The Truth About Cars » reliability The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +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 » reliability New Or Used? : The Most Reliable Car In The USA Is A …. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:42:56 +0000  


Hi Steve,

What would be the most reliable car I can purchase for about $7000-8000? And what would be the upper limit on mileage that I would even consider?

Steve writes:

I grew up in the food import business. So to me, the answer to this question is a lot like asking my Dad, “What is the best cake I can get for $70?”

He would probably tell you that it depends on your ingredients, your cooking methods, your recipe, and what parts of the ingredients matter to you the most.

The ingredients when it comes to a used car is… the prior owner.

Like a pitcher in baseball who has an overwhelming influence over the outcome of the game, the prior owner’s maintenance habits and driving style has the greatest impact on the longevity of the vehicle when you’re shopping at this lower price range.

The cooking methods are… your own driving style and maintenance regimen. The way you cook those ingredients once you get them determines a lot of that long-term reliability.

My father’s Lincolns were rarely driven hard, and he took fantastic care of his cars. My mom was a rolling hurricane who routinely beat her cars to an inch of their metallic being. Some cars can easily handle the obscenity that is a person shifting from reverse to drive while in motion (Crown Vics come to mind), while other cars would likely be recycled into Chinese washing machines within five years (Chevy Aveo).

You need to be honest about the type of driver you are, the type of driving you do, and the types of wear you have commonly seen in your past vehicles. A diesel is often better for mountainous highways than an older hybrid, and a Lincoln Town Car will likely be a better fit for potholed streets than a Mitsubishi Lancer.

The recipe is usually… the manufacturer.  The ways you get to enjoy it depends on the way they built it.

Cars have their own unique manufacturing tolerances and varying quality levels built into their 180,000+ parts. Honda makes wonderful manual transmissions. Toyota is a world-class manufacturer of hybrids. GM and Ford make highly reliable full-sized trucks and SUVs, and BMW along with Porsche have offered sports cars that were truly the best in the business. The manufacturer that offers the best match for your automotive tastes will impact your reliability because, you will likely be willing to invest in the best parts if that car offers what you consider to be the optimal driving experience.

Does it sound like I’m evading your questions? Well, let me toss around the ingredients that matter to you the most then and give you a solid answer.

If cars to you are like water… no taste is the best taste… and you drive about 50 to 60 miles per hour on flat, boring, mundane roads, then find yourself a 2007 Toyota Corolla. Get a low mileage version with a 5-speed that was driven by a prior owner who knew how to handle a stick. 07′ was the last year of that particular generation and historically, vehicles that are later in their model runs tend to have fewer issues.

If cars are a matter of sport and passion, I have an incredibly weak spot in my heart for second generation Miatas. A low mileage version owned by a Miata enthusiast is a helluva deal. Here in the southern US, an 03 or 04 with around 60k miles would sell for around $7000. I also like the Honda S2000 and the BMW Z4. Those will have higher miles than the Miata, and the Z4 in particular may not match the Miata for reliability alone. But those two models may offer certain ingredients that are more appealing to you.

Finally, if you’re looking for that same automotive luxury and richness as a five layer coconut cake filled with Godiva chocolate flakes, and coconut that was flown directly from the Polynesian Island of Tofoa, the sad news is there are no reliable $7000 Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. However a 2001 Infiniti Q45 is a frequently overlooked luxury model that I would keep a keen eye on if I had $7000 to spend on a ‘rich’ car. One with less than 100k miles, if you can find it, would be a fantastic deal.

Oh well, gotta go and exercise. My morning cake came from an article I wrote a couple of days ago and I now have to remove all the calories that are stuck in my big fat head.


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Japanese Brands Dominate Consumer Reports Rankings, Detroit Three Struggling Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:30:54 +0000 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Though quality and performance have improved as of late for products made by the Detroit Three, they still have a ways to go to beat the Japanese brands dominating Consumer Reports‘ current rankings.

Automotive News reports seven of the top 10 brands rated for overall reliability and road-test performance as conducted by the magazine are Japanese, while the two top Detroit brands — Buick and GMC — tied for 12th; Ford and Jeep tied for last place.

