The Truth About Cars » Quality The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:26:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Quality New or Used? : Sadly, Infiniti Will Never Sell An M80 Fri, 20 Jun 2014 13:00:00 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Dear Mr. Lang,

Your most recent article put the final nail in the C4 coffin for me and for that, I’m everlastingly grateful.

The VW GTI is but a distant infatuation, another foolish pleasure set aside.

Onward to the Infiniti M35.

My wife, county librarian, needs a reliable safe car to visit her 34 branches.

The M35 sounds like just the ticket. It would also be a good road car for our forays to Las Vegas. Any recommendation on good/bad model years would be appreciated. We’ll find a good home for her ’03 Grand Marquis with 99k. It’s time to move on.

Thanks again for your help.


Steve Says:

Wow! 34 branches! Remind me to move to where you live after I get my kids through high school. One of my non-negotiables for what I hope will be the post-Dad phase is a library I can walk to.

Forget about the beach or the mountains. I want a quiet nice place where I can read.

As for your situation, the best way to approach this is to look at everything from the inside out. Let’s start with the M35.

The interiors on these vehicles are pretty much a love/hate affair. My advice is to find one. Let her spend some time inside (without you), and see whether she likes her surroundings.

I have always thought that the dashboard, seats and interior trim are far more important to most owner’s long-term happiness than the exterior design. Sexiness sells, but you will spend 98+% of your time looking at the car from the inside out. Those interior materials make an epic difference for a road warrior, and it sounds like your wife may need to become one.

Second, you are far better off visiting an enthusiast forum than to rely on the opinion of one guy. Let them tell you about the best years, worthwhile modifications, and unique challenges to your vehicle. Every vehicle has a weakness of some sort, and taking advice from actual long-term owners will give you a far better frame of reference than any other source in this business.

Here is the M35 enthusiast forum. Related to that, the M35 happens to also be the most reliable Infiniti car in my long-term reliability study. I recommended it not too long ago, and I think you are making a wise decision by considering it.

Do you a question? A rambling epiphany? Or even a hunch that is carried by nothing but thin air? Feel free to contact me at .



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Hammer Time: The Mitsubishi Banana Mon, 24 Mar 2014 09:00:11 +0000 ec6

Otherwise known as the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

No car has better embodied the sad decline of a once competitive automaker.

Awkward styling. Poor interior space and wonky ergonomics. Plus, you got a double whammy if you decided to keep them in the arid parts of the country.

Thin flaky paint… and a weird flaw with the glues and vinyls used on the dashboard. The net effect of which is…



Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of other vehicles that suffer a similar fate — especially here in the heat enriched world that is Hotlanta.


The Ford Taurus dashes are legendary for their ability to serve as cubbyholders for your paperwork. If it’s late-90′s model that doesn’t get garaged, this storage space comes standard.


Kia products were even worse during the early 2000′s. Part of this was abated by the long warranties that Kia offered to compensate for the second-rate glues, foam paddings and adhesives. Even today though, the headliners and dash materials for their older used cars don’t seem to be holding up to Kia’s  aspirations for value and quality.


But the worst of them, the crème de la crème of substandard materials with nary a fix in sight, goes to Mitsubishi.


The good news is you can buy a 2006 Eclipse that has been well kept for all of $4000 these days at a wholesale auction and if you fix them up, they can be retailed for around $5000 to $6000. Not a bad price for a sporty vehicle that came from a manufacturer that offers surprising reliability on their four-cylinder models.

The hard part is fixing those peeling bananas on the dash. There seems to be no enduring fix for this cosmetic ailment because the foam rots from within..


So to make it an enduring fix, you have to replace it all.  Then you have the paint issues which were thankfully rectified in later model years. As for the earlier ones? Consider a basecoat/clearcoat paint job and a healthy level of waxing to keep it looking good.

It’s a shame because, at least in mind, no car has been more important to the successes of Mitsubishi than the first generation Eclipse. The image of that model as a class leader could have set the stage for a long, long list of Mitsubishis that were both sporty and practical.

Instead we ended up with this…




and this…


What’s your take? Is it worth it for Mitsubishi to invest in a recall for the last of these rolling dodos? Or does the sordid memory of a defunct model deserve to be buried and forgotten?


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Hammer Time: Fharverg-nuttin! Mon, 03 Feb 2014 12:00:21 +0000 vwvortex

It would take an immense amount of effort to prove that VW was not telling the truth in their latest Super Bowl commercial.

First you would have to pool registration data from dozens of different countries within the US, EU, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

That’s one tall order. To even make that remotely possible, you would have to get the data from the various states within those countries. Quite a few of them would likely have a hard time even coming up with data that is easily downloadable.

As for verification of mileage? Good luck with that! Even in the U.S. of A., not all states require emission and registration checks that verify the mileage.

So let’s remove probability altogether from VW’s Superbowl proclamation, and deal with the cold hard facts related to the wholesale side of this business.

What we have discovered after studying the long-term reliability of trade-ins throughout the United States, is that VW represents the slimey brown stuff above this engine (courtesy of when it comes to long-term reliability.

For starters, major VW brands in the USA (Audi and VW) have garnered the 2nd and 3rd lowest ratios for those vehicles that have made it to the 18 year mark. Click here for the results of 300,000+ vehicles currently logged in this study.

Volkswagen also has the lowest percentage of trade-ins with over 180k out of any major automaker in the study as well.

Who is worse out of 30+ brands? Only Jaguar and Mini are worse overall. Land Rover is roughly equal.

Finally, let me offer you an alternative shortcut if you don’t want to believe the data. Feel free to visit and see how much it cost to replace various VW engines and transmissions. Call your neighborhood parts store and see how much more it cost to replace the hoses, alternators, and starters on a VW versus say, a Chevy or Toyota.

Hell, I recently bought a 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 with no issues for only $100 more than a stripper 2005 Ford Taurus with the same mileage that functioned as a rental car special, and had vinyl falling off the front door panels.

How did VW’s get to be so cheap in the wholesale side of the car business?

Because for most of the last 15 years, VW has cheaped out on quality parts like a broke Chinese construction company cheaps out on quality concrete. The mothership may blame Inaki Lopez and his minions for that turn in quality. But the truth? The absolute truth?

VW doesn’t care. They have screwed their consumer base for the sole pursuit of short-term profits here in North America for a very long time and are finally, by the grace of God, paying for those sins. Their cheaped out latest offerings in the United States continue to do them no favors, and I’m willing to bet that the “We’re #1 at over 100k!” remark will not resonate in a marketplace where 200k has already become yesterday’s 100k.

Am I wrong? Maybe. So let me ask you. Would you recommend a VW? If so, what model?

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Hammer Time: Opposites Detract Thu, 30 Jan 2014 13:00:56 +0000 Ford_vs._Chevy_cover

There are some things that I am too damn old and open-minded to understand.

Like hating a car brand. Especially in those common cases where folks haven’t been exposed to any level of vehicle derived hardships.

