By on June 29, 2017

Repair Auto Mechanic Car Automobile Service

How did you celebrate Warren Brown Day? What? You didn’t know about Warren Brown Day? Well, my friend, allow me to fill you in. If you are a subject of the Washington, DC metro area, then June 15th was officially Warren Brown Day for you. The day celebrates Warren Brown’s contributions to automotive journalism. This came as a great surprise to me; as far as I knew, Mr. Brown’s primary contribution to automotive journalism was finding a way to get around the Washington Post‘s policy on accepting luxury travel.

It occurred to me that maybe the city was honoring a different Warren Brown, so I went back and checked the original article in American Journalism Review to make sure that I had the right guy. Once I started re-reading it, however, I quickly forgot all about Mr. Brown and his Italian vacation, because the most important story Frank Greves tells in his overview of automotive journalism has nothing whatsoever to do with the perks of the business.


I’ll excerpt the whole paragraph here, because it’s worth reading in its entirety. And I will boldface the most important part just in case it helps.

[Dan] Neil fell into a deeper hole when, while swooning over the $112,700 Audi A8, he declared: “At this moment, Germany is to car building what Renaissance Florence was to painting.” Actually, at that moment, Audi, BMW and Volkswagen ranked in the bottom half among automakers for dependability after three years, according to a respected J.D. Power and Associates survey. Neil’s defense rests on the qualifier “at this moment,” reviewers having reached consensus that a new model’s future reliability can never be predicted ― even if the maker has for decades turned out lots of models that barely outlived their warranties.

I was immediately reminded of the long email argument I had a few years ago regarding the Porsche Boxster and its infamous IMS failures. In the course of preparing an article for an outlet that was not TTAC, I suggested that buyers be aware of the situation when shopping for a used Porsche. I was immediately castigated by another editor who launched into a long rant about how the IMS problem had never been “proven” and how it would be “unfair to Porsche” if I mentioned it. My response was sharp; his follow-up was shrill; we agreed to disagree. You can imagine my relief when that particular fellow and I parted ways a few years ago, but the fact was that he wasn’t alone in feeling that way about new-car (or, in this case, used-car) reliability.

There is a general feeling in the journalism game that mentioning reliability in a new-car review is somehow beyond the Pale, the same way that a woman’s friends tend to clam up about her “romantic” past once it looks like she’s landed a potential husband. This is particularly true for brands which are known to have aggressive public-relations policies and/or substantial journalist-related budgets. To my knowledge, pre-2016 TTAC was the only outlet that would not “correct” submitted drafts if they dwelled on the potential problems of a whiz-bang new technology. One example of this would be Volkswagen DSG. Did any of the rave reviews for the MkV GTI include even a whiff of caution regarding the idea of dual-clutch technology being implemented by a company that couldn’t seem to master the power window regulator?

There are, of course, examples of cases where the see-no-evil policy of auto journos turned out just fine. The current Chevrolet Cruze shouldn’t be judged based on anecdotal evidence pertaining to the Chevrolet Citation. Yet I have to wonder if every review of a new German car shouldn’t come with a warning that a significant percentage of the various telematic/entertainment systems fitted to those vehicles have had problems ranging from slow response to random blank screens. Every high-buck German car I’ve ever owned required periodic and random “reboots” to clear black screens, frozen text, and other unusual behavior. By contrast, my Accord has gone 49,000 miles without any misbehavior on the part of the “i-MID” system. Which is good, because reliability is about all i-MID has going for it.

I think it’s fair to say that auto journos should make an effort to acquaint buyers with at least a cursory overview of a vehicle’s likely reliability once in service. The problem, however — and this is where the more intelligent of the junketeers latch on like a furious Chesapeake crab — is that all the really good reliability data is safely in the hands of the people who have no incentive to share it.

I’m referring, of course, to the manufacturers and the dealers, who have comprehensive records of warranty failures, service events, and customer complaints. There’s a limit to that data, of course, because the older a car gets the less likely it is to go to a dealer for service. I don’t think that Mercedes-Benz is in possession of enough information to make accurate predictions about the future reliability of a 1981 240D with 800,000 miles on the clock and a tank full of biodiesel. I do think they know plenty about how troublesome the W220 S430 was in its first few years.

Only the dealers and the manufacturers truly know how reliable their products are (or aren’t). Everybody else is relying on pretty miserable information. Consumer Reports relies on a curious combination of self-selection and personality type. Despite having purchased two dozen new cars since 1995, I’ve never heard from CR — and I bet that’s true for a lot of people. The JD Power results basically consist of people who can be guilted into filling out a form because there’s a dollar bill in the envelope with that form. The various online startups are even worse in my opinion. Many of them are so hungry for data they tend to be a little fast and loose with the integrity of data. I also wouldn’t trust any “reliability guru” who actively solicits press trips and free loaner cars from the manufacturers.

What other options do you have? You can visit the various single-marque forums, although these tend to attract a certain sort of participant. You can try the general-purpose or non-marque-based places like “Bob Is The Oil Guy”, although again you will be dealing with a very specific type of person who tends to have specific problems. You can buddy up to a mechanic, although mechanics tend to take a dim view of the cars on which they work every day. I used to know several Benz wrenches back in the 1980s who thought the Benz W126 was a total piece of junk because the cars had a few specific problems that tended to result in frequent service visits when they were new.

Alternately, you could rely on the unconscious pattern-matching abilities that evolution (or intelligent design) managed to engineer into your brain. Ask yourself which old cars you still see on the street. Ask yourself whether those cars are in good condition; if they are not in good condition, ask yourself if you could live with the problems you see. As an example, when I was a kid on the East Coast and in Ohio I could see that “Hilux”-era Toyota trucks tended to rust into Swiss metal fairly rapidly. But I never saw one stranded by the side of the road.

When I let my brain work on the data available to my eyes, I come to some pretty simple conclusions. Japanese-branded cars last longer than non-Japanese-branded cars, but full-sized American-brand trucks seems to outlast their Japanese-branded competitors. Hondas rust, Nissans smoke, Toyotas lose their paint shine pretty quickly. There is no such thing as a durable air suspension. The bigger and more complicated a German car is, the sooner it seems to disappear from the roads. Manual transmissions last longer than automatic transmissions. Four-cylinder engines outlast V6es; the more cams and valves a V-8 has, the more trouble it is.

These are just the impressions to come to me unbidden. They might not all be right, but they are enough to point me in a direction where my research and investigation might bear specific fruit. Should I buy that new super-trick transmission? Should I get the high-end in-dash system? Which is the right engine to get, the right interior material to choose? Is it worth saving two grand up front if it costs me 50,000 miles on the other end of the car’s life?

Obsessing about these questions won’t get you a free trip to Italy or the keys to Washington D.C., but it will pay off in real terms down the road. Open your eyes; trust yourself. As Anita Baker once said, don’t let the decision be made by someone who doesn’t know you. Then take a breath and go for it. Happy Warren Brown Day, everybody.

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151 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: All The Unreliable Ways In Which We Talk About Reliability...”


  • avatar
    mankyman

    What a timely article. I am in the market for a roughly $20K priced recent model third-row SUV to haul around a couple of kids, a dog and a wife most of the time. Some of the time there will be a third kid as well. I would like to tow a 20′ center console fiberglass boat some of the time.

    I have been doing some research and am thinking it is either the Highlander V6 with the towing package, the Dodge Durango (post 2014) or as a wild card, maybe a Chevy Tahoe. The Durango looks the sexiest but I am worried about it’s reliability. It is extremely difficult to get info on Durango reliability. I know the Toyota will be as reliable as nails, but am worried that its’ not butch enough, and will have trouble hauling 5000 pounds. Meanwhile, I know the Chevy can do it all, but I don’t think I need a SUV the size of a tank.

    What does the cognoscenti think?

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I wouldn’t tow 5000 lbs with a Highlander, 3500 would be tops.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’ve got the tow package on my 2010 Highlander – never towed with it though, I really just like having the upgrades that came with it.

        The Tahoe may be a tank but it is also the one (out of what was listed) that’s most likely to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

      • 0 avatar
        mankyman

        Any reason in particular? I agree that a SUV based on a Camry does not inspire confidence but Toyota went ahead and gave it the rating.

        I have towed 3000# with a Crown Vic and it felt at the limits, and that’s a BOF RWD with a V8.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          The Highlander weighs 4200 lbs empty. Put your family, a cooler, and some gasoline, you’re at 5000 lbs. Add the boat and you’re at 10,000 lbs. That’s a lot of mass for a transaxle to move, particularly a Japanese one.