The top-rated brand for the second consecutive year was Lexus, scoring 79 out of 100 for their lineup deemed “quiet, plush, and very reliable” by Consumer Reports. Following the luxury brand were Acura, Audi, Subaru and Toyota (tied for fourth place), Mazda, Honda, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW and Volvo (tied for 10th).

As for where the remaining Detroit Three brands landed, Chrysler took up the 14th position while Chevrolet, Cadillac, Dodge and the aforementioned Ford and Jeep rounding out the bottom of the rankings behind Nissan, the lowest ranked Japanese brand in a tie with Volkswagen for 19th.

Ford and Jeep’s dead-last ranking is the result of technology woes for the former’s MyFord Touch infotainment system, and a “crude and outdated” lineup — including a Grand Cherokee suffering from weakened reliability, and a Cherokee that the magazine says “isn’t that competitive” — for the latter. Ford, in particular, is a “sad story” according to CR director of auto testing Jake Fisher:

The Ford Fusion, not only does it look, but it drives like a good European sports car. It really does. The problem is the reliability, and that’s what’s dragging down that brand.

Meanwhile, Fisher notes that if General Motors had “a whole lineup of Impalas,” considered the best large sedan based on road tests conducted by the magazine, the automaker would be at the top of the rankings. Overall, Fisher believes the Detroit Three as a whole are “going the right way” in terms of reliability and performance.

Regarding individual models, the Ram 1500 was rated the Best Pickup over the Silverado/Sierra twins in part due to the lack of reliability information for the latter two, while Hyundai captured the trophy Best Mid-Size SUV for their Santa Fe, Subaru holding off the Honda CR-V with their Forester for Best Small SUV, and Tesla, whose Model S holds the highest overall score ever given by the magazine: 99 out of 100, takes home the Overall trophy.

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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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Piston Slap: FIAT 500…Good or Garbage? Thu, 26 Dec 2013 12:31:31 +0000

TTAC commentator AMC_CJ writes:


My retired mother has come to the conclusion that she needs a 2nd car. Currently she has a 06′ Trailblazer that she keeps in mint condition, and despite having issues with the headlights going out automatically, and a lengthy dealing with GM, it’s been a good vehicle (and to GM’s credit, we think they finally found and fixed the problem with little expense to her). She loves her Trailblazer and it’s perfect for running up to our homestead in WV. But it’s the only car she has, and when it was in the shop recently it left her with a sub-par loaner she couldn’t drive very far. When I lived at home, I lent my parents a vehicle out of my own fleet when they needed.

My father made it several months after I moved away before he bought a 2nd car (which was my old PT Cruiser). My mother has held out for 4 years, but now she has come into a little bit of money and has come to the realization that;

1. When her Trailblazer is down, she’s stuck.
2. She likes her Trailblazer a lot, and wants it to last a long time as midsize true SUV’s are nearly dead. She’d like to save it for trips back and forth to WV and split the miles with another vehicle for running around town. I commit to the same strategy with my 06′ Liberty CRD and have proven it’s a great way to make a vehicle last longer. This was always common sense to me, but most people seemed pretty dumbfounded on why I owned so many cars. Other family members are starting to see the light too.

She doesn’t need anything fancy, or really practical. Just something to run to the store, go see her friends across town in, and the typical putting around retirees do. She doesn’t want another GM product after being left on mountain roads at night with no headlights; more times I care to mention. In fact, she doesn’t really like any new cars; but the Fiat 500 has caught her eye. So, being I’m a mechanic by profession and have a degree in this stuff I get asked all the time what I think. Well, I work on heavy trucks and have never seen a Fiat 500 mechanically, nor do I know anybody that has ever worked on one, owned one, etc. So I’m reaching out to the community here.

Maybe it’s that they’re too new. I’ve always thought of picking up one, probably used, when our 12′ Mustang is paid off and figured by then a few of them should of made it through their life cycle. But at this point, I haven’t heard of anything bad. We looked them up online and she’ll probably go with a base model, even a manual transmission. Maybe the turbo model if the base is just too slow (which is a possibility for her). I think she’s too used to her big SUV to feel comfortable in a small car again, but we’ll see how a test drive goes. But before we get that far, I’d like to know, how are these cars holding up?