Toyotas are boring. BMW’s are Yuppie-mobiles. Mercedes-Benzes are for snobs. On an on, through the lexicon of cliche and generalizations comes the silliest of stereotypes. As much as I hate to see it, hear it, and read it, I’m resigned to the fact that there is always going to be some version of this nuttiness in our world.

But what if there was an easier means to defeat it? In fact, as many of you know, there already is. A force of human good that can outdo any scam artist or snake oil salesman.

The enthusiast forum.

Every time I buy a vehicle that I haven’t bought before at the auctions, I try to find out if there is an online enthusiast group that specializes in that particular model.

Some of the sites have surprised the heck out of me for their model based loyalty and goodwill.  Chevettes, Tauruses, Fieros, Old Supras. As for ye olde Volvos and Benzes, there seem to be at least six or so sites that have offered their good word to thousands of devout followers. Even if I have little love for the car, there are hundreds of enthusiasts out there that can make me fall in love with the literary works that come from owning one.

One of the reasons why I love visiting these enthusiast forums is that the main contributors are almost always genuinely interesting people. From concrete layers who are into eastern philosophies, to tried and true professional race car drivers with New Jerseyite vocabularies. There always seems to be a beautiful egalitarian streak of wanting to help other fellow car owners regardless of who they are, what they believe, and even how they behave.

In a business bent on the glorification and financing of everyday transportation, I find that desire to extend the ownership period, and keep people debt free, truly valuable. It functions as a vital counterweight to our society’s commercialized push towards all things new.

Enthusiast forums also contain a unique balance between the driving enthusiast and the car keeping frugalist. The active members of the community want fun, high quality and reasonable costs. More importantly, nearly all these sites espouse a hardcore philosophy that every vehicle should have the opportunity to be used to the fullest of it’s capabilities. Even the lousy lower end versions with trashy engines and interiors that make you feel like you’re stuck in some remote corner of a Tupperware party. That jalopy of a car may indeed drink, smoke and hang out with the bad boys. It may even be worth more dead than alive. But it still has a fighting chance for rehabilitation when it finds the right crowd of auto enthusiasts.

Within all these enthusiast forums though comes a unique problem.

Access to the information. Referencing these places, easily so that consumers can easily jump from reading about the car from an old review, which is where most car searches begin for the non-enthusiast, to truly knowing about that car in one fell swoop. There are thousands of enthusiast sites and yet, it’s hard for them to get the word out about specific issues and recommendations that can better help the mainstream used car buyer before he makes a fatal mistake.

Many of us have the common sense needed to do a thorough due diligence of the car we plan on buying and keeping because, we love cars. But for those who don’t love cars, it’s an inconvenience. Information begats more information and sadly enough, a lot of these used car buyers will be overexposed to the sausage makers of our business who have absolutely no handle on the long-term issues of these vehicles, and no incentive to report them. In fact, a lot of the reviews out there are just rehashed versions of new car reviews that were only written to move the metal.

So I’m debating about whether to expand the long-term reliability study so that it can incorporate links that will allow used car buyers to go directly from the objective data, to the subjective opinions and insights of long time owners and enthusiasts.

Two articles I have recently written at Yahoo!, here and here, have received a lot of emails from used car shoppers who are happy with the data, but want more help with their search. It’s one thing to say that a car is generally reliable, or unreliable, and quite another to show a car’s specific weaknesses so that small problems don’t become terminal in the long run.

The good news is that we should have enough information to break all this out by a model year and even a powertrain basis in the near future. A long lasting Beetle with a TDI engine and a 5-speed should be treated differently than a Beetle with a defect prone automatic transmission and a 1.8 Liter. So in time, as the number of data samples crosses the half-million to million mark, that specific data will be broken out as well.

In a perfect world, I would like to display specific threads at the enthusiast forums that will provide the personal experiences behind these distinctions.  Partially to support the findings as they evolve, and more importantly, to offer an easy way to introduce casual car owners to the value of certain well-run enthusiast forums.

Is it a good idea? Are there certain enthusiast forums that should be the holy books of knowledge for specific models? Any that should be avoided at all costs?

Feel free to mention them below. Oh, and this information in the long-term reliability study will be provided for free, forever. I am not going to pretend that this study will have all the answers or all the resources that can be harnessed on a wholesale level of this business. In fact, I plan on highlighting a lot of the limitations later this week at TTAC so that somebody, somewhere, may have the opportunity to make it better.

No system or study is perfect, which is one of the reasons why I asked for volunteers early on. We, even those who are experts, do not have all the answers. However there should always be free and public resources within the greater community that serve the common good, and this may serve as another good opportunity to pay it forward.

So as this study expands and more refined, I’m going to ask for help from those who have a genuine interest in building this. Statisticians, car nuts, concrete layers, all are welcome. With enough help from the enthusiast community, I think we can fill in the gap between those first owners that are featured by Consumer Reports, who typically keep a car for only about six years, and those later owners who will experience their own unique issues and levels of reliability as the vehicles age. Who knows? Maybe the study may save your progeny from an under-engineered CVT or an electric car that mysteriously loses it’s juice at the 100k mark.

All the best! And thanks for all you do. Feel free to leave your enthusiast forum recommendations below along with your thoughts and ideas.


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Geely, Volvo Planning Global Subcompact Platform Tue, 28 Jan 2014 16:15:53 +0000 Geely GT

In an effort to sell their wares to Western markets, Geely and their subsidiary Volvo have teamed up to build a subcompact global car aimed at offerings from Ford, Honda et al.

According to Automotive News, the subcompact would be exclusive to Geely, and would go after competitors such as the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen Polo. Arrival on Western shores would be a few years away according to Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson.

Geely and Volvo are developing the platform at their joint research and development center in Sweden, the second such project to be developed there. The main goal for this project is engineering a subcompact that would meet Western safety and quality standards, thus enabling Geely to gain traction in the market.

The Sino-Swedish automaker is also developing a compact platform for both of its brands to use, and is expected to hit the market in around four years. German supplier Brose Group will supply components for the compact, along with mechanical components for Geely’s own lineup, through an alliance made between Geely and Brose this month.

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Black Friday: Valvoline Motor Oil And Recyclable Low-Quality Tools Fri, 29 Nov 2013 16:02:08 +0000 dixieswanson

If there ever was a combination of good and bad offers for the DIY auto enthusiast, it’s the so-called Black Friday deals.

5 Quarts of Valvoline with a Purolator Classic for $9.99 plus a $5 Valvoline coupon is pretty much the best oil deal I have seen since the G-Oil giveaways.

Impact wrenches that are made of low quality materials and old-school heavy batteries, utter garbage. Some of the manufacturers of these models should be shot on principle alone.

You can also throw in cheap wrench sets into the mix. I know they work in a pinch. But I just hate em’. Too many bad memories.

So what’s worth buying?

The only items I tend to buy on Black Friday are commodity goods. The oil change deals are a perfect fit for my line of work, and are usually the best deals of the year for that automotive line item. I used to also get brake pads, coolant, free spark plugs (as many as 32 a visit), and power inverters which tend to be pretty difficult to screw up.