          • 0 avatar
            Coopdeville

            I declare you the closest. I’m a little disappointed in the B&B here. All this talk of tow rating and not one mention of GCVW or GVWR.

            It matters not one lick what the tow rating is if the GCVW is lower. It’s hard to find this info without the owners manual but I’ve seen GCVW listed anywhere from 9,900 to 11,000lbs for the trailer tow equipped Highlander. 11,000 seems awfully high to me, but what do I know. If 9900 is accurate, and the car weighs 4250 empty and you load in 1000lbs of people, stuff, and fuel, you’re down to 4650 trailer weight. Now calculate the tongue weight of your trailer and add it to the “stuff” you’re hauling (assume 10% or 500lbs). Your GVW is now 5750lbs and you can tow 4,150lbs.

            The vehicle might be able to handle it (just listen to Wrangler owners talk about moving 11000lb cabin cruisers around a lake locally with a 2000lb tow rating) but you’re insurance sure will disown you in a heartbeat if you’re in an accident and you’ve exceeded GCWR.

            Always, always, ALWAYS buy more truck than you need to tow with.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “That’s a lot of mass for a transaxle to move, particularly a Japanese one.”

            If anyone makes a sturdy transaxle (transmission for a transverse-engined vehicle), it’s Toyota.

            Having said that, you’re absolutely right with that boat towing requirement (closer to 5k than 3k lbs) I’d move right up to BOF/RWD based vehicles.

            The “value” pick of the bunch would be a used Armada or Expedition or R51 Pathfinder with the Armada’s V8 stuffed in, but all of those are cursed with independent rear suspension, not the best for serious towing IMO. That leaves fullsize GM, perhaps a clean GX470 or 1st gen Sequoia, although some may argue that the Toyota 1UZ 4.7L is overtasked with 5k to tow.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Depends on what and where. Here in the flatlands (Chicagoland to Wisconsin) we’ve used a couple Highlanders to tow pontoon boats (with trailer brakes) as well as several snowmobile trailers, ATVs, etc. Been in the 4k+ range several times, never had a problem. But with no trailer brakes and mountains to contend with, agreed, I’d look elsewehre.

    • 0 avatar
      turbosasquatch

      It sounds like the Tahoe is what you need even if it isn’t exactly what you want. It’s hard to go wrong with a Tahoe or Suburban, older ones are always on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        mankyman

        I see a ton of Tahoes around here. It’s just that I know my wife will hate driving it and it seems like most of the time it’s more than I need.
        I drive a crown vic now and it feels like a tank and I like that quality about it. Reliability is really important to me. I have owned 2 (!) VW B5 platforms.
        So hard to decide.

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        agreed. My FIL just got rid of his circa-2002 Sierra with 300k on the clock, owned since new. My BIL is still rolling in a 03ish Tahoe with 250k on it. Yeah there are some problems with the interior and some of the ancillary systems at this point, but nothing has come close to killing the powertrain.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      I agree, don’t tow 5k with a Highlander. While not a lot of info on the Durango there is a lot of info on the Jeep Grand Cherokee and they share many parts like engines, transmissions. FYI the reliability data for the GC isn’t good. You should look at a Ford Expedition. Less resale value then the GM twins but very good reliability, at least with the 5.4V8

    • 0 avatar
      Bark M.

      Hi, former TTAC advice columnist here. I wouldn’t tow a JetSki with a Highlander, especially not if you need to occasionally make it up an incline. That transmission is completely joyless under duress.

      The Big D is the one you want here.

    • 0 avatar

      Tahoe. You can thank me later.

      -High-mileage (except 190,000 isn’t high for a Tahoe) Tahoe owner.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        08′ Suburban owner here. I concur with the B&B here. The Tahoe is what you need. They are not that **awful** to drive and get reasonable economy if you drive with care.
        Beware the age of the unit, the 07-08 units had oil consumption issues associated with cylinder deactivation deal. I had my 5.3 fixed under warranty at 80k miles, which was like winning the lottery! New pistons, rings, rods. The oil control ring would get too hot and seize to the piston allowing oil to blow by.

        Other than that I have been a happy owner for 7 years of a used Suburban.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        My 03 is at 192K, I do believe.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      I know I’m jumping into this conversation a bit late but something to consider is that $20k is going to get you a much older Tahoe than a Durango or even a Highlander.

      I tow a roughly 3500 lb boat with my ’12 Buick Enclave with tow package and it’s just fine. Granted, I’m not driving up and down mountains or anything, so I guess it also depends on where you live and how often you will use it for towing.

      I figured that if I tow a boat once or twice a month down to Sarasota Bay or some other local ramp and spend the rest of the time just carting kids around and running errands, then a V6 three row SUV with a good CPO warranty was all I needed. And that $20k got me a lot of late model car for my money.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      Since you already drive a Crown, my vote would be to find a 1996 Fleetwood with the 7k tow package and spend the savings fixing Opti-Spark.

      I also agree that a front-driver isn’t a good tow vehicle. If you’re simply pulling the boat in and out of the water and driving it a few miles a year to storage, that is one thing, however, lengthy heavy tows with a transverse driveline is a recipe for failure.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      GMT900 platform vehicle, 2010 or newer.

      That would be Tahoe, Suburban, Avalanche, Yukon, or Yukon XL.

      By 2010 the AFM issues and oil consumption was resolved, the 6-speed automatic had proven out reliable, and the platform was basically 100% sorted out.

      As others have said, they aren’t as bad as you think, they get acceptable mileage for the bulk, and it will tow without issue.

      If you go that route I recommend a couple of things:

      1) They are generally under-braked. I’d invest in some good aftermarket rotors, the factor ones warp too easily. I bought a complete kit on eBay (slotted with ceramic pads) and have no issues. You can buy heavy duty rotors from the dealer.

      2) If you’re remotely worried about AFM oil consumption issues, invest in a Superchips tuner, and disable AFM. Problem solved and it really won’t hurt your MPG much (depending on where you live and how you drive, hilly where I am so AFM never really gets a chance). Because you’re going to tow only use it for disabling AFM, there is strong language about not using the 87 or 91 octane tunes if you’re going to tow/haul.

      3) 4WD models have a known issue where the transfer case can be rubbed through by a line making contact — check for damage (do some forum reading) and make sure the case isn’t compromised or on its way to failure.

      4) Insist on one that has service receipts if you’re deep into 5-digits on the odometer. The secret to getting 200K+ miles out of a GMT900 is this, follow the service recommendations.

      5) The first exception to 4, you’ll be advised you have lifetime transmission fluid unless you do hard duty use. Lifetime transmission fluid is a farce (applies to all manufacturers that make this claim). If you tow/haul, change every 50K miles if you don’t change at 100K miles then every 50K miles. This is beyond cheap insurance.

      6) The second exception to 4, owner’s manual will say change the coolant every 5 years or 150K miles. 5 years is fine, 150K miles is not. Change at 100K miles and then 50K miles after that.

      7) To Jack’s point above, if you get a model with the air suspension the question isn’t if it will fail, the question is when will it fail. It is the one thing you should plan for if you’re chasing the 200K mile mark.

      That’s the tricks to getting a very long life out of a GMT900.

    • 0 avatar
      alff

      I’ve got a buddy who has given up on his Highlander when it comes to towing his Malibu 23 LSV. The boat simply overwhelmed it. I’d go Durango or Tahoe.

    • 0 avatar

      Can’t give you reliability comparison, but the Durango is fantastic to drive (think like a budget X5), UConnect rocks, it has an awesome transmission, and it can actually tow. The others will bore you to death. But if that’s what you want, then go for it. The Toyota will probably be most reliable, if their track record says anything for them.

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      Why not the Traverse?
      It’s designed to be cross-shopped against the Highlander and it has a higher trailer rating (5000 if configured correctly [https://www.toyota.com/highlander/features/weights/6942/6946/6948/6947] VS 5200 for the Traverse [http://www.chevrolet.com/traverse-mid-size-suv#]).

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Think of 5,000 pounds as the maximum rating, you don’t want to tow up to the maximum. Aunt Edna has a few extra cheeseburgers, the gas tank is full, you’re hauling that collectors edition box set of encyclopedias and you just killed your vehicle.

        The main problem with all the CUVs is they are based on cars and for the most part use car transmissions. It is the same issue with using a minivan 15 years ago to tow. Ya, the manual says you can do it, but ultimately the drive train wasn’t engineered for the severe service.