What’s the word out there? Are they safe? If nothing else, I figure a comment section from the B&B would shine some light on the subject. This will probably be the last car she ever purchases, so it needs to last with her Trailblazer. I’d see her putting around 5,000miles a year on it, and it needs to probably last a good 15-20 years. Her main residence never really sees snow, so salt/rusting isn’t a concern.

Sajeev answers:

As expected with a foreign brand re-entering the US car biz, the first year of the FIAT 500 was plagued (hat tip to TrueDelta) with more problems than newer models.  I suspect it has less to do with the car, more about Chrysler dealerships ramping up their training, tools, parts, etc. for an eye-talian job they’ve never seen before…much less worked on.

There’s little doubt that today’s FIAT isn’t what left us back in 1983.  And the delta between a bad car back then and a bad one now is different: the variance in quality today could easily be statistically insignificant. But would I want a FIAT for 15-20 years?  Nope.

I have doubts as to the future long term cost/availability of aftermarket support, availability of qualified repair shops, or the longevity of FIAT USA.  Buy a more mainstream brand, it’s just a safer bet. I’d change my tune if she was keeping it for the duration of the warranty period, for sure.

Stick with big name American and Japanese brands for long-term ownership without the headaches.  Well, with less headaches…

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

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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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Lexus No. 1 in Reliability, Ford Near Bottom Thu, 31 Oct 2013 13:00:29 +0000 2013-Lexus-LS-460-3

If reliability is the No. 1 trait your next car must have, you may then opt to visit your nearest Lexus dealership before considering anything from the Ford dealership across the street as far as Consumer Reports is concerned.

Lexus, Toyota and Acura dominate the consumer magazine’s Top 10 in reliability for 2013, with a total of seven Japanese automakers taking almost all of the marbles; the only non-Japanese makes to make the Top 10 were Audi (No. 4), Volvo (No. 7) and GMC (No. 9).

Meanwhile, Ford was pushed into the No. 26 slot after being stranded in the 27th position last year. Lincoln fell back to No. 27 on reliability, with BMW’s MINI in dead last on the side of the road. Reasons for both Ford and Lincoln being where they are include complaints about the automaker’s MyFordTouch system, and problems with their EcoBoost engine.

If you’re at the Toyota dealership, however, Consumer Reports recommends anything but the Camry, Prius v or RAV4. The magazine retracted its recommendations for the trio due to poor results in crash testing as conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a decision the publication doesn’t take lightly according to Consumer Reports Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher:

Honestly, we don’t take this lightly, but virtually every vehicle now in the family sedan category has been tested and the only one that has gotten a ‘poor’ is the Camry. At this point, we don’t feel we can continue to recommend people buy a Camry when there’s other good choices out there that do better on the test.

That said, there may be hope for redemption regarding the Camry: Toyota’s engineers have gone over the car’s failings, and will retest with IIHS in December.

Fisher also said that with 50 vehicles tested by the IIHS, his publication has enough data to begin weeding out any vehicle with a “poor” rating. Thus, expect to see more recommendations retracted on some cars the next time you head to the newsstand to pick up the latest issue of Consumer Reports.

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Piston Slap: Escaping The Land of Lotus-Eaters Mon, 21 Oct 2013 11:52:12 +0000

Susan writes:

So I found a 2011 Saab 9-5 that I just love. I have never owned a Saab. Do they break a lot? I don’t want to spend thousands on car repairs. Been there done that. Please let me know what your honest opinion is on whether I should buy this car or not. Thanks for your time.

Sajeev answers:

Run like hell. That’s the short answer. More to come. :)
Sent from my iPhone

Susan answers:

Hahaha ok
Sent from my iPhone

Sajeev concludes:

Here’s the thing: I truly adore it when readers make no pretense to their mechanical prowess (I can do this, I think I’d be willing to do that) and instead get to the point with a Yes or No question…with past experiences in mind. That makes my answer far more accurate. Why?