As for tools, I avoid the Black Friday program altogether. I follow what I consider to be the Germanic school of gradual parts gathering. The expert tells the apprentice what he should buy, and the one learning shuts their mouth and simply buys the stuff without complaint. If you still want to time this sort of thing, Father’s Day tends to be a pretty good time to buy power tools along with the springtime sales. But when it comes to investing in work, I just listen to those who know more than me and get what they value. This Autel OBDII scanner is a great example.

Today will be one of those quiet days for personal shopping. One store, and then I will go home and observe the quiet of autumn. So I guess I should offer a two-fold question.

A) Are there any great automotive deals in your lifetime that still stick in your mind?

B) Was there ever a time in your automotive life when you just kept quiet and followed the advice of an experienced soul?

One of the great rewards of auto auction work is getting to know folks who know far more about certain things than yours truly. They live it. They repair the under-engineered engines and transmission issues, and upgrade those pesky plasticized parts whenever the bean counters are all too happy to shovel low-quality crap to their current customers.

Cheap almost always has a price, but there are a few notable exceptions. So what were yours?


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Hammer Time: The TI-QI Top Ten Sat, 23 Nov 2013 03:17:34 +0000 impala2

At what point are you willing to accept a low-ball offer for your old beater?

Is it when the tranny blows out? Or does it eventually come through the scourge of rust, and the constant breaking of electric doo-dads that no longer work all through your doo-dah-day?

Some folks simply get bored of their ride. While others just try to drive their cars until their bodies become the rolling representation of swiss cheese.

Everyone has a reason to curb a car. Thanks to the efforts of Nick Lariviere (<— Click the link!), and the cooperation of an automotive conglomerate with more money than some state governments, I now have 257,020 purely anecdotal examples of this type of personal decision making.

I now need to figure out one simple thing.

What does all this data tell me?


Well, for one thing, I’ve figured out that a lot of this information reaffirms my past prejudices about what tends to be worth buying at the whoelsale auctions, and what vehicles should be avoided at all costs.

So what to buy used then? OK. Here are the top ten most reliable used vehicles according to the TI-QI Index.


1. Lexus LX Series

Lexus LX

Quality Index Rating:  8.09

Sample Size: 230


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

See how that little yellow hump peaks at right around 200,000 miles?

These vehicles are the automotive version of granite. They are heavy as hell, don’t age, and will most assuredly squash off whatever vehicular bugs and cockroaches are on the road should the Zombie Apocalypse ever take place.


2. Toyota Land Cruiser

Quality Index Rating:  7.42

Sample Size: 183


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


The Land Cruiser would be the Toyota of Lexuses if  Lexus had a Toyota that wasn’t already a Lexus. See what I mean? Not really? Neither do I.

Just look at that nice big yellow wave of space after the two intersection points and forget I ever wrote that.


3. Ford E250

Quality Index Rating:  6.37

Sample Size: 109


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

The van of choice for locksmiths, utility workers, parts haulers and a highway beacon for young ambulance chasers who can’t afford their daytime TV commercials just yet.

I have a theory that when Comcast and AT&T are forced into the bankruptcies they rightly deserve, these vehicles will follow them into extinction.

Every one of them drinks gas like an old Lincoln, and there is already a massive glut of these vans in the used car marketplace.

You can’t kill em’. But like minivans, the buyer base is shrinking.


4. Lexus LS

Quality Index Rating:  5.99

Sample Size: 561


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Okay, the orange hump represents all the vehicles traded in before the Lexus on average.

The yellow bulge after the intersection point represents all the LS models that are kept for the longer haul. Note the substantial difference in the 250k to 300k zone.

Green means great. Yellow means good. Red means Suzuki.


5. Dodge Sprinter

Quality Index Rating:  5.94

Sample Size: 43


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Okay, 43 vehicles don’t exactly offer a big slice full of data. What matters here is the name. Dodge.

Dodge, as in thankfully nowhere near a typical Dodge. It’s a Mercedes that was once sold as a Freightliner and is now just a turbodiesel Benz in drag.


6. Toyota 4Runner

Quality Index Rating:  5.8

Sample Size: 1626














Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Another Toyota SUV that consumes gas with aplomb. These things are less economical than a Town Car, and almost as good looking, but that doesn’t matter in the end.

If the LX and Land Cruiser are the king of SUV’s on an international scale, then the 4Runner is Gollum equipped with a jedi sword, an UZI and a chainsaw.


7. Toyota Avalon

Quality Index Rating:  5.15

Sample Size: 1125

Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


You see a trend here? That’s right! The first five vehicles are all built on truck and SUV platforms, and the other two can cause numbness of the extremities.

What helps the Avalon is that the first two generations were insanely over-engineered, and most mature folks like to drive their ride with a tap instead of a stomp.


8. Lexus GX

Quality Index Rating:  4.93

Sample Size: 251


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


What the hell is a GX? Lexus needs to stop using acronyms and start using names such as, “Endurante” and “Hedgehog”.

On second thought, maybe GX is perfectly fine.


9. Ford Excursion

Quality Index Rating:  4.9

Sample Size: 279

Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues


The Ford Canyonero really isn’t an SUV. It’s the future of family housing after the US government decides that free enterprise is too expensive.


10. Saturn LS1

Quality Index Rating:  4.88

Sample Size: 57


Graphics:Powertrain Issues
Graphics:Transmission Issues
Graphics:Engine Issues

Who? What? Huh?

Well, I have this theory… GM designed these Saturns to run on meth.

At least it seems to attract that type of customer base in my neck of the woods. I have one of these that’s now on it’s third run through with the local meth clientele.

The first customer had a wife and kid on meth. The second was a user of meth, and the third is a distributor of meth.

When I first got it, my wife liked the color and wanted to keep it. But it never ran quite right for her. It needed meth.

As soon as I fixed the fuel pump and retailed it, no problems. It has gone through three addicts so far and has taken more abuse than the local public defender. Still runs fine.

Why? It must be the meth. I can think of no other reason why it’s in the top ten.

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Hyundai’s R&D, Product President, Engineering and Electronics Chiefs Resign Over Quality Issues Tue, 12 Nov 2013 14:00:23 +0000 aje-new-oct-28

After consumer complaints over quality issues in its home market of Korea and a string of recalls there, in the U.S. and other countries. Hyundai Motor Group’s president for research and development, Kwon Moon-sik and two other executives in charge of engineering and electronics have resigned. The shakeup comes as the automaker prepares some important new vehicle launches.

The Hyundai group’s chairman, Chung Mong-koo, son of Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung, has a reputation for firing (and rehiring) executives and he is also known for stressing quality. Chung is seen as responsible for changing the reputation of Hyundai from being seen as a maker of cheap, poorly made automobiles.