        • 0 avatar
          celebrity208

          You’re correct per wikipedia about the derivation of CUVs from cars but… I don’t think that statement is fair in 2017, let alone in 2009 when the Traverse was introduced. The 6T75 transmission in the Traverse is only used in other Lambda SUVs and the Caddy XTS. The LLT V6, again per wikipedia, seems to only be used in CUVs and “premium” cars (large cars and the Camaro). Even when the first CR-V came out it had a dedicated engine and trans. In the modern world of unit body construction, leveraging the FEA work done on another “platform” probably benefits CUVs more than it hurts them. Remember, it’s only recently that SUVs have begun to out sell cars so it is legit to design a new platform for a car then modify it for a SUV/CUV (so much so as to warrant new platform names and dedicated powertrains, etc.). I say all that to your characterization that being “based” on anything other than a stand alone, one off, platform is a “problem”.
          The real problem is that 90% of people don’t tow so the base model of a vehicle doesn’t have the cooling to keep a transmission alive while towing… hence all those *** around towing specs. Put a large enough trans cooler on and just about any vehicle will tow it’s max tow rating all day long if the driver isn’t an ass.
          I think now-a-days the more important metric isn’t the engine power or the trans torque capacity but the braking power of a vehicle. Transmissions can have extra coolers added. Suspensions can have sway bars added but there’s only so much extra braking power you can get with better rotors and pads on pedestrian vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Coopdeville

      After writing my other $.02 about GCWR I re-read your comment. Have you had the boat weighed on the trailer? My 80’s era 23ft cuddy with an iron block 454 weighed in at 5600lbs on a dual axle trailer with half fuel. I would be surprised if most modern 20ft center consoles weighed above 4k lbs unless it’s an old beast.

      I’m assuming single axle for 20ft? I’ve been out of this for a while but I thought I remembered most single axle trailers topping out at about 3500lb capacity.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Zekas

      Former Dodge person. Chrysler vehicles are trouble. The state bought Dodge trucks cos they were $800 less than Ford or Chevy. And those “cheap” trucks needed constant repairs. Thought maybe it had changed over the years, but no: if you go to AutoExpertTV on youtube, you will hear the horror stories about how Chrysler is STILL screwing customers with crappy vehicles. Same for VW and Mercedes Benz. In fact, there is a rap video created by a Jeep buyer who got a trouble prone vehicle and Chrysler refused to do anything to fix the problem. Of course, all this is anecdotal: as Jack said, only the manufacturers know the truth, and they will never reveal the horrors of their vehicles. Just avoid VW, Jeep and Benz. Oh, and BMW. I have personal experience with the “four thousand dollars a year maintenance” required by these German prima donnas. A good video is: Worst carmakers versus United Airlines: What can we learn? by AutoExpertTV

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I remember being a wee car obsessed lad and looking at the Consumer Reports red circles for the Buicks and black circles for the Camaros. I remember thinking to my 12 year old self “wouldn’t this largely depend on how people drive and maintain the cars?”

    Since then I have always taken reliability rankings with a grain of salt. Sure they’re useful that you have to put them in perspective.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      I used to see those circles as a kid, too, and asked some of the same questions. I also remember that Road and Track used to include a line about expected reliability on their road-test specs and stats page. It boiled down to “below average,” “average” or “above average.” That part disappeared somewhere over the years. I always wondered if it was the legal department or pressure from automakers..

      A bit off-topic but speaking of Consumer Reports, one of the magazine’s auto reviews from the 1980’s comes to mind. CR declared the Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni unstable and likely to roll over. I was working in radio news at the time and our station had a few of those vehicles as news cars. We drove them fast and hard. None ever displayed the handling problems that CR wailed about. The following model year, CR had no issue with the Omni/Horizon’s handling. And Chrysler had made no changes.

      • 0 avatar
        SirRaoulDuke

        I’ve driven an Omni hard enough that if it could roll over it would have. I am talking absolute teenage lunacy type driving.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Consumer Reports didn’t say the Omnirizon was likely to roll over. What they said was that if it was equipped with the power steering option, it had a problem they claimed was unique. They had a test for this unique problem as part of their standard battery of testing, for some reason. They drove the Omni while sawing the steering wheel back and forth and then let go of the wheel with some lock dialed in. Unlike every other car they treated this way, the power steering-equipped Omni’s steering wheel didn’t auto-center when released. THAT’s what they made such a big deal about. This was when the Omni and Horizon were released for the 1978 model year, and Consumer Reports played up their discovery as if they had just shared a collie’s favors with Ralph Nader.

        For some reason even educated people were taking them seriously at the time, because my 100 lbs, 5’1″ mother spent the next seven years driving a Horizon without power steering.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “Alternately, you could rely on the unconscious pattern-matching abilities that evolution (or intelligent design) managed to engineer into your brain”

    So, basically, the Gladwell Blink method?

    The problem is that kind of pattern-matching requires a lot of background information in order to be reasonably accurate. Most people don’t have that kind of background data, and more than a few think they do at truly D-K levels. Consumer Reports might not be perfect, but it’s better than “The School of It Stands To Reason”.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      psarhjinian

      this kinda reminds me of the madness of all the Best Of or Top 100 Beatle Songs or The Rock Hall Of Fame. You have these so called geniuses determining the best of.
      Who are they and why don’t they just…die?

      If the Moody Blues or Jethro Tull or many others who filled the air of the underground FM stations are not influential enough yet bands that nobody heard, or better yet purchased records of, and they get in, then the whole thing is a sham and employment gig.
      Even Neil Diamond couldn’t get in until a few years ago…and not a listener on earth didn’t hear his music.

      OK. The REAL test is seemingly…follow the money. Follow the sales.

      Maybe,just maybe, the unwashed, the commoner or the Basket of Deplorables might know what they are doing.

      Maybe the Camry IS a better car than the Mazda6…no matter how I love my 6.

      Maybe the Monkeys were a great band(?). Ok…that is stretching it.Performers? TV stars?

      • 0 avatar
        whynotaztec

        I’m inclined to agree on one hand – there are so many Camcords out there, maybe the masses DO know something.

        On the other hand, “Who’s the Boss?” had an 8 season run on prime time TV…

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          But this reminds me again of the real reason art exist.
          Sullivan’s Travels, an old movie fav of mine, addresses this.
          Although not considered one of the elite forms, comedy, no matter how stupid, has its reason.
          People need the cartoon,the madcap comedies and whatever else is their release from the cruelness of life.

          And I tell my son this often when he starts to have his self doubt with his game design and art. He often questions why he is doing this when others are fighting wars or becoming doctors.

          Even the doctors and warriors needs their playstation!!! They need their basketball and football, all equally silly professions.

          So Who’s The Boss has its reason.

      • 0 avatar

        I know a guitarist, Billy Davis, who is in the R&R HoF as an original member of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. They had a string of hits in the 1950s and early 1960s, including the original recording of The Twist. Highly influential R&B and rock band.

        I also know another Detroit area guitarist, Jim McCarty, who was in Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, the Rockets and Cactus (the latter because Jeff Beck got in a car accident and couldn’t take the gig). Jim’s work with the Wheels is undeniably seminal rock and roll but someone in Cleveland apparently doesn’t want Ryder & The Wheels in the Hall.

        The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has a spotty record when it comes to Detroit area musicians.

        The same is true of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Perhaps you could argue that Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker don’t have the individual stats, but the fact the Mickey Lolich isn’t in the HoF is a shame. Lolich is #18 overall in career strikeouts, and he did it in fewer years, 16, than any other pitcher in the top 27. He had more strikeouts than Warren Spahn, Cy Young, and Bob Feller. In terms of left handed pitchers, Lolich is 3# all time on the strikeout list.

        He’s one of a very small number of pitchers to have won 3 games in a single World Series, one in which Bob Gibson fanned a record 17 Tigers in the opening game. Lolich kept the Tigers in the ’68 Series, pitched a complete game victory in game 7, and even hit a home run in that series.

        Of course, Detroit manager Mayo Smith’s decision in that World Series to replace a classic good-glove no-hit shortstop, Ray Oyler, with centerfielder Mickey Stanley so he could keep Jim Northrup and Al Kaline’s bats in the lineup, was one of the great managerial decisions ever. Letting Lolich, who had a cast iron arm, pitch 3 games on short rest, was a no-brainer compared to that.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    What is the deal with Toyota paint? I’m driving a Corolla rental car that has all of 3000 miles on it, and it already has two stone chips and a scratch. We have two 2014 and one 2015 cars at home, and they all look better than this nearly new Corolla.