Consider these:

  1. Turbo Saabs are chronically below average in terms of reliability, durability and repair costs.  While a 2011 model may be far superior than older models with unobtainium non-GM parts and (possible) questionable upkeep from previous owners, while parts are available via the “Saab Secure Program“, only certain parts of the country are truly Saab friendly when it comes to service and support. Not so compared to other luxury marques.
  2. Saabs aren’t for everyone and like any niche, plenty of folks appreciate such quirkiness…and are willing to deal with non-Lexian levels of quality.
  3. The final Saab 9-5 is a rather beautiful and unique automobile, even with the Chevy steering wheel and underlying GM architecture.
  4. Saabs (and Volvos) probably have the best seats in the business, for decades. But what are those seats bolted to?

We know enough to make a sound judgement against a pretty vehicle with serious concerns: if one readily admits to being repair-averse, don’t even consider a Saab.  Hell, maybe you shouldn’t consider anything from Europe (without a very extended warranty) these days.  Make your life easier, there are plenty of alternatives out there. Just go test drive them, Susan!


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

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Updated Car Reliability Survey Stats – All Of 2012 Mon, 04 Mar 2013 20:28:49 +0000

It’s an Audi, what do you expect?

TrueDelta recently updated the stats from its Car Reliability Survey to include all of 2012. Unless the car in question is a 2010 model (covered by J.D. Power’s VDS), statistics that indicate how it has been holding up since last April aren’t available anywhere else. Put another way, we’re currently eight months ahead of the folks with the new auto issue.

Among fairly new cars, so few received red “sad faces” (for an especially high reported repair frequency) this time around that we can cover them all here.

2013 – Ford Escape

2012 – None

2011 – None

2010 – Jaguar XF, Mercedes GLK, Hyundai Genesis, GM large crossovers, Ford Taurus

2009 – Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XF, Ford Flex

2008 – GM large crossovers, BMW 335i

2007 – Nissan Murano

Even among the cars in this bunch, none averaged over one repair trip per car last year, and most didn’t come close. Granted, the stats cover 60 to 70 models per year, not all of them. This list would be longer if we had more responses for certain Europeans. If four more owners of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class had reported in, its stat would have been well over 100 repair trips per 100 cars. If you’re concerned about reliability (not everyone is), you don’t want one of these.

The doors fit just fine on this press car…

Many reported problems are minor–for any of our stats you can click a link to view the repairs behind it. The 2013 Ford Escape is in the “dirty dozen” because of common problems with door and hatch alignments. The 2010 Ford Taurus makes this list because, even after three years of replacements, the chrome trim keeps peeling off the tail lights of enough cars. Some owners have had the assemblies replaced three or four times.

The 2010 Hyundai Genesis has had moderately serious problems with its fuel pump (V8 engine), plus the power tilt adjuster for the steering column and the power seat controls. To avoid a sad face with the 2009 CTS, skip the sunroof. The 2007 Nissan Murano commonly has problems with its front suspension (as does the 2006).

We could move the goalposts to force more models into the sad group, but we don’t want to put a sad face on cars whose owners are usually quite happy. For 2011 and newer cars, the dividing lines between a green :) and a yellow :| is around 30 repair trips per 100 cars per year, while that between a yellow :| and a red :( is about 60 repair trips per 100 cars per year. Most newish cars are under 30 per 100, and consequently get happy green faces next to their scores.

At the other end of the scale, we have some models for which absolutely no repairs were reported last year.

2013 – Audi A4 et al. (29 cars)

2012 – Honda CR-V (58 cars), Subaru Forester (33), Toyota Prius c (30)

2010 – Lexus RX (30 cars)

The 2013 Audi isn’t a fluke–both the 2011 and 2012 also have been faring well, with scores in the 20s.

Some other models came close to perfect records. If one more 2012 Rogue owner had responded and reported no repairs, the Nissan would be in this group. Only a single repair was reported for the 2013 Focus, 2012 C-Class, 2012 LEAF, 2012 Prius, 2012 Sienna, 2011 GM large SUVs, 2010 Corolla, 2009 Rogue, and 2008 IS.

Among notable new models, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 barely retained its happy face despite multiple reports of fluttering hoods, vibrating mirrors, and rattling instrument panels. [Update: One late report of a vibrating mirror has pushed it over the edge.] The 2013 Toyobaru FRZ and 2012 FIAT 500 are deep in the yellow. The former has common problems with a chirping fuel pump and tail lamp condensation, while the latter has common problems with defective manifold bolts that cause oil leaks and an iffy Bluetooth module.