“The latest personnel change shows our firm commitment to quality management and reaffirms our will to continuously improve R&D competitiveness,” Hyundai said in a statement. The executives resigned to “take responsibility for a series of quality issues.” Replacements have not been named.

Last week Hyundai expanded its U.S. recall of the Genesis sedan to fix a potential problem with the brakes. So far almost 150,000 Genesis cars in the U.S. and Korea have been recalled. The recall notice comes as Hyundai is getting ready to launch the next generation Genesis in Korea later this month.

In April, Hyundai and Kia recalled more than 1.8 million vehicles in the United States because of a faulty brake switch, followed by a similar recall in South Korea, the largest in at least a decade there. Korean consumer have also complained of water leaks in Santa Fe SUVs and Elantra compatc sedans.

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Editorial: Cherokee Delays Deserve Praise Mon, 23 Sep 2013 21:37:56 +0000 IMG_4674-450x337

We live in an era of instant gratification. We want everything, right nowdone perfectly, right away. A consequences of that is that delays, even when legitimate, are seen as a sign of incompetence, slow movement and an inability to get things done. In many cases, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean we should pillory Chrysler for delaying production of the Cherokee again.

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, Chrysler spokesperson Jodi Tinson outlined Chrysler’s plans for the new Jeep, the brand’s most important product in years

“We are taking this very slowly, and I think it has already been communicated that we are doing some recalibration on transmissions. We continue to do some quality verification. We will release the Cherokees at a time we are satisfied with their quality and not a day before.”

On the one hand, this is hardly the first time the Cherokee has been delayed. It’s an extraordinarily important product for Chrysler, a symbol of the tie-up with Fiat and the Jeep brand’s global expansion into a booming segment. The constant delays speak to troubling problems related to assembly and supplier quality issues.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see Chrysler resist the temptation to release the car early and simply take the short term payoff (launch on time, avoiding press coverage of delays) in favor of the long term payoff of releasing a well made car, free of defects or major issues. Chrysler deserves to be applauded. Other OEMs would not take such a route.

Chrysler is sacrificing momentum, reputation, consumer consideration and huge sums of money in the name of getting things right. Meanwhile, workers at Toledo will be idle as engineers seek to fix the problem. One can only imagine the internal struggles that preceded this decision.  TTAC’s criticisms of the Cherokee’s quality issues were made with their best interests at heart, not in the name of yellow journalism or shock blogging in the name of “clicks”. It would be rather narcissistic to suggest that TTAC alone helped spur this action, but by the same token, I hope that Chrysler was listening, and that the Cherokee will emerge as a better vehicle, and a successful one at that.

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A Miracle Happens: GM Makes Top Quality Cars Sat, 22 Jun 2013 19:01:32 +0000  



J.D. Power published its 2013 Initial Quality Study IQS, and a miracle happened: Chevrolet jumped 10 spots  to number 5. The GMC brand even sits in #2.  In the real world, that puts GMC and Chevrolet in Place 2, along with Lexus and Infiniti.

When I interpreted these results in the olden days to a client, I told them not to read too much into the actual ranking. Place 6 and 16 are less than 7 percent apart, which is probably close to the precision of these studies.

I see six places, and they are on the chart. Others may see more.

The rankings have to be taken with even more than the usual grain of salt, because quality improved drastically. J.D. Power had to make new rules to stay in business. Only a third of the problems measured are actual malfunctions. Most of them are gripes, “because it may be difficult to understand or operate” a part of the car, as J,D. Power says.

An entertainment system that needs a little getting used to can send a car to the bottom rungs of the study.  Brands that have a high rate of conquests are especially susceptible, as customers need to re-learn  clicks and buttons.

All of GM’s brands, including Cadillac and Buick, performed better than the industry average. GM cars and trucks won eight top prizes as the best vehicles in their segments.

Probably very shockingly for Toyota, its Scion brand  is in the dead last spot. This will cause serious discussions in Toyota-shi. I remember when Volkswagen was close to that spot, and there weren’t enough fingers in Wolfsburg to supply the massive finger-pointing. Surprisingly, it was no career killer: Volkswagen’s Martin Winterkorn was head of quality assurance in those dark days. He was promoted to head of R&D and later to CEO.

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Happy Birthday To… Wed, 15 May 2013 14:54:55 +0000

25 years ago on this very day, a living God graced us with his feline presence: Howie Makem. The quality cat. World famous ambassador to all things GM is celebrating his birthday today.
Back in the good old days of the 1980′s, GM needed inspiration for their pursuit of quality. At Ford, quality was job one. Chrysler offered a long warranty. Toyota, Honda and Nissan were at the forefront of lean production methods, and Europe offered Volvos and Benzes that were made out of Nordic metal and recycled German Messerschmitts. GM had the Chevy Citation.

It was decided that something had to be done. Special committees were formed and within a matter of weeks, the belching black smoke that came out of the roof of GM headquarters via a Chevrolet Chevette diesel signified a new initiative for the company.

A human sized cat with the “head of a Datsun”, as lineworker Ben Hamper put it, was given a plastic cape and marching orders to change GM quality by any means necessary.

This meant walking around factories and waving. No, that last sentence is not a joke. GM hired the then un-named Quality Cat to walk around and wave to all the assembly line workers while they were busy installing rivets on trucks whose designs dated to the Nixon era.

It worked in much the same way as putting various small flags on Oldsmobiles made them more competitive with imports. The line workers cheered on their new savior for all things quality, and were even given the rare privilege of naming the human sized, cape wearing mascot.

Picture Courtesy of

“Management announced that they would reward the most creative of these entries with a week’s use of a company truck. Hot damn! The eventual winner of the contest was a worker who stumbled upon the inspired moniker Howie Makem. Sadly, my intriguing entry, Wanda Kwit, finished way the hell down the list somewhere right between Roger’s Pussy and Tuna Meowt.” (click here for the full story)

A star had been born. At least for a short while. Rumor has it that Howie Makem’s popularity was soon a liability in the insular GM universe that was the 14th floor, and a long line of enemies soon emerged.

GM unfortunately had three other feline Howies vying for CEO Roger Smith’s attention at the time. Howie Rakem, assistant to GM’s Chief Financial Officer. Howie Fakem, lead engineer for the Cadillac Cimarron, and Howie Takem, chief architect for the Hamtramck plant which required the condemnation and eviction of over a thousand Poletown residents.

The three Howies considered the idea of a quality cat to be about as welcome as a stupid dog, and quietly gave Howie his walking papers.

Since then Howie Makem is rumored to have moved to Reno where he has decided to reach out to the greater GM community along with fans the world over. So please. say a happy birthday to Howie today, and perhaps offer him a little kibble for all the good work he did back in the day.

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QOTD: Is Hyundai Growing Too Fast? Wed, 10 Apr 2013 17:46:45 +0000

A Reuters article on Hyundai’s recent quality problems raises an interesting question. Has the company grown too fast following an unprecedented image makeover?