    On that Consumer Reports thing, if you are a subscriber, you should get a survey.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Well,don’t know about Toyota, but Mazda must be right there.
      My 09 6has had more little chips and the metal itself must be produced at Coors Beer it’s so friggin thin.

    • 0 avatar
      Carrera

      Correct. If you are a subscriber, YOU WILL get the yearly survey that covers a large variety of items and yes, cars too.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      I’ve only had it a couple months but I am happy with the paint on my 4Runner. Appears to be on good and thick. Dragged it through the woods a couple of times and it didn’t scratch easily. Also resisted kids with sunscreen and bugs spray hand prints, something that ate through my Jeeps paint.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      You’re surprised that a rental car has stone chips and a scratch? Haven’t you ever noticed that some people like to tailgate semis and even hang out beside them? It would only take one renter.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      We (parents) subscribed for YEARS, no survey, ever. They bought several new vehicles during that time as well.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Toyota and Honda earned their reliability reputations. The boring Camry, hideous Prius, and utilitarian Civic are reliability benchmarks. Any car you buy can be a lemon, but Toyota and Honda give you the best odds of getting a reliable, low maintenance transportation device.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “Only the dealers and the manufacturers truly know how reliable their products are (or aren’t).”

    I remember enquiring casually (several years ago) about a Northstar powered Lucerne sitting on the local GMC/Buick dealers used car lot – traded by an elderly long time customer and had been dealer serviced since day 1. (Mind you this dealer has a long standing relationship with the family I married into.) The response I got from the salesman was: “Northstar. (shudder) The sound they make is sweet though.”

    The only advice I ever take with car reliability is “don’t buy the first year of new model production and don’t buy the last year of production.” I think that holds true for any make, although I’ll add a corollary to Jack’s assertion about the Japanese and say they seem to be more likely to make running changes to correct problems as a generation of a given model progresses.

    • 0 avatar
      sutherland555

      I understand the 1st year advice but the last year? What’s the rational behind that thinking?

      I bought my 2013 Mazda 3 as a end of year and model blowout. It was probably one of the last ones off the line and it has been very reliable (except for a loose power steering wiring that was fixed under warranty).

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      Interesting that you bring up Northstar V8s. My father still drives an ’01 DeVille with 180k miles on the original engine. It still runs great with no issues. Of course it’s always been elderly-ish owned, maintained, and driven with care, but I strongly believe that a car’s first owner and service history are just as important as the emblem on the hood.

      An example would be if I were looking for dirt cheap transportation, I would give more consideration to buying Grandpa’s immaculately maintained Chrysler Concord, than Welfare Willy’s rough Accord.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Actually with GM in particular—as was discussed yesterday—the last model year of a product is the one where they’ve finally fixed everything.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      The most reliable vehicle I ever owned was a first-year-of-generation. ’06 Suzuki Grand Vitara. Yes, it had a few recalls, but for trivial stuff like seat attachment bolts loosening. I’d have to say the worst is a ’09 Escape, which is many years out from the basic design introduction.

      I noticed none of the mentions on reliability stats cited truedelta.

      To some extent used car values reflect reliability, perhaps better than the official sources.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      How about TSB data CR???????

      IF CR really wanted to help out with real data and even the future maintenance of the cars n trucks, they would add a team to give it’s readers and subscribers Complete List of TSBs!!!!

      Where can we find these?

      It would make solving issues on our vehicles easier and a great way to do research on a car you are thinking about.

      And while they are at being The Most Reliable Source For Reviews…why can’t they begin really giving view and vision data on cars? Tome, this is more important that resale value.
      How seeing while driving to me is a great deal more important. Cars.com made a small attempt…but its not available as a tool for buying all categories.

      https://www.cars.com/articles/which-small-suv-in-2017-has-the-best-rear-visibility-1420695173096/

      It should be at CR IF they really want to give something important.

  • avatar

    They probably don’t do these things anymore, but I always thought the best way would be to stand at the bar at a regional Service Manager’s meeting.

    I recall a friend who worked at an Apple Store. When you came in with a laptop with a loose hinge, they’d all say “we’ve never seen that before” then take your laptop into the back and put it into the pile of Loose Hinge repairs.

    New car mags rarely admit the existence of used cars at all.. The only time they’d mention any real flaw was in the new version of the Jupiter 8, when they’d mention that the “rough ride has been fixed”, or the “Cross Fire Injection system is now a true multipart fuel injection system”, without ever mentioning the millions of wasted man hours spent keeping the early system running…..

    A new car journo gets shiny and new, with a full tank, balanced tires, and everything as perfect as can be….for about two tanks. You gotta puke like the Alfa to even get a mention of “reliability”.

    Even the “long term test” is pretty much to the end of warranty…..

  • avatar
    cheezman88

    I’m glad you posted this. Reliability has always been on my mind, even when im not shopping for a car. It’s just such a complex subject, that you need to gather information from a hundred different sources and methods in order to come up with an educated guess. But based on your method of following your own anecdotal advice, I do tend to agree with your assessments. Most of my friends with German cars do tend to have issues more frequently. On top of that, German cars seem to have higher labor rates as their repairs always seem more complicated. But the cost of parts seems to be about the same. What I tend to do is, like PrincipalDan, avoid the first year of production. Unless most of the powertrain is carryover from a previous generation. Another thing to do is look for a serious flaw. For example, I had a 2004 Acura TSX that was supposed to be rock solid reliable. Well mine certainly wasn’t, and I sold it after I found out a number of people had their AC’s implode on them. It was a guaranteed $4000 repair that had no early warning signs, just an undersized compressor shaft.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I put in a new compressor and receiver-drier before changing the oil on a 2005 TSX with HIGH miles yesterday for $645. Even if I’d charged the customer Acura list for the aftermarket compressor, the total would have been less than $1,100. You are a mark.

  • avatar
    Speed3

    What process do you recommend then to evaluate a vehicle’s reliability?

    I have a friend in the market for a large luxury crossover or SUV. He has owned many different BMW X models and Range Rovers in the past and is looking for something new.

    He passed on the Tesla Model X because he doesn’t think its a good value. He finds the Porsche’s uncomfortable. He is looking at the Maserati Levante and asked my opinion. I worry that its completely unreliable because basically every vehicle Maserati has made is a piece of junk.

    I threw in a good word for a Jeep Grand Cherokee (700+ hp! The Overland has the same content as an X5 but for 15K less!) and the new Lincoln Navigator, but domestic brands aren’t a “good fit” image wise he explained.

    I’m not sure how you would properly vet the Maserati for reliability. At the end of the day it probably doesn’t matter because this individual is also the kind of person that leases his vehicles and then turns them in early because he wants a new car.

    • 0 avatar

      Every Maserati I’ve seen out in the wild has been broken down by the side of the road. Every. Single. One.

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      If he’s leasing, reliability means absolutely nothing to him. The car is never out of warranty and if it goes to the shop then he’ll have a loaner.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Probably the biggest benefit of leasing. Most vehicles will get to 30K miles without major issues (Transit Connect aside, sorry Ford). Warranty is still in place, many makers now include at least 24K miles and 2 years of service, luxury makes even more.

        One can debate the value of investing in a depreciating asset, versus paying for the depreciation in the prime of its life and giving it back. If your income supports being able to splurge and you want a new car every 2 to 3 years, leasing is a great way to go. If your income is such that you’re on a car payment treadmill forever, and you don’t drive more than 12K miles a year, again, leasing is a great way to go.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The Maserati is reliable enough to lease.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The current Grand Cherokee is every bit as trouble-prone as an X5—and I should know—so that’s a wash. The Grand Cherokee is less-expensive and offers a low-range transfer case for “true 4×4”—whereas the X5 has more of an on-road AWD system—but, yeah.

      A Maserati doesn’t sound like a good idea for reliability either, given the brand’s sparse dealer network and general cost of maintenance.

      But, unless your friend is specifically looking for something new *because* he’s tired of spending time at the dealership, his lengthy history with Euro rides suggests he’s not averse to finicky cars that are sublime when they actually work. So, I guess I’d recommend whatever. As long as it feels like a world-class SUV, which everything you’ve mentioned does.

    • 0 avatar

      If he’s owned multiple rovers I’m sure the Maserati will be fine.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    What about residual values as an indicator?

    Theoretically, these are based in market demand for cars as they age which should incorporate reliability and cost of ownership information. Granted, new models initially suffer from the reputation of their predecessors.