You thought people bought them for how they look or drive?

A single problem that affects most cars will mean the difference between a great score and a bad one, not only with this car reliability survey but with any of them. TrueDelta’s stats suggest manufacturers are doing a very good job of catching and fixing problems before they can become common. With a different reporting system that forced a certain percentage of cars to have bad scores, this would be less obvious.

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

To view the stats for a particular model, and the specific repairs behind the stats:

Car Reliability Survey results

Michael Karesh operates, which covers car reliability, real-world fuel economy, feature-adjusted price comparisons, and why (not) reviews.

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Question: Notoriously Unreliable Cars That Were Bulletproof For You? Fri, 14 Dec 2012 17:45:52 +0000 For every Junkyard Find of, say, a Malaise Era bomb that fired several torpedoes into the already leaky hull of a once-great car company, there will be at least one reader who writes a comment that goes something like “I bought one of these cars new, and it went 300,000 trouble-free miles on logging roads in Trinity County. This car’s bad image was undeserved, folks!” Just as it’s possible to have fun with a rented Corolla (just kidding, there is no way to have fun of any sort in a rented Corolla), it’s possible for a first-gen Excel or Sterling 827 to survive like a Slant-Six Valiant sedan.
The Volkwsagen Type 4. The Chevy Vega. Just about any Mitsubishi product built between the A6M Zero and, like, five years ago. Many of us have had such an odds-beating car (I’d like to say that my Peugeot 504 held together like an Accord, but such was nowhere near the case).
So, let’s hear those stories! Set the record straight! Feel free to add tirades about what a bad rap the (Mazda RX-2, Ford EXP, Fiat 128, Jaguar XJ-S) got.

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Updated Car Reliability Stats: Who’s Up, Who’s Down Fri, 30 Nov 2012 18:08:02 +0000

TrueDelta has updated the stats from its Car Reliability Survey to cover through the end of September, 2012.

Elsewhere you’ll read that, for the 2013 Mazda CX-5, “first year reliability has been well above average.” We can’t tell you how the CX-5 performed during its first year, since the first few cars only arrived at dealers late last February (less than two months before that other survey was conducted). We can tell you that, in the seven months after the first Mazdas were delivered, few of them required repairs. Same conclusion, just an average of 3.5 months of data per car instead of a couple of weeks.

We came within a response or two of having a full result for the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ sports cars. Through the end of September they were looking better than average. But enough owners have recently reported problems with tail light condensation and a chirping fuel pump (the latter probably experienced in our press fleet pre-production car) that their score will worsen with future updates. If no further problems creep up they’ll have middling-to-poor scores for a few quarters, after which they could regain a better-than-average stat.

Among 2012s, the designed-for-Americans Volkswagen Jetta and Passat have improved enough that they’re now about average. Earlier problems largely involved trim and rattles. Meanwhile, the FIAT 500 has worsened in recent months, with no clear common problem. So far this has only taken it from better than average to about average, but if the recent repair frequency continues they’ll fall below average.

Continuing our review of new-for-2012 designs, we’ve yet to have a single repair reported for the Honda CR-V, with 47 owners participating. The redesigned Honda Civic, Hyundai Accent, and Subaru Impreza have been nearly as flaw-free. The Toyota Camry and Hyundai Veloster have required repairs a little more often, but are also clearly better than average. More of a surprise: the all-new Audi A6 and A7 have been as glitch-free as the Camry and Veloster.

In the next grouping, the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Sonic are both about average. Finally, no 2012s for which we have at least 25 responses are substantially worse than average.

For a “sad face” (worse than average score) you’ll have to go back to the 2011 model year, where you’ll find two, for the Infiniti M (experiencing the sort of glitches people normally expect from Audis) and the MINI Cooper (common problem with the thermostat). With first-year common problems with the air suspension and panoramic sunroof now behind it, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has improved to about average.

You’ll find far more sad faces among older cars, especially European ones.

To check out the stats for other models and years, and to sign up to help with the survey:

Car Reliability Survey results

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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Ford Plunges Seven Spots In Consumer Reports Reliability Rankings As Audi, GM Rise Mon, 29 Oct 2012 23:15:04 +0000

Ford took a swan dive in the latest Consumer Reports reliability rankings, finishing second-to-last ahead of Jaguar in the standings. To the Blue Oval’s credt, the poor ratings don’t tell the whole story.