Reuters quotes a Korean professor of automotive engineering discussing Hyundai’s recent quality issues

“Hyundai has built factories very fast around the globe until recent years, but its quality improvement has failed to keep up with its rapid volume growth,” said Kim Phill-soo, a professor at Department of Automotive Engineering at Daelim University College in Seoul. “The latest recall highlighted loopholes in Hyundai’s quality system.”

The most recent recall, which involves a brake lamp switch, affects 1.9 million vehicles in the United States alone, according to Reuters. There have been other recalls as well, including rusty subframes and self-deploying airbags. Despite these problems, Hyundai has managed to ride a wave of goodwill on the strength of their products and their image turnaround. Hyundai has become an underdog company that people are willing to root for, and the recent fuel economy snafu, that ended up becoming a non-event for many people, is strong evidence of how effective they are at managing their PR affairs.

On the one hand, I have to wonder if the latest recall is a result of the increasing standardization of auto parts. The nature of this phenomenon suggests that when parts fail, the failure can cascade across mass quantities of vehicles, resulting in the mega recalls we’ve seen over the past few years. With the implementation of modular architectures and further standardization, the potential for these mega recalls only increases. Just wait till Volkswagen’s MQB cars suffer their first recall for a look at the “new normal” of recalls will be.

But that shouldn’t discourage us from asking if there may be underlying quality issues at Hyundai. Jack Baruth noted that the Elantra he rented last year looked a little worse for wear compared to other cars of a similar vintage – though notably, the car’s fuel economy did meet his expectations.

Lacking the requisite manufacturing and engineering knowledge, I’ll put this one to the B&B, rather than submitting my theory as a definitive answer. Have at it.

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Monday Mileage Champion: An Open Request Mon, 07 Jan 2013 20:27:15 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

This week has been nothing less than the usual.

The top 5 vehicles were either Toyotas or Ford trucks, with a 2005 Toyota RAV4 that had galloped 425,904 miles skating right past a 2003 Ford E250 with 413,579. Eight of the top ten were either the usual Ford/Chevy/Toyota truck, or a Honda/Toyota car. Only a solitary Vulcan V6 Ford car and a Nissan Maxima interrupted the usual domination. Both of those models I’m thinking about adding to the list just because they are frequent enough to merit that distinction along with Sajeev’s beloved Panthers.

But then again, I did have one big surprise. Anyone remember the Mercury Capri?

Picture Courtesy of

A 1992 model with 294,766 miles in rust free Albuquerque, New Mexico made it to the top 25. This one came with the sundial slow 1.6 Liter non-turbo and a handshaker. Two important qualities that likely kept this old convertible from an early grave.

Chrysler fielded a minivan with 302k that apparently did time in Leavenworth… and that was about it. Everything else was composed of vehicles that were perhaps 40% of the usual car population back in the day, and yet they once again yielded 80+% of the high mileage vehicles.

This brings me to an open question for the Best & Brightest. The database I use will field over 200,000 trade-ins during the course of the year and the brand population for all those vehicles will be exceptionally neutral. Chevy dealerships attract more Chevys. Ford dealers get more Fords. This firm offers none of that static or orientation.

I am planning on building what can loosely be considered a long-term CSI index. Back in 2009 when I wrote an article called Kiametrics (one of my personal favorites) I noticed some unusually strong tendencies from certain manufacturers. The outperformers back then routinely fielded vehicles with well over 200k as trade-ins while those with lesser reputations routinely displayed trade-in mileage at less than 100k and rather scary announcements on the block (engine needs service, transmission needs service, lemon law buyback, etc.)

Read Kiametrics first here and consider the following questions…

1) At what mileage point and/or age has a typical vehicle earned a good repuation for quality?

NOTE: I am mentioning age on this question because certain enthusiast vehicles (Miata, Wrangler, Corvette) and those with an older clientele (Buick, Lincoln, 90′s Cadillacs) routinely get traded in with less than 100k.

2) Would you be interested in knowing about whether certain models have a high tendency for failure?

VW and Volvo transmissions. Chrysler 2.7 Liter engines. Mercedes electrical issues. The mainstream media may love covering the mileage issues of Ford and Honda hybrids for example. But the population of older hybrids with battery issues may also be worth a far more serious issue for the buying public. What about the longevity of the CVT? Are those models less relaible and more expensive to own than ye olde conventional transmissions? That’s an important question to me as a dealer since it’s virtually impossible to rebuild a CVT or find an affordable replacement at the junkyards.

3) Finally. If you are interested… can you help me a bit with the data?

It’s not that hard to do and should take no more than 15 minutes a week for any three major brands. The company has provided an automatic sorter so all you need to do is add them up, and write the numbers down.  26 Ford trucks had over 200k, 2 had less than 100k, etc.

My hunch is that certain mainstream publications don’t have the means or the interest to divine these questions. But the answers could be especially useful for millions of folks who will buy an older used car. Maximas may have far fewer mechanical problems than Accords and Tauruses. The F150 may be a far better choice at a higher mileage than a Ram or full-sized Chevy. The Buick Regal can be a hidden gem in an endless mineshaft of GM mediocrity.

There is a lot of solid statistical ground that can be covered with well over 200,000 vehicles.

What are your thoughts? And please take a quick look at the Kiametrics article first. Thanks!

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Question Of The Day: Which Car Companies Do You Not Like… But Respect? Wed, 28 Nov 2012 14:00:14 +0000

The late Gore Vidal was fond of saying, “Gratitude can be a complicated thing.”

He was right. Whether you are a hater, or simply a chronic critic, the act of complimenting those who follow the beat of a different drummer is usually not within the tip of the human tongue.

We want things our way… and sometimes we’re just plain wrong.

Chrysler minivans may never be a hot rod’s dream and a Neon may have been a little bit too cheap for its own good. But they had beauty and brilliance if you chose to look at the right trim levels and generations.

The same can be said for Suburbans and Silverados. In good times it is the small cars that get the shove. In lean times it’s the opulent gas guzzler. These vehicles may not be the top picks for most city folk and media fashionistas. But they definitely make country life far better.

Toyotas have been labeled as boring for well over thirty years, and yet the company’s products continue to be a gold standard for those seeking fuel efficiency and reliability.

German cars are anointed with the schizophrenic paradozes of glitchiness and outstanding engineering. In much the same way as Korean cars are considered to be cheap, but loaded with great value.

Every manufacturer offers their own DNA and unique qualities to the buying public. Good and bad. Over the last few years, which one of them has garnered your respect? Even though you may not quite like what it is they do?

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Car Reliability Stats Updated, Passat Problems Pinpointed Mon, 24 Sep 2012 17:49:13 +0000

Whenever we post about a Volkswagen, comments about reliability (or, more specifically, the lack of it) inevitably follow. So few will be surprised that, with the latest update to TrueDelta’s car reliability stats, the 2012 Passat again received subpar marks. Though the big sedan’s score is better than earlier, it remains considerably worse than most other 2012s. Digging through the repair reports, a common cause emerges. Ignition coils aren’t failing. Nor are window regulators. Instead, the most common problem for these cars happens to be rattles.