    As a counterpoint, market demand is often based on false information or superstition, too. Look arbor Enron stock values up until they imploded…

    Case in point, used Audis are worth little (along with many “luxury” brands) in the used car market but Toyotas, Hondas, and Subarus seem to sell for nearly their original MSRPs. Jeeps are quite an anomaly, with used Wranglers seemingly selling for stupid money. Domestic cars have traditionally lost more value in a few years than their import competition but that seems to be changing.

    OTOH, as an avowed bottom-feeder in the used car market, I have had great luck buying highly-depreciated domestic cars. My current 2002 Taurus wagon is a good example. I just focus on the previous owner and the individual car’s condition and maintenance records more than what price guides like KBB tell me. As my winter beater and kid hauler it has been nearly cost free to own for the past few years. As an automotive enthusiast, I just die a little every time I drive it. But, these are reliable and, with the pushrod V6, maintenance costs are minimal.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Outside of XL work trucks and Corollas most of what you’re paying for in any car new or used is image, value as a tool including perceived reliability is in there too but it all goes in the same price tag and breaking that down amounts to guesswork.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      I’m with you on the used domestic value quotient. FCA not withstanding, buying a used GM or Ford product with a bread and butter powertrain is usually a good bet. Still much cheaper than a Japanese vehicle and basically as reliable.

      I strongly believe that a car’s initial owner and service history are better indicators of long term reliability than the badge on the hood.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Ditto. I’m not worried about the powertrain on my ’14 MKS, with the Duratec 3.7 and the Ford / GM transaxle, and this is perhaps the first car I’ve ever owned in which I have no powertrain concerns. I *am* however, concerned that the electronics will fail around the powertrain, because the electronics architecture appears to have been designed by Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor.

        But if it were a European car, I’d be worried about both the powertrain and the electronics.

        • 0 avatar
          Stugots

          I read this site every day, but very infrequently post. Anyway, I wanted to mention that I always enjoy your comments — thoughtfully written and insightful. Thanks for contributing.

        • 0 avatar

          The 3.7 is related to the 3.5 I believe. My neighbor had a 3.5 in a CX9 self destruct when the timing chain driven water pump (same design as the infamous Chrysler 2.7) leaked into the engine and filled the oil pan with coolant.

          Seems to be a fairly common issue with the 3,5 not so much with the 3.7 for some reason. I know the trucks have a different setup on their motors.

    • 0 avatar

      2000 Durango here owned for almost 9 years now. incredibly cheap to keep on the road.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    The reason you haven’t heard from CR is simple: they only survey subscribers, not the general public.

    This makes sense, since the reliability ratings are only available to subscribers, the datapoint they are most interested in is what their subscribers are going to think of the quality of CR’s ratings.

    But even with that limited demographic, their reliability ratings are about the best data source consumers have. Most of the criticism of their ratings come from people that have never even filled out one of their surveys; the armchair-statisticians have very large misconceptions about the questions asked and are usually looking to make excuses for why their favored marque or model didn’t do well.

    Personally, I think their “net” scores are a matter of opinion (I’m not going to get too worked up about a glitchy infotainment system as long as there aren’t reports that it requires frequent reboots of the whole car), but their category breakdowns are pretty valuable.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      OK.
      I used to subscribe.
      No way anymore.
      They were dead wrong on my expensive fridge. The ice maker and other parts failed just a month out of warranty.
      The expensive GoodYear Triple Tread tires I put on all my cars because they said it was THE TOP tire…I took off.
      The Trailblazers wore poorly at halt life and the tire dealer said they were nuts. It was absolutely the wrong tire for this truck.
      Ditto my Mazda 3.
      Replaced them all.

      When you look at their car comparisons, some cars do show better data and yet get right below one CR things for some reason is better by 1 point.

      They do have a bias. And no bias whatsoever should ever hold a place in a CR review.

      And…depreciation should NEVER be part of a car’s build and purchase data UNLESS you sell you cars.
      Those of us who keep our cars and hand down…a car losing points based upon “brand” badge is just wrong.
      A solid, long lasting reliable car should get its points for that…and not what others think its worth.

      • 0 avatar
        M1EK

        Even if you got a lemon, it says nothing about whether they were “wrong”. Their figures are about how many bad fridges went out among the 5,000 responses they got for that fridge. Could be the best model had 15 people reporting issues and the worst had 25. Either way, you could be one of the unlucky ones.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          Ya, well…not good enough for me.
          These were expensive buys based upon their direction.

          From now on, if I want tire advice, I go to tire people and shops. If I want car advice, I go to repair shops and mechanics, not CR numbnuts all who seem to be under forty by their pictures.

      • 0 avatar
        readallover

        The guy who comes to fix our POS Sub Zero always knows what is wrong – because they ALL break at the same time at the same place, so he always has the right parts. So, it is like buying a German car out of warranty and parking it in your kitchen.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Nice article Jack. It reminds me why I brushed aside reliability concerns when buying a CPO 328xi…I was insisting that what I buy not have iDrive (and no turbo). The result was a car I drove for 5 years with just oil changes and tires. Infrequent oil changes at that.

    A similar thought process to yours went into its replacement, a Mazda CX-5. Two years, nothing but oil changes. I don’t see many cars stranded anymore, but of the ones I do see, none are Mazdas. The paint though, is thin as hell and chips at a moment’s notice. Props to BMW on that, the paint was industrial grade.

  • avatar

    “…the more cams and valves a V-8 has, the more trouble it is.”

    THIS is why GM has stuck to two valves and pushrods in the “LS” (Gen III-IV-V) V8s.

    I acknowledge there’ve been some issues with some of the Gen V’s but I’ll assume they’ll be worked out. Or there’ll be a list of models to avoid.

    Meanwhile, millions of Gen III-IV vehicles are out there racking up 300,000, 400,000 and more. And they’re the “go-to” engine for many hot rodders who don’t want to sink beaucoup bucks into an sexier looking but unreliable combination.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Great article. We’re more in the dark with vehicle reliability than we should be. While flawed, Consumer Reports is the best we’ve got and I’m less concerned about the selection bias in who gets surveyed than I am about the lack absolute values in repair frequency. I want to know the magnitude of difference between a black dot and a red.

    And Dan Neil’s a dip.

  • avatar
    mike978

    I wonder who Jack is referring to with this sentence “I also wouldn’t trust any “reliability guru” who actively solicits press trips and free loaner cars from the manufacturers.”
    He hasn`t sued you yet!

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    When it comes to determining reliability, I find that my eyes tell me everything I need to know, and can tell you too if you pay attention. I see lots of old Honda, Toyota Asian ETAL on the road. Also, lots of older GM: Saturn, Pontiac, Buick, Olds (though less and less) still plying the streets. Craigslist is another great place as well oddly.
    If you are in the market for a used car and live in a major metro area search for the model, but put in mileage requirements only go high. If you find a bunch of cars for sale with 150k or better than you might be onto something. I am kind of looking for a F150 10 years old or more and here in CO CL is riddled with examples with 200k or better. This tells me a 10 year old or older F150 with 120k miles priced appropriately is a good value.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I like Steve Lang’s “Hit ’em where they ain’t” motto, and that’s someone I would trust for reliability data on older cars.

      People always go to Honda and Toyota when they’re at the bottom end of the market, looking for a cheap cash car. But since those are so desired, the prices tend to be driven up. But what about a GM car with the 3800? In fact, when my friend was struggling to find a reliable cash car after his Bronco bit the dust, I directed him to a 2002 Park Avenue, which he really likes.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      You can believe me or not, but DON’T BUY A FORD F-series WITH A TRITON 5.4 or 6.8 LITER ENGINE. DO NOT DO IT. I manage a shop, and I know what kind of vehicle the customer has when they say a spark plug tube shot out of the engine. Then they admit that the exhaust manifolds are cracked too, and that some exhaust manifold studs broke when they ‘looked at it.’ Fords are completely awful.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Perhaps the most important and most under reported aspect of the auto business. There are far more used vehicle transactions each year than new car transactions. And the money spent on used vehicle parts and service helps drive the economy.

    So why the obfuscation by the manufacturers, dealers and most importantly the press. Let’s face it, ‘auto journalism’ for decades has primarily been nothing but a marketing tool, shilling new vehicle sales.

    I used to regularly purchase the Lemon-Aid book. The originator had a fetish for slant six Darts/Valiants and in reality except for the ballast resistor and lack of driving dynamics you could not really go wrong with a pre-1973 model.

    CR is a valuable ‘guide’. So are the anecdotal evidence provided by watching what is still on the road, what is stranded on the side of the road and what an independent mechanic might tell you.