A brief release outlined by CR lists some of the reasons why Ford had such a poor showing this year.

Several factors contributed to Ford’s decline. A few new or redesigned models, including the Explorer, Fiesta, and Focus, came out of the gate with more problems than normal. Ford has also added the MyFord/MyLincoln Touch electronic infotainment system, which has been problematic so far, to many vehicles. In addition, three historically reliable models—the Ford Escape and Fusion and the Lincoln MKZ—are not included in the analysis. They were redesigned for 2013, and we don’t know how the new versions will fare.

Only two years ago, Ford had cracked the top 10, and was “Detroit’s poster child for reliability”. Now, the brand is far behind in the standings, and Japanese auto makers are dominant yet again.

Toyota, on the other hand, excelled in our latest ratings. Its three brands—Scion, Toyota, and Lexus—swept the top spots. They were followed by four other Japanese makes: Mazda, Subaru, Honda, and Acura. All of the models produced by the top seven brands had average or better reliability. And of the 90 Japanese models reflected in our brand comparison, 86 were average or better, with 35 earning the highest rating.

Members of the “TTAC is biased against GM” crowd will be upset to note that we were impressed to see GM on the cusp of greatness, rising to 11th place this year. Remarkable gains were also made by Audi, which shot up to number 8 from its previous spot at number 26th.

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Hammer Time: ‘Old’ New? < or > ‘All’ New? Wed, 10 Oct 2012 13:00:56 +0000

The best deal.

Most consumers use this phrase interchangeably with what they really want. The best car.

The question is whether they can find both at the same place.

Small confession here. I usually could care less if a new generation model is 10% better or 15% better than the old one.

To be frank, I consider the majority of new models to be cheaper products that, over the course of years, will fail to live up to the standards of the older model.

It may drive better at first. It’s new after all. But give it 80k miles of driving and many of those pressed plastic bits are going to be stressed to the point where vibrations and noise will make many of these cars unpleasant to drive. CVT transmissions and cheap plastics still don’t hold up from what I have seen at the auctions, and until they do, I won’t be endorsing any new model that is laden with them.

So what is a good deal these days?

1) The unpopular car that is well engineered.

2) Which is still left at the dealer lot during model changeover time.

3) That is easy to maintain and keep for the long haul.

Here’s two local models in my neck of the woods that caught my eye. Specifically because a friend of mine was recently looking for a new set of wheels. (click!)

If you look at the top two vehicles, you will see two leftover 2012 Honda Accords. Both stickshifts. Both of these have been in their inventory forever. One was priced at $17,600 when I looked at it online this past weekend. The other was priced at $17,800.

This weekend I shared the information with a friend, who may have carried it forward to someone else. So what happens? It goes up of course … perhaps until the consumer calls the dealership and ask them if they are willing to make a deal on a car they have been sitting on for 120+ days.

Click on the stock photos for the white one, and you see it was built April 2012. The gray one? It’s upside down. But if you stand on your head you’ll find that it was built February 2012.

These are two Accords that are similar in their product staleness to what I bought for my late father back in the day. He bought a 1992 Lincoln Mark VII at a time when the Mark VIII had already launched. As a result, Ford was heavily discounting an already unpopular model, that also happened to fit my father’s desires to a T.

Nine years and one unavoidable accident later, we went out and bought the outgoing Lexus ES300 at a time when the new generation had already hit the pavement. Was the older model supposedly better than the new one? No. But that older model had already made hundreds of thousands of consumers happy. The Lexus also received the full benefit of five years worth of quality improvements and manufacturing prowess.

Those attributes are seldom factored in. However in the long run, if you are the type who is a ‘keeper’ who prefers to keep their cars for 150k miles or more, this is where your sweet spot will lie.

An outoging model. High quality. Great reputation. Proven powertrain. Discounted price.

Eleven years later that Lexus is still vault like when you drive it. I am willing to bet that the Accords I mentioned above will be a nice fit as well for somebody out there who doesn’t mind rowing their own gears.

