatar
      whitworth

      “Now we come to the worst offender -user reported surveys. We know from psych studies people attach greater positive association to expensive products then they do cheaper equivalents.

      Say a Range Rover blows its engine in 30,000 miles. The owner will shrug and say “eh,stuff breaks” because it’s a $70,000+ high status vehicle. If a GM/Ford/Chrysler/Cadillac/Lincoln so much as cracks a windshield ,it’s an unreliable Detroit POS worthy of the crusher. We see it all the time on the internet.”
      _________

      Except that’s not what actually happens, Range Rover for instance is almost always at the bottom of CR findings for reliability. I mean literally I’ve seen that brand score worse than every other car brand some years.

      And relatively inexpensive economy cars like a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic generally score really high on reliability.

      • 0 avatar
        Add Lightness

        Simplicity (a relative word in these days of crazy complex new cars) is a huge key to reliability.

        I can’t think of a worse place on land to put a complex piece of hardware than on roads with vibration, cold/hot temperatures, dust, water etc.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    I’m frankly *amazed* how reliable vehicles are.

    I mean, stop and really think about it sometime – most new cars on the road today will be completely safe and reliable for thousands of miles and in all sorts of conditions, in the vast, vast majority of cases, for YEARS, with minimal maintenance and effort.

    In a lot of ways, that’s a feat of awesomeness right up there with Apollo (apologies to SCE to AUX). Apollo had to stay in one piece while an army of highly trained specialists watched telemetry and had experienced operators monitoring and reacting to issues. Cars, while less complex to be sure, have to do this every day with operators who oftimes treat the equipment like crap, don’t follow maintenance instructions and drive and store that same equipment in every condition imaginable.

  • avatar
    Von

    It’s a law of averages thing, and you need to understand the method to get the most out of it.

    It’s a little like saying a pit bull is more dangerous than a dalmatian. Either breed can seriously injure a man, and either breed can be gentle companions, but it’s a useful generalization that is right more often than it is wrong.

    I know, not the best example, if you got another one, feel free to share it.

    • 0 avatar
      redrum

      Yeah, exactly. These are probabilities, not absolutes. If some particular component in a car has a 1% failure rate in the first year and that car sold 50k units, that means 500 people had that problem. If, say, 50 of them go online and complain loudly about it on various web sites, that’s going to give the impression (to some) that a lot of people are having the problem. Yet the reality it’s only 1 in 100 owners will ever have this problem.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    Carcomplaints.com is the Bible of cars…TTAC is the Holy Grail.
    I refer to Carcomplaints when car shopping…And TTAC for the latest news.
    After seeing how poorly American brand vehicles are, I ALWAYS buy imports.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In 2002, my research told me that the VW Passat was reliable (B5 and earlier), and I bought one (B5.5). I traded it in 2005 because I couldn’t keep it out of the shop. The data from that era now supports my experience.

    While fighting American Honda over my 2005 Odyssey, I learned that the power sliding doors were an issue going back to the previous generation. “Honda Reliability” may apply to 99% of their buyers, but it’s lost on me and the other 1% who have been burned.

    Buy at your own risk; there are no guarantees of success or failure.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    JD Power is theoretically the best because those who are sampled are sampled at random. However, the questionnaire is very lengthy, so one has to wonder whether participants zone out while completing it.

    Also, JD Power samples only at two points of the ownership cycle (90 days and three years), with the 90 day sample including reliability as only half of the score.

    Consumer Reports covers more cars over more periods than JD Power. It also has far fewer questions, which is a downside for gathering details but a plus for encouraging people to fill out the form. One could argue that the survey is more prone to selection bias because all of the respondents are CR subscribers; however, the reliability survey is based upon a checklist of items that went wrong, not an opinion poll, which gives it an advantage.

    Both surveys accept sample sizes as low as 100, which is not optimal and will produce a higher margin of error than one would like. I would expect the results for the high-volume sellers to be more accurate because the pools should be much larger than that, while the low-volume nameplates will necessarily be more inaccurate.

    True Delta uses sample sizes as low as 25, which makes it a good candidate for being wrong.

    TSBs and recalls tell you something about engineering practices and concerns about litigation and enforcement, not much about reliability.

    Warranty claims are helpful to a point, but (a) you probably won’t get that data and (b) warranty claims are partly a business decision on the part of the OEM. A less conscientious automaker can reduce its warranty claims costs by not paying them.

    • 0 avatar
      Von

      You make a great point about warranties. Although they are internal data, plenty of people in middle management have access to them, from engineering, production, accountants, and purchasers, and they aren’t usually shy about sharing that data with their own staff whenever needed. And since we have so many insiders here, maybe someone can contact the editors here from an anonymous email or something. Not very likely, but would be really interesting.

  • avatar
    WRC555

    My True Delta garage had only uncommon vehicles. WRX, 92-X, Accord Hybrid V6. So I get multiple hounding Emails. Now I have added a Forester XT, I am doing my part making the results less skewed toward the enthusiast side.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The data doesn’t matter, we saw that in the G8 GT story.

    Because the Piston Slap writer and Bark responding to the question had bad experiences with the G8 GT, the car must be a piece of crap.

    When it was presented that JD Power long term, True Delta, and Consumer Reports all indicate the 09 G8 GT has almost top of the pile reliability from all three surveys, the response was, “LOLZ.”

    Literally.

    So let your personal bias fly, that’s what matters.

    VWs are as reliable as a rock, if you believe that replacing ignition coils at 30K miles is standard maintenance and if burning enough oil to almost be a diesel engine from new are marks of reliability.

    GM is hopelessly lousy for reliability because a GM will run badly than most vehicles will run at all.

    Honda’s are of course perfect, if you ignore seat belts that don’t let you out, self-destructing 5-speed automatics, airbags that kill you, and a litany of issues with recent product releases like the Civic. Hey man, it’s a Honda.

    Nothing beats BMW reliability if you believe replacing the entire front suspension of a vehicle is normal maintenance (well admittedly at SOME POINT it is) and exploding fuel pumps are normal.

    You can go on and on. We live in a universe of #alternatefacts and none of these sources know what you’re talking about. So ask your friend, ask your neighbor, and don’t dare do any real objective research which might go against your bias.

    LOLZ


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