    Toyota and Honda earned their reputations for reliability decades ago. Older GM models with old school technology will continue running long after their bits, pieces, headliners, etc have fallen down/off. D3 pick-ups will stiil have value even when they are dozen plus years old.

    What bothers me is why so many manufacturers focus on do-dads, technology, ‘Ring times, G-force, etc rather than just making their vehicles more reliable? Yes they are better than they were 20+ years ago. Still if FCA were to add $1,000 worth of better parts into a Grand Caravan they could probably add $3k to the price and sell many more.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      That saggy headliner on 80s and 90s GM cars was really humorous. We had a 1992 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight in which the headliner unceremoniously failed all at once, while we were driving. Dad went over a speed bump and the headliner fell over our heads. He just ripped it out, and I got a nice view of the brown foam underneath, until he traded it in. Of course, that was 2008, so the car was 16 years old by then.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Just getting broken in, should have glued the headliner.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          He would have, but he retired the Oldsmobile for a—drumroll, please—Dodge Caliber SXT later that year.

          What a POS the Caliber was.

          We gave the Oldsmobile to the woman that did my mother’s hair, who really needed a car at the time. Last I heard, she still has it.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “But I never saw one stranded by the side of the road.”

    TBH even within the Detroit city limits the vast majority of cars I see sitting on the side of the road (and you’d be surprised at how small that number is) has significant body damage and has clearly had a very hard, neglected life.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      There is an out-going generation Hyundai Elantra that’s been abandoned on the side of a 4-lane highway not far from me for like a week. Just thought it was funny. Like, they’re just not worried about it. “The car? oh, its fine sitting out there, no bother.” Ha!

      Most of what I do see broken down are old beaters, cars that likely endured deferred maintenance and are generally past their expected lifespan, or close to it. I don’t have a poor impression of a new Cruze because I see a junky Cavalier abandoned on the shoulder of the road.

      I do get a chuckle when I see an abandoned clunker with a dealer temp tag still on it. Just stupid how people will buy a complete pile of crap from a dealer because they trust it more than one from a private seller. No, Uncle Ricky’s Used Car Superstore did not make sure that ragged out 220k mile Elantra was in tip-top mechanical shape. For what he is selling it for, you could probably buy a decent car from a private seller, and maybe, just MAYBE, make it home with it.

      All used cars are risky, but there are ones with more risk involved than others.

      I have found that although I love Hondas, given my financial situation, I would likely have to postpone timing belt changes, leading to the risk of ruining the engine should it break. Then there are prices for parts. Some sensor, module, relay etc for a Honda or Toyota will generally be much higher than for my Taurus or another domestic car.

      For me and my circumstances, it makes sense to drive a domestic car, and that’s aside from my attraction to the earlier Taurus generations, haha.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Longer warranties should indicate reliability/durability because the manufacturer would go broke if it wasn’t.

    Low lease payments should indicate reliability/durability because an unreliable car should have poor residuals which would make lease payments higher.

    High repeat purchase rates should indicate reliability/durability because most people only consider alternative brands when they have had problems with their current ride.

    High resale value on 5-10 year old models should indicate reliability/durability because by then the quirks of the model are known and can therefore affect the demand for used examples.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I agree with none of that, BUT, I realize “should” and “does” are two different words with two different meanings.

      What I have trouble with:
      Hyundai/Kia has a longer warranty than Honda, guess which one I’d trust more.

      I see stupid cheap lease deals on crappy cars, and less attractive ones on better cars.

      I have seen someone trade in a problematic Camry Hybrid in on a new Tacoma. I saw an ad not long ago for a dead (10 +/- y.o.) Altima, for a few hundred dollars. Had 148k on the clock, the owner saying she’s sick of pouring money into the car, and she has already replaced it with a new car. The new car is another Altima, it was parked right in front it.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Every couple of weeks a car that someone just bought used with an aftermarket warranty will show up at my shop with a critical failure. People think the warranty protects them from skipping their due diligence at purchase time. It’s the same laziness that has them not reading the warranties, which typically have fifteen lines of covered components followed by nine pages of exceptions when those components aren’t covered. One of those exceptions is when the problem occurs soon enough after purchase to indicate it was an existing issue. Even if they have a covered component break during an acceptable window of coverage, the warranty company will typically pay a tiny percentage of the bill.

        New car warranties are also no substitute for buying a good product in the fist place. Chrysler had industry-leading warranty durations when their cars were the absolute worst. The key is in what is covered and how much of the repairs they actually pay for.

      • 0 avatar
        baconator

        The latest JD Powers reliability surveys have Kia/Hyundai near the top. The times they are a-changing.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    “Four-cylinder engines outlast V6es” – you’re gonna trigger someone with that, guaranteed.

    Now, without handwaving and saying reliability doesn’t matter, and auto writers shouldn’t have to worry about it, I’m empathetic as to how hard it is to get relevant data. Taking a very specific (but tangential) example, I have the MB-Tex wallet Jack recommended some years ago (not because of his recommendation specifically, I just liked the idea of it). Now, MB-Tex is a known, durable quantity. And after four years or so, mine’s chipped and cracked, because it’s a known, durable quantity as seat material, but have it bent over on itself all day, under 200lbs of weight, it hasn’t aged the way it would in a car.

    That’s a roundabout way of saying, whatever reliability data we have, it’s based on different circumstances. A redesign might change something significantly enough to create new problems. Even if you can manage to get a thorough long term test done quickly enough to be of relevance before the model goes through a significant redesign, you’re still up against the possibility of mid-cycle refreshes, or supplier changes. And get it wrong? No matter how clear you make it that it’s all conjecture, someone’s going to hold you responsible.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      “Four-cylinder engines outlast V6es”

      Yeah I do take issue with that. I think the larger truth may be that the transaxle hanging off the back of said V6 may not last as long perhaps, but generally a less-stressed V6 I would argue overall will live a longer, happier life. Maintenance would of course trump inherent pluses and minuses once you really get up there in miles.

      I’ll take Toyotas as an example: the 4cyl models in both cars and trucks are generally highly regarded as making it to 200k with just basic maintenance. But in the case of the 22RE truck motor, the timing chain/guides becomes a liability by that point, on the 4A/7A/1ZZ motors, oil use starts to become an issue past 150k unless you were super-diligent with synthetic oil. The V6 Toyotas IMO are longer lasting, with an asterisk by the 1MZ 3.0L that some had oil sludging issues (mostly short trip, infrequent changes). My ’96 ES with one of these 1MZs was clean as a whistle, used no discernible amount of oil between changes. 3.4L 5VZFEs (Tacoma, 4Runner, T100, etc) have earned a reputation that is at least equal to the old 22RE. Easy 400k motors with a few timing belts (non-interference) and somewhat regular oil changes.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I would add “avoid turbos” to this. I’m not convinced that a spooled-up, low displacement engine propelling a heavy modern vehicle is a recipe for long-term reliability.

    I’m also very skeptical of this start/stop technology and the wear it causes to starter and engine components.

    Oh, and once a CVT goes, a car is effectively totaled.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I’m just barely old enough to remember when cars needed things like valve jobs every 30,000 miles and were oil-sucking, tapered-cylinder garbage if you managed to reach 100,000 miles. Being skeptical of a modern turbocharged engine is like claiming “the jury is still out” on jet engines in airliners.

      “I’m also very skeptical of this start/stop technology and the wear it causes to starter and engine components.”

      try “none of any consequence.” The engine is still warm when it does an auto-restart, so critical parts still have sufficient lubrication. And because the PCM never powers down, it “knows” where the crankshaft and camshaft are in relation to each other. So on auto-restart it only operates the starter long enough for the next available cylinder to fire instead of requiring at least two complete crankshaft revs like on a cold restart.

      just say what you really mean: “I’m afraid of new things.”

      • 0 avatar
        e30gator

        You got me. I’m afraid of new things.

        Luckily, you’re free to gamble with your money however you choose.

        But there’s a reason why old, pushrod V8s in rwd pickups often exceed 300k miles and a later model Benz with cutting edge tech is sitting in a dusty junkyard.

        I’ll place my bet on tried and proven technology while you go and be my beta tester. Thanks.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          “But there’s a reason why old, pushrod V8s in rwd pickups often exceed 300k”

          a hell of a lot don’t. But don’t let me get in the way of survivorship bias. n.b. there are Escape Hybrid taxis in NYC which have racked up over half a million miles.

          “a later model Benz with cutting edge tech is sitting in a dusty junkyard.”