So folks, when it comes time to buying your next new car, weigh everything in. Are you a keeper? Or a trader? Chances are if you look at your next new car as a long-term investment, it may pay to shop for that ‘old’ new instead of the ‘all’ new.

Agree? Disagree? Stories? Please post away. All the best!

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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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Piston Slap: Um, like, no! Wed, 11 Jul 2012 10:22:35 +0000


Luke writes:

Hi Sajeev:

Unlike a lot of those seeking your sage advice, I’m not going to ask you whether or not I should buy a different car. I know I am buying a different car. My mind is made up, so don’t take any of my words as a question about soldiering on with what I have. My summer car is a mint, nicely upgraded 1994 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (full Spohn/Strano suspension, hopped up LT1, Corvette brakes, etc) with 60K miles and it is not going anywhere. What I need is a new winter/utility vehicle…

Since my wife and I got married 5 years ago, I have been facing Minnesota winters with a series of beater trucks. I started with a 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 with nearly 300K miles. Enough said about that! I moved on to a GMC Sierra with over 170K. It was a great truck, but rust holes in the bed and the “deferred maintenance” sins of the previous owner eventually claimed that one too. I now have a 2001 Jeep Cherokee with about 140K. It’s a cool little truck with 2 doors, a 3 inch lift, and big tires, but it’s hit that point where nickel and dime maintenance and the persistent force of oxidation will start to suck me dry. I recently invested about a thousand bucks fixing the rusty rocker panel and driver’s floor pan, so it’s a good time for it to move on to a new home.

My wife and I are both gainfully employed professionals in our early 30′s with a healthy bank balance, no debt except our house, and exceptional credit scores. We own a small house on a small lot in the city, have a pair of dumb dogs, and do not yet have children. My wife feels that it’s time I put the beaters behind me and buy “a nice truck or SUV that we can drive and not spend a ton maintaining for at least 5 years”. I agree with her on most of that statement – I am tired of whipping rusty, dirty cars wondering what will be the next thing to break. I would like a real 4×4 vehicle that can 1) take me to work through the sometimes brutal winter weather, 2) take me down muddy, rutted farm tracks and 4-wheeler trails to hunt deer and pheasant on the family land in central MN, 3) haul dumb, dirty hunting dogs, stuff from Menards, and pull a small utility trailer, 4) have reasonably nice creature comforts, and 5) be of reasonable size to fit in the garage next to my wife’s Volvo S80.

I’m looking at used trucks in the $15-20K range with 50-80K miles or less. So far I have looked at a couple WK-era Jeep Grand Cherokees, a JK Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, a Chevy Trailblazer SS, a Nissan X-Terra, and a Land Rover LR3 V8. God help me, I loved the Land Rover. What a sweet, sweet truck! The 4 wheel drive system and air suspension are amazing! It has a huge, flat load floor when you flip the seats down! The driving position feels so right and everything is draped in leather! It looks so cool and tough! But then this voice in the back of my head says “you are considering a British truck, with lots of sophisticated electronics…you must be on ‘shrooms.” I have been reading the message boards and reliability reports, and from what I’ve seen the LR3 looks fairly average as cars go, and definitely better than the old Discoveries. I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m crazy for looking at and falling in love with these trucks.

So what do you say? Is buying a used Land Rover financial suicide? Do these trucks still have a bad reputation, or are they better now than they used to be? Is there anything else I should be considering? Keep in mind that we have a local Land Rover dealer, and I will be soliciting a PPI on anything I get close to buying.


Sajeev answers:

You want me to justify LR3 ownership?  You obviously haven’t met my friends (all 6 of them) who know I care more about their wallet than I for their automotive spiritual wants and desires. Combined with what I’ve seen in modern Land Rover ownership and a quick look at Mr. Karesh’s TrueDelta data, it proves my point: NO FUN FOR YOU.

For peeps in your situation, it’s all about the Money, Honey.

You obviously shouldn’t spend your money here, unless I missed the part where you said “short term lease.” Parts are expensive.  Labor will be expensive.  Electrics shall get wonky.  It’s just not a good idea for someone in your position.

I admire you mentioning a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) as I recommend that for almost anyone looking at a used vehicle.  But that so won’t cut it here.  Every electro-mechanical bit on the PPI should have an asterisk at the end, mentioning this inspection point could be wrong several months from now. Or several weeks.