VAG certainly knows how to engineer a car without bits that squeak and jiggle. The far more complex new A6 and A7 have had hardly any problems so far, rattles or otherwise. So what happened with the new Passat? Don’t quickly blame the new Chattanooga plant: the “hencho en Mexico” 2012 Jetta is also prone to rattle. (Mysteriously, the 2011 Jetta fares better.)

These updated reliability stats cover owner experiences through the end of June 2012 (scores elsewhere are about 14 months behind). Among recently redesigned cars, the Passat is the exception rather than the rule. In addition to the A6 and A7, the FIAT 500, Honda Civic, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Accent, Hyundai Veloster, and Subaru Impreza are all doing well so far. Initial data for the 2013 Mazda CX-5 suggest it will be joining them. The Ford Focus isn’t among the best, but “about average” is an improvement over Fords redesigned a year or two earlier (Taurus, Fiesta, Explorer).

TrueDelta will update its car reliability stats again in November. The more people participate, the more models we can cover and the more precise these stats will be.

To view the updated repair trips per year stats:

Car Reliability Survey results

Michael Karesh operates, a provider of car reliability and pricing information.

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2013 Ford Mondeo Delayed Tue, 17 Jul 2012 17:48:29 +0000

The 2013 Ford Mondeo, aka our 2013 Fusion, was supposed to hit UK showrooms around this time, but the launch has been pushed back to September, so Ford can work out some quality-related bugs prior to its on-sale date.

AutoExpress spoke to a Ford representative in the UK, who told the publication that the Mondeo would be delayed so that Ford could “work through various issues to ensure a robust and high-quality launch”. Specifics weren’t given by Ford, but WhatCar, quoted another unnamed Ford spokesman as stating

‘We have a complex global vehicle programme, and we have to sort issues with the vehicle’s robustness and quality that would not be met with the original timings,’ he continued.

The European Mondeos are all sourced from Ford’s Genk, Belgium assembly plant. In the mean time, the tried-and-true current Mondeo will be produced to supply the market.

There’s been no indication that American-market Fusions will be afflicted with these sorts of problems (yet), but that doesn’t mean Ford hasn’t learned from the issues that affected the initial months of the Fiesta and Focus. Hopefully, they paid attention and learned from past transgressions. The importance of the Mondeo in Europe can’t be overstated, and a botched launch would be disastrous, perhaps more so than the DN101 Taurus kerfuffle was for North America.

]]> 52
Senator Chuck Grassley Wants NHTSA To Re-Open Toyota Sudden Acceleration Case Fri, 13 Jul 2012 18:56:38 +0000

Here we go again…Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is asking NHTSA to re-open the investigation into the Toyota unintended acceleration case.

Grassley claims he was approached by unnamed whistle blowers who were unsatisfied with the scope of the investigation. According to CNN

” the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the NHTSA in a letter to look into the phenomenon of “tin whiskers” — or crystalline structures of tin — that theoretically could lead to the unintended acceleration.

The whistle-blowers also provided Grassley with documentation about the investigations by NHTSA and NASA into the Toyota vehicles, including one NASA report that stated: “Because proof that the (electronic throttle-control systems) caused the reported (unintended accelerations) was not found does not mean it could not occur.”

Tin whiskers are able to cause shorts in electrical systems, and have been known to disrupt devices like pacemakers. Pure tin solder is often a culprit for it; lead was previously added to solder to help eliminate the issue, but with jurisdictions banning the use of lead, the problem has re-occurred in certain products.

Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons told CNN that the tin whiskers problem was a non-issue, stating that

“…no one has ever found a single real-world example of tin whiskers causing an unintended acceleration event, nor have they put forth any evidence of unintended acceleration occurring in a Toyota vehicle because of tin whiskers forming inside an accelerator pedal position sensor.”

Clearly, being exonerated by NASA isn’t enough, if a scandal can be exploited in an election year.

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TrueDelta and J.D. Power IQS updates: how bad are the FIAT 500 and VW Passat? Thu, 21 Jun 2012 15:28:32 +0000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Car Reliability Survey results

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

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Another Plugin Problem: A123 Warns Of “Potential Safety Issue” With Fisker Karma Battery Tue, 27 Dec 2011 16:20:24 +0000

In the ramp-up to the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, a great debate seized the engineering community: was Nissan opening itself to problems by not including a active thermal management system for the Leaf’s battery pack, or was Chevrolet’s liquid-cooled approach simply adding unnecessary complexity? Well, thus far, the verdict seems to be in Nissan’s favor. Though Leaf has been troubled by some dissatisfaction with its real-world range, the Volt has endurd the first technical semi-scandal of the plug-in era, when federal regulators found that ruptured coolant lines could cause fires. Now the liquid-cooled approach is hitting its second challenge, as Fisker’s battery supplier A123 Systems is warning in a letter [PDF] that

some of the battery packs we produce for Fisker Automotive could have a potential safety issue relating to the battery cooling system.


In its warning letter, A123 explains

Specifically, certain hose clamps that are part of the battery pack’s internal cooling system were misaligned, positioned in such a way that could potentially cause a coolant leak. Over time, it is possible that in certain rare circumstances, this coolant leak could potentially lead to an electrical short circuit.

There have been no related battery performance or safety incidents with cars in the field. However, A123 and Fisker are committed to safety and are taking immediate, proactive steps to prevent any issue from occurring.

We have developed a confirmed repair for this situation. In the short time since recognizing this potential safety issue, the root cause was quickly identified, a fix has been developed and corrective action is well underway.

In total, fewer than 50 customer cars are involved in this action.

Bloomberg adds that the problem has been caught relatively early, as Fisker is still producing just 25 Karmas per day at Valmet’s contract-manufacturing plant in Finland. Production is scheduled to hit 60 units per day sometime next year. Meanwhile, A123 is also preparing to start supplying batteries to Chevrolet’s Spark EV, so GM is probably breathing a sigh of relief that it’s catching battery problems before that contract starts. Still, these early issues with battery cooling systems are tipping the debate in favor of the cheaper, less-complex passive cooling approach… for now, anyway. When Summer arrives and temperatures rise, we’ll be keeping an eye on the Leaf fleet to see if problems pop up there.

]]> 5
GM Considers Volt Battery Redesign, Halts European Deliveries, Will Miss US Sales Goal, Recall Or Buyback Possible Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:03:52 +0000

In the comments section of yesterday’s post on the ongoing Chevy Volt fire investigation, I noted that GM might

retrofit Volts with crash protection that can maintain battery integrity in all crash conditions… Mary Barra has said that GM is

“continuing to work with NHTSA to investigate additional actions to reduce or eliminate the potential of a post-crash electrical fire.”