          I highly doubt those Benzes are there because of turbos or stop/start.

          • 0 avatar
            e30gator

            Hybrids have been around for a couple of decades. I don’t consider that “new tech” at all. I would have been skeptical of buying one in 2001, not now.

            I’m speaking from experience when I say to be cautious of new technology as both a former mechanic and a friend of several current ones. When my transmission shop owner friend says to walk away from a CVT-equipped vehicle with 120k on the odometer, I listen.

            But honestly, the industry NEEDS people like you who are willing to buy a “better” mouse trap. And I appreciate it as well, since I get to sit back and watch and read about others’ ownership experiences and make informed decisions before I spend thousands on a new car. So like I said, thanks.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            Turbos and CVTs are even older, so I’m not sure what “new” tech it is you’re so distrusting of.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Turbos and CVTs now have a long track record of being recipes for disaster. It’s hardly fear of the unknown. At this point it’s merely evidence of the capacity to learn.

        • 0 avatar
          baconator

          My ’02 Benz just hit 211k miles and is my daily driver. So…

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I’m very afraid of new things. I won’t spend money on something using just about any system that hasn’t been out for at least 5 years. But a lot of “new” automotive things are crossing that threshold now.

        • 0 avatar
          e30gator

          I guess it all depends on how long one hopes to own a car. I used to be a Volvo guy. Owned several over the years and it was my experience with both turbo and NA cars that a turbo model would throw in the towel sooner than a NA example of the same year/model.

          That said, they have undoubtedly gotten better over the years. But if I was going to buy a car that I knew I wanted to drive into the ground, I would still always go with a non-turbo model. One less thing to break.

          When I see turbos and start/stop equipped cars equaling or bettering the reliability numbers of their non-equipped cousins, then I will be convinced.

          That will likely take more than 5 years. Luckily, I know the proven engine and technology in my current vehicle will last long enough for me to come to a conclusion before my next purchase.

          • 0 avatar

            I recently priced a reman CVT for a clean Murano I saw on CL. Reman unit from local shop $3,100. Price for a reman for the 5 spd auto in my volvo $2,800. Not a huge difference really.

        • 0 avatar
          e30gator

          @JimZ

          It’s not rocket science. There are more CVT equipped cars today than there were 10 years ago, mostly due to their perceived fuel efficiency.

          I’m also not suggesting that a modern CVT is somehow less reliable than a run-of-the-mill trans. They do however cost twice as much to replace when they do fail. If repair costs are not part of the equation factored into one’s decision to buy a car, then clearly money is not an issue for them. Great for those people. For me, I’d rather travel to the Caribbean than spend that money on repairing a technology that doesn’t need to exist on my car.

          Same with turbos and start/stop. More parts means more to break. But like I said, if you want to trust that newly developed Hyundai turbo-boosted 4 banger propelling a 4000lb CUV, go right ahead.

          I’m not trying to dissuade you…

        • 0 avatar
          e30gator

          @ Jim Z

          Are we talking about when they were…invented?

          Those turbo-boosted 4 bangers propelling 4000lb CUVs are new to Ford, Hyundai, et al.

          They weren’t building them 5-10 years ago, so like I said…

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I don’t worry so much about the reliability on that stuff any more. My issues with CVTs, stop/start, and most turbos are asthetic at this point.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I was tentatively going along with the CVT thing until I saw my sister in law’s Rogue’s CVT leave her stranded on the highway a month ago. What my brother found when he cracked the case further convinced me to avoid them for the time being (at least Nissan’s Jatco units).

        • 0 avatar
          mikeg216

          I bet you a twenty she never changed the fluid.. Not once

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            You’d win that bet, however the trans fluid was monitored closely by my professional diagnostician brother over the years she owned it. Trans control unit reported it was still good, physical inspection confirmed as such. Tear-down of the failed transmission revealed a failure unrelated to fluid quality.

  • avatar
    silentsod

    I’ve seen more new Jeep products stranded on the side of the road than any other new marque. Conclusion: FCA’s still got it on the reliability front.

    Incidentally the Hilux era Toyota Pickup I perma-borrow has only failed to start because the plugs were so far gone I couldn’t believe my eyes when I pulled them. Manual transmission and manually locking hubs, it rusts, but it always goes…

  • avatar
    Fred

    Unfortuantly for consumers, auto journalists can’t really say many bad things about a car or they won’t get invitations to review cars. So it’s up to us to review the reviews. I’m not much of a writer, but I can review a car as well as anyone, especially when it comes to what I want in a car.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “You can visit the various single-marque forums”

    I tried this with Saabs and almost got fooled into thinking they were reliable (late 90’s 9-3), maybe for some they are, but the example I was eying had a Carfax full of overheating issues.

    My way of finding reliability is to just look around, see what holds up under the use of non-car guys. A car guy is willing to put up with an aging Audi 4000, the average Joe a bit less so.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      to them, a car is reliable if you fix everything which breaks. Tavarish is a good example, he’s actually said he considers replacing failed parts to be “basic maintenance.”

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      What?! Saabs aren’t reliable? Just kidding.

      Marque-specific forums are great for info gathering info about an issue, but I have to imagine that most of the posters on them are either fanbois or are there to somehow validate each other’s decision to buy one.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        They certainly are great for troubleshooting, but most will simply tell you to buy car A because “mine has 255k on it”.

        At JimZ:
        What other cars has Tavarish duct-taped together? I’m only familiar with him through his writings “Why buy a Mirage when you can buy an old Ferrari?”.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Auto journalists don’t talk about used cars because it takes more effort to competently critique used cars than checking panel gaps or swerving through cones with new cars. Those who pay the new-car reviewers don’t want potential customers being reminded that the shiny new toys become used cars pretty quickly, and they bias the reporting by favoring writers who avoid being critical.

    Self-reporting such as through truedelta should be almost as good as the data held by dealers. Checking numbers of recalls and tsb’s on a given model can be informative.

    If the public really was concerned about this, there could be legislation requiring making reliability information available to the public.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      “Self-reporting such as through truedelta should be almost as good as the data held by dealers. Checking numbers of recalls and tsb’s on a given model can be informative.”

      Okay, that’s funny right there.

      • 0 avatar
        redrum

        Why the negativity towards truedelta/Michael Karesh? I find his site a lot more transparent and comprehensive than CR’s reliability dots. He makes a lot of interesting points on his blog about collecting and interpreting reliability data. Definitely have never gotten the impression he was beholden to any manufacturer interests.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          I worked with the guy for years and saw him doing many different things.

          That’s all I’m going to say because he keeps trying to get TTAC to fire me via threatening nuisance lawsuits. But for the record there are only three writers I had working with me at TTAC whom I felt to be absolutely garbage human beings and he’s not not one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Auto journalists don’t talk about used cars because”

      car manufacturers don’t give them used cars to write about.

  • avatar
    xpistns

    “Did any of the rave reviews for the MkV GTI include even a whiff of caution regarding the idea of dual-clutch technology being implemented by a company that couldn’t seem to master the power window regulator?”

    Classic!

    To be fair, My 1986 Porsche 944 never had any problems with the power window regulators, or anything electrical related. Mechanically, it became quite reliable after I learned how to “not abuse” it. It took me through 4 years of college without any failures. Here are my list of gripes about that car.
    – Water pump: It would go out every 30 – 60k which you would also might as well replace belts/suspect rollers because “since we’ve got it all apart anyway, might as well…” $1200 repair
    – Rubber-centered clutch: It went out twice on me–but back then I was a stupid 20 year old driving it like it was as reliable as my car before it, a Honda CRX. I discovered the aftermarket after the second time through the Porsche magazine “Excellence” magazine and got a sportier spring-centered clutch with a lightweight flywheel. That transformed the car to what I thought it should have been from the factory. Sometimes I thought the title of that magazine was paradoxically mocking me–but we loved those cars so much (not so much the 944 among Porschephiles) that the aftermarket made up for the factory’s sins. The IMS bearing failures were not the first sins that, IMO, Porsche committed. The above water pump/rubber clutch from my 944 were the first.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    When it comes to luxury German cars, leasing is the way to go. Then you don’t worry about depreciation nor reliability, as the warranty period takes care of issues. Japanese cars are mostly purchased, as are Americans. So reliability is more of an issue there.

    One other thing one has to consider, Germans put a lot of new technology/bleeding edge in their cars. People complain about first generation idrive, but at the time they were the first. After a while they perfected it. Price of being on the leading edge is reliability. A luxury car buyer is ok with that. They (luxury car buyers) are equipped for it as they have other rides. It is a different school of thought.