Even though I hate the Trailblazer’s interior, I like the idea of owning one of those with a hot F-body partner to go with. Or maybe the SAAB version. Yeah, get the SAAB, that might put your Land Rover lust at bay. Or come close enough.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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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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Question: Are European Cars Really More Reliable In Europe Than In North America? Tue, 24 Jan 2012 16:00:18 +0000 Junked 1978 Peugeot 504Ever since I began writing about cars for various online publications, one argument keeps showing up in readers’ comments: Many European cars that are regarded by Americans as totally flaky (e.g., Fiats, anything French) are considered quite reliable in their home continent. The subtext of this argument is generally “You can’t let Americans have anything nice, because they’ll destroy it like a bunch of chimpanzees given unlimited meth and armed with claw hammers.” Meanwhile, the American readers of these comments usually fulminate about Yurpeans being a bunch of public-transit communists who don’t understand cars. This age-old debate— which I suspect appeared for the first time in an automotive BBS, circa 1979— surfaced again in the comments of yesterday’s Cadillac Catera Junkyard Find. What’s going on here?
One big difference between Western Europe and the USA is that it’s easy and cheap to have a car on this side of the Atlantic; most states will give you a driver’s license if you fail to kill anyone during the driving test, registration fees and taxes are low, and you can find a beater car that runs (after a fashion) for next to nothing. The American economy is so dependent on everyone being able to hop in the primered-out, space-saver-spare-shod Lumina and careen down the nearest highway that the idea of putting serious hurdles in the path of car ownership is unthinkable. In Europe… well, it’s not like that. How do these differences lead to such disparity in perceived reliability of, say, the Peugeot 504, which manages to survive hundreds of thousands of kilometers on African roads with little maintenance while its American counterparts fell apart in a matter of months?
As far as I can tell, the primary arguments in this ancient debate boil down to these:
1. Americans are idiots. Americans, their automotive sensibilities ruined after generations of exposure to such primitive monstrosities as the Dodge Dart, became accustomed to ignoring all maintenance requirements on vehicles. They don’t change the oil, they get electrical problems fixed by their drunken, inbred, duct-tape-wielding cousins… and when the poor abused machine fails, they shoot it full of holes with their ever-handy firearms and buy another one.
2. Europeans are idiots. Europeans, accustomed to legions of nanny-state bureaucrats dictating their every life decision, follow the ridiculously onerous maintenance requirements of their spindly-ass cars to the letter, handing over what little loot they may have held onto after taxes to their mechanics. When some Bosch or Lucas or Magneti Marelli component fails for the fifth time in a year, this is seen as a normal operating expense.
3. Americans drive a lot more. Everyone seems to agree on this point. Does this mean that Americans simply use a tougher yardstick to measure the number of trouble-free miles a car needs to be considered reliable?
4. American roads suck. Also, American weather sucks. The idea here is that European cars are too fragile/sophisticated (depending on your point of view) to handle the Bangladeshi-grade asphalt roads of the United States, and that North Dakota winters and Death Valley summers would kill any vehicle more complex than a Model T.
I don’t know why I bother to list those arguments, because we’ve all suffered through the endless flame wars. Perhaps we can analyze this question with logic and wisdom instead of passion and brickbats. Or not. What do you think?

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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. 

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TrueDelta Updates August Reliability Stats Mon, 29 Aug 2011 18:23:10 +0000

Thanks in part to the help of people from TTAC, TrueDelta received a record number of responses to July’s Car Reliability Survey—over 22,300. Updated car reliability stats have been posted to the site for 570 model / model year / powertrain (where warranted) combinations. With partial results for another 464 cars, the total is now over 1,000. These stats include car owner experiences through the end of June 2011, making them over a year ahead of some other sources.

Among 2011s for which we received enough responses, the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee is the only one that’s clearly worse than average thanks to common problems with the optional air suspension (also a common problem area in Mercedes SUVs), sunroof rattles, and a transmission shudder. Get one without the air suspension or the sunroof, and the risk of problems goes way down. The new Buick Regal might also be worse than average, but we have only limited data for this model so far.

The 2011 Fiesta improved to “about average” this time around