I think some kind of update on the battery integrity front is inevitable, but we shall see…

Sure enough, today Reuters is running an interview with GM CEO Dan Akerson, who says that European deliveries of Opel-branded Volts (called Ampera) would be delayed pending NHTSA’s investigation, and that maybe, just possibly, the Volt’s battery might have to be redesigned. Says Akerson:

We want to assure the safety of our customers, of our buyers, and so we’re just going to take a time out, if you will, in terms of redesigning the battery possibly

Unfortunately, Akerson’s mangled syntax makes it tough to know if GM is really going to redesign the Volt’s battery, or what the “time out” in question means. He does tell the AP [via The WSJ [sub]] that a recall or buyback are options as well. Though redesigning the Volt’s battery could be expensive and devastating for sales, GM’s current post-crash safety protocol is incredibly human resources-intensive, and likely very costly as well. And the fact that GM is even considering redesigning the Volt for safety a year after its release is going to create a huge sales and marketing challenge anyway. Volt production edged down by 199 units in November, and now GM’s sales boss Don Johnson tells the Detroit News that the Volt will miss its 10,000 unit 2011 sales goal. At this point, GM may just want to take a mulligan on the Volt’s first year, redesign the battery, and relaunch the thing.

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TrueDelta Updates Reliability Data Thu, 01 Dec 2011 17:52:49 +0000

We’re all aware that buying a first-year car can be risky, especially early in its production run. But how soon does the risk go away? Conversely, a new car model can initially seem problem free, only to have a common problem pop up once the cars have a few thousand miles on them. To cover both scenarios, TrueDelta promptly updates its car reliability stats four times a year, not just once a year after a half-year delay. Our recently updated reliability stats over owner experiences through the end of September 2011.

Put another way, the stats you’ll find elsewhere cover the same time period TrueDelta’s did two updates ago, back in May. How much difference can half a year make? In the case of some new Fords, quite a bit. A year ago the Fiesta had a reported repair frequency of 130 repair trips per 100 cars per year, about three times the average. Six months ago this had improved to 102, still much worse than average but heading in the right direction. With the latest update it’s 66 and within the range we consider “about average,” if still a little on the high side. Our earliest data for the 2012 Ford Focus suggested that it might similarly have a buggy launch, but after including more recent months its stat is 42 repair trips per 100 cars per year, very close to the average. Ford appears to have fixed the early bugs very quickly. But not quickly enough: other sources, using survey data from last spring, will report “worse than average” for at least the next year.

The Chevrolet Cruze appears to have suffered a similar fate. With our latest update, it’s better than average, with a score of 24. Three months ago its repair frequency was about twice as high, 51. We didn’t have enough data six months ago. Judging from other sources, the repair frequency was even higher then, perhaps around 100. Thanks to quarterly updates, though, we won’t be reporting that the car remains “much worse than average” for the next year.

This update also includes our first reliability stats for an electric car, the Nissan LEAF. Only 16 cars this time around—we’ll have far more with the next update, in February—but notably none have reported a problem that could not be fixed by updating the software (one software bug affected the air conditioning system). Will the LEAF turn out to be as reliable as the Prius, which is among the most reliable models in the survey? With 41 owners reporting for the 2011 Prius, not a single one reported a non-software repair.

We’ll update these stats again in February. The more people participate, the more models we can cover and the more precise these results will be.
To view the updated repair trips per year stats:

Car Reliability Survey results

And for the percentage of cars that required no repairs or 3+ repair trips in the past year:

Repair odds stats

Come across something interesting? Have a question? Post it in the comments.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data. 

]]> 16
This Is The Chevy Volt’s Post-Crash Safety Protocol Wed, 30 Nov 2011 22:18:19 +0000

TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest. It hadn’t occurred to me that GM’s Onstar system could provide opportunities to respond to crashes in real time, and apparently the system provides a wide variety of data with which GM’s “corporate SWAT team” can tailor its response to any Volt crash event. Hit the jump for the full procedure.

  • Chevy Volt sends Onstar message of just occurred crash event.
  • Onstar team notified of Volt crash and immediately implements standard crash protocol to assist vehicle operator
  • Onstar immediately pulls key crash criteria from crash notification, i.e. vehicle speed, vehicles conditions (rollover), etc
  • Onstar team notifies Volt Battery Team Leader of crash event including key vehicle conditions
  • Volt Battery team leader works with Onstar to ping Volt and check additional data if appropriate (higher severity crash events, battery data, etc)
  • Volt Battery team Leader determines if high crash severity standards met for depowering or if there is any question about battery severity level.  If yes to either, Battery team representative is sent to crash site
  • Volt Battery team works with Volt advisor to contact Vehicle Owner and/or determine vehicle location
  • Volt Battery representative obtains approval from owner and then proceeds to investigate the crashed Volt and depowers battery if deemed necessary
  • Post Crash Volt stable and ready for disposition
]]> 50
Volt And Consequences: GM Responds To NHTSA Volt Investigation Tue, 29 Nov 2011 17:25:23 +0000

With NHTSA opening a formal defect investigation into the Chevy Volt, GM is moving to defend its rolling lightning rod (no pun intended) and allay consumer fears about its safety. Yesterday I briefly appeared on Fox Business’s Your World With Neil Cavuto show to talk about what the intro to my segment referred to as “the hybrid from hell” and the “killer in your garage.” I tried to explain that the danger to consumers was basically nil, and that the real concern is for rescue, towing and salvage workers. And I would have explained why NHTSA’s tests still leave some serious questions open, but my “fair and balanced” approach meant that my segment ended up being extremely short. So let’s take the opportunity now to look past the hysteria and pinpoint the real issues with NHTSA’s investigation into the Volt.

A recent GM press release on the issue was accompanied by a conference call to reporters [transcript in .doc format here], in which GM’s top product executives, North American President Mark Reuss and Product Development Boss Mary Barra, gave GM’s perspective on the flap. But in a key passage, Barra confirmed that the most reasonable criticism of GM is essentially legitimate, as she confirmed that GM had not fully developed post-crash safety procedures before putting the Volt on the market.

Three weeks after the [initial NHTSA side-pole] test, the Volt caught fire.  This vehicle crash test was conducted before GM had finalized its battery depowering procedure.  We have learned that significant electrical charge, or energy, was left in the battery after the test.  When electrical energy is left in a battery after a severe crash it can be similar to leaving gasoline in a leaking fuel tank after severe damage.  It’s important to drain the energy from the battery after a crash that compromises the battery’s integrity – or you risk potential fire.

That’s why we have developed a process to depower the Volt’s battery after a severe crash.  We have been using the protocol since July of this year and we have now shared this process with the NHTSA and are working to extend this process and the needed equipment to those who handle or store vehicles after a severe crash.

Unable to deny that it should have had post-crash protocols in place before launching its first lithium-ion battery-powered car, GM seems to be trying to broaden the issue to extend beyond the Volt. Said Barra

But I also have to put this into the proper perspective:  Battery safety isn’t just a Volt issue. This is an issue we’re already working within the industry.  In fact, we are currently leading a joint electric vehicle activity with the Society of Automotive Engineers and other automotive companies to address new issues such as a process and protocol for depowering batteries.

The problem is, this does appear to be a Volt issue. Between the Nissan Leafs already on the road and the Prius Plugins that Toyota has been testing for years now, there are no documented thermal events that I’m aware of. Furthermore, the loss of battery integrity that the Volt experiences in side impacts seems to be caused by the lack of a steel battery case, which Nissan fits to its Leafs. Though it’s not clear what post-crash procedures Nissan has proliferated, it seems that its decision to protect its batteries with steel casings maintains battery integrity in government crash testing, eliminating the risks seen in the Volt.

Meanwhile, there is one question that nags at me. In the wake of the June fire at a NHTSA facility, GM shared its post-crash safety protocols. But the latest Volt fire, which happened a week after NHTSA, DOE, DOD and GM engineers test-ruptured a Volt battery, “sparked a fire of a wooden structure” at the DOD’s Hampton Roads facility. Here’s what’s not clear: whether that battery pack was subjected to GM’s post-crash protocols. If it was, this fire proves that GM doesn’t have a handle on this problem, and that its safety procedures are insufficient. If the post-crash protocols were not followed, NHTSA, DOE and DOD were incredibly stupid to store a battery pack they knew might catch fire in a wooden building. Furthermore, GM’s communications team has yet to clarify whether this latest fire was caused because safety procedures were not followed intentionally. One way or another, this needs to be clarified, even if it makes the government testers look foolish.

Based on GM’s reaction, deploying top executives, offering loaner cars, and vigorously defending the Volt in the press, it’s clear that The General takes this situation incredibly seriously… which is why I’m a little shocked that it hasn’t cleared up the circumstances of the most recent fire. After all, the Volt is easily the most controversial car in America, and based on my experience on Cavuto yesterday, it’s clear that many hope to use this investigation as the final nail in its coffin. But there is still much we don’t know about these thermal events, and what we do know indicates that they are not an immediate danger to owners and drivers.

So where is the danger? Clearly to the afore-mentioned rescue, salvage and towing workers… but also to the Volt’s sales. The Volt already has marketing challenges based on its price and association with the bailout. Even the hint of a fire risk is going to add the Volt’s sales headwind, making it even tougher to meet its goal of selling 45,000 units in the US next year. Meanwhile, the White House’s goal of putting 120k Volts on the road next year is pushed even further out of reach.

In short, this does not appear to be the death blow that Volt-bashers were hoping for, and GM appears to be handling the situation as well as can be expected. But this incident does highlight the downsides to pioneering new technologies, and shows how just one overlooked detail can create huge PR issues.

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NHTSA Triggers “Thermal Events” In Volt Batteries, Opens Formal Investigation Fri, 25 Nov 2011 22:48:42 +0000

NHTSA has has opened a formal defect investigation into the Chevrolet Volt, on the grounds that

 Intrusion in a crash may damage the battery, which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire

We knew that NHTSA was already looking in to this type of defect after an earlier test incident, but the official investigation resume [PDF] lists three separate thermal events that have occurred as a result of NHTSA tests. Hit the jump for the official explanation of this sequence of events.

On May 12, 2011, NHTSA performed a NCAP side pole impact test, followed by a post impact rollover test on a Chevrolet Volt. In connection with that testing, NHTSA has identified the potential for intrusion damage to the battery
which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire. Twenty-one days after the May 12, 2011 testing, delayed thermal heating and pressure release resulted in a fire that consumed the Chevrolet Volt and three other vehicles in close proximity at the test facility.

During the week of November 14, 2011, NHTSA performed follow-up battery-level tests to simulate the incident. NHTSA performed three tests simulating the mechanical damage to a battery pack observed from the first incident. Two of the three tests produced thermal events, including fire. Because of these test results, NHTSA has opened this investigation to examine the potential risks involved from intrusion damage to the battery in the Chevrolet Volt, in coordination with the agency’s ongoing review of the emerging technology involved in electric vehicle

A more extensive NHTSA press release notes

NHTSA is not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.

GM’s response [via Phil Lebeau/Twitter]:

The Volt is safe & doesn’t present undue risk as part of normal operation, right after a severe crash.

This is the defense that GM has been using throughout this NHTSA/Volt fire investigation, and to some extent it bears a lot of similarity to Toyota’s defense against the test results trumpeted by Professor David Gilbert. The argument is that the investigator is creating defects through conditions that would not exist in normal use. The problem with GM’s position is that the safety protocols it wants NHTSA to follow in order to not prevent these kinds of fires apparently haven’t been circulated. As GM’s spokesman put it last week

We had a process [for draining the battery] internally but I don’t believe it was shared with anyone. The incident with NHTSA raised awareness that we had to develop a procedure and alert all stakeholders.

And based on the fact that NHTSA’s press release on this defect investigation lists the agency’s tips for post-crash safety procedures for plug-in vehicles, it seems that this is its major concern. What’s strange is that GM made quite the fuss about its Volt first responder training (see video at top) when the car was launched. That this issue, and the necessary safety protocol response to it, seemed to slip through the cracks when that program was developed is not encouraging.

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CR: VW Press Cars Don’t Match What’s On The Dealership Floor Wed, 23 Nov 2011 19:54:02 +0000

TTAC has long held that reviews of press cars made available by manufacturers at launches and press fleets must be complimented by reviews of vehicles acquired from dealer lots. It’s been a controversial position at times, and I’ve had to do battle with OEMs as recently as a few months ago to explain why dealer car impressions matter. Today, Consumer Reports is proving the point by revealing

When VW dropped off an early media car this summer, I remember looking at the trunk and saying to myself “well, at least both of the cheap hinges are dressed up with plastic covers, unlike the Jetta, which just has plastic on the side with the wiring.” As you can see in these two photos from Car & Driver and Edmunds it appears that the Passats in VW’s press fleet have covers on the hinges.

But not that Passat you just bought. No, your new Passat isn’t as nicely finished as the press version.

Like all the vehicles we put through testing, Consumer Reports buys retail samples at a car dealership. I personally purchased the Passat TDI we’re testing. (We also bought a 2.5 SE and a 3.6 SEL Premium.) As you can see in our images, none of the Passats have the two plastic covers found on the press cars. Consumers apparently only get a cover for the wiring loom hinge; the other one goes bare.

Interestingly, we had a somewhat similar issue with VW when a Passat press car proved to be equipped in a spec that is not actually available at dealerships (V6 with 17-inch wheels). When we noticed the discrepancy (and by we, I mean Michael Karesh, of course), we asked VW how we had received a non-representative model, to which they replied that press fleet vehicles were “early builds” from the new Nashville plant, and therefore not necessarily in market-ready spec. Which is a reason, but not an excuse: the media can only serve consumers well if we’re given representative cars to review. So, while these discrepancies are all relatively minor, details matter when you’re spending upwards of $20k on something. Hopefully VW and the rest of the industry will learn from this experience and make greater efforts to equip their media cars exactly to dealer spec. One also hopes that Motor Trend has driven at least one Passat that’s not from a press fleet

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