    So its ok if reliability is not so much mentioned for Germans, as it/or lack thereof is implicit to the nature of the beast.

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      I doubt that most of the people who’d plop down $80k or more for a vehicle would be caught dead in a 10 year old car anyway.

      Problem is for those looking for cheap transport and a $5k S-Class seems like a bargain next to that old Corolla. Reality is far from it.

      That said, old German stuff can be fun as long as one has their expectations in order….and a second car.

      • 0 avatar
        pmirp1

        Yes, buying German cars used is a double edged sword. You love the moments it works, and curse the other times. I think most car enthusiasts have to experience it though. You have to get burned and learn a lesson.

        • 0 avatar
          e30gator

          Speaking as a current old BMW owner, my Z3 has been a joy to own as a cheap weekend runabout. Some shade tree wrenching skills and a willingness to parts search and it’s no more expensive than old Honda ownership. That said, a Z3 is no 7 Series clusterscrew of wires and computers.

  • avatar
    earthwateruser

    I’m still not clear if Warren Brown day is legit? God help us if it is. Warren Brown’s articles in the Washington Post could hardly be considered automotive journalism because they frequently revolve around anything but the actual car he drove for a week. His full page spread should be called “What is Warren Brown gonna complain about this week?” I quit reading his “reviews” about a year ago because they were just so completely and consistently lame.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Warren Brown is brilliant…because he has succeeded in getting a respected publication like the Washington Post to employ him/carry his column as something of an automotive authority.

      I have forgotten more about cars and the car business since I woke up today than Warren Brown will ever know. I distinctly remember informing him on his chat that regenerative braking on a Prius did not involve the service brakes somehow transmitting electrical energy to the battery in any way, shape or form. He was unaware of this.

      On any given chat day (Friday), in the WaPost, one can read Warren committing still another jaw-dropping factual error.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    I actually think with cars, past performance IS indicative of future results. It’s not always consistent, but it’s a better indicator than most.

    JD Power is pretty meaningless, the time frame is just too small.

    Consumer Reports I think is much harder to dismiss, even though I’m not a big fan of the publication. Seems pretty detailed and thorough to me regarding the data they keep. Most of the criticisms are of the tin foil hat variety, like they cut a deal with the Japanese several decades ago.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    You do wonder if there was legislation that made the manufacturers disclose warranty repair history and other information to better inform consumers, I bet you would start seeing them put a bigger focus on making their products more reliable.

    There will always be customers that simply don’t care, but it would be much harder for the manufacturers to dance around their reputation for poor quality if you made them disclose the data and we could judge for ourselves.

  • avatar

    ” I used to know several Benz wrenches back in the 1980s who thought the Benz W126 was a total piece of junk because the cars had a few specific problems that tended to result in frequent service visits when they were new.”

    I have a couple of 1990s era Crate “Vintage Club” amplifiers. They were designed by Obeid Khan, who is a well regarded amp guru, all tube, sound great, and cost significantly less than comparable Fender branded amps. I recently took the 50W in to have it tuned up by a local amp tech, who is also well regarded. When I offered my opinion that it made more sense to spend ~$200 on a used Vintage Club 20 instead of $400 for a used Fender Blues Jr., he dissed the Crate VC amps, saying that they were “hard to work on.” OTOH, once he got everything up to snuff and all the dirty contacts cleaned up, he did say that his Les Paul sounded nice through it.

  • avatar
    nvinen

    I live in Australia and recently bought a Ford Falcon (the last of its kind, sadly). One of the common negative comments on reviews of the Falcon is that it’s basically a taxi.

    Until recently, 90%+ of taxis were Falcons with the 4l inline six and an LPG conversion kit. Now that Falcon production has ended, Camries are starting to take over, especially hybrids (they’re made locally too, so there are tax breaks associated but not for much longer).

    Anyway, I keep on thinking, why is it a bad thing that I drive a car that’s used so widely as a taxi? Doesn’t that speak volumes about its reliability? Sure, the taxis have some upgraded components fitted but most of the vehicle is kept original and I’ve heard from taxi drivers that they’ve driven Falcons with more than 800,000km (~500,000 miles) on the clock (laws limit how old a taxi can be [5 years I think] so they’re usually sold off after that).

  • avatar
    George B

    The difficult part of automotive reliability is that some owners take much better care of their car than others. I’d probably avoid any car sold with zero down financing to a less than affluent demographic. The flip side of this is that some owners like their cars enough to spend large amounts of money on repairs. Is a pickup truck with 300k miles on the odometer especially reliable if the engine and transmission each had to be rebuilt to achieve that result? Owners who expect a Toyota to be reliable are more likely to pay for an expensive repair than if they expect the rest of the car to fall apart. That’s a little unfair to the Chevrolet that gets converted to rebar and Chinese washing machines for the same major failure.

  • avatar
    dieseldub

    Wait, what’s this? A Baruth article with less blown out of proportion vitriol and some common sense? I’m… shocked? Pleasantly surprised? I’m honestly not sure how to feel. But for once, the article largely struck a chord with me.

    As a technician by trade, I do have to agree that many of us are bad to talk to about reliability because all we see are problems. That is our world. We don’t, however, have the actual failure rate data. We see a few cars that come in with the same problem(s) and we label them as junk, and often times unfairly.

    As someone who is a little bit of a VAG fanboy, I do have to admit that they are definitely not at the top of the reliability heap. There are a lot of very clever things they have engineered over the years, and for the price point, they make some of the nicest interiors and nicest to drive vehicles out there. But, enjoying those aspects of the car generally does demand you put up with an inherent amount of additional reliability issues you would not encounter with Japanese car brands.

    I got a chuckle over the DSG comment in relation to VAG’s inability to make reliable power window regulators. Although, to be fair, while VAG had huge issues in the early 2000s with this, the updated parts they came out with to fix them later have in fact proven to be very reliable. I’m having a hard time recalling when the last time was I had to fix a mk4 VW window regulator, and I have numerous customers with exceptionally high mileage versions of those cars. Know what does go out more frequently and requires just as much disassembly of the door? Door lock modules. Lock motors flake out, the microswitch that tells the system if the door is opened or closed flakes out… Far more common failures than window regulators as these things age.

    DSG issues are likely blown a little out of proportion as well. Vast majority of customers seem to have no issues with them until they get to about the 150k mile mark, when the dual mass flywheel starts to give you issues. Sure, when I worked at the dealer, I replaced a few mechatronics units and clutch packs for the occasional issue, but in the grand scheme of things, the actual failure rate of those items is fairly low. I daily drive a 2006 Jetta with about 275k miles on it now and a DSG… It still functions fantastically. Previous owner said the flywheel and he thinks the clutch packs were replaced around 150k miles. The replacement parts have gone significantly longer than the originals at this point.

    But that’s just it, even consumer reports are only telling you about issues experienced on new cars, and many of those issues tend to be fairly minor ones when the car is new and won’t tell you that your camshaft is going to wear out by 150k miles and dig a hole into a couple lifters (using my 2006 Jetta TDI as an example here again… heh).

    Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Automakers cannot re-engineer failed components to be better if they don’t receive adequate data. In order for them to receive that data, cars must come to the dealer for diagnosis and the dealer must share with the manufacturer the failures that they have encountered. But, as cars age and get out of warranty, people no longer want to bring them to the dealer for service because of the expense. So, realistically, automakers often times don’t get adequate data themselves on failure rates as vehicles rack up the miles and age.

    I suppose another issue is that the industry has agreed upon a specific mileage number that they consider to be a vehicle’s useful lifetime. That number is 150,000 miles. That’s right about when more and more gas engines start to see catalytic converter issues, where anything with a “lifetime fill fluid” starts to have issues if you in fact never have changed its fluid, it’s right about where the average dual mass flywheel begins to create problems, also right about when the average variable geometry turbo also starts to have boost control issues. The more sophisticated the car, the more potential failure points you’re going to have as it ages.

    So, you’re spot on with your basic assessments. Manual trans cars last longer. Japanese cars will be less trouble in the long run. Fewer wearable moving parts the better. That isn’t to say you can’t get a German car to high miles, it just might take more money to get it there.

    So, I guess that’s the big question. Are better driving dynamics and interiors enough of a trade off to put up with higher maintenance costs? For me, yes. But I also don’t pay anyone to work on my cars… I can fix anything and everything on my VWs, thankyouverymuch.

    For your average consumer, that is not the case, though. I’m a rare outlier and I’m OK with that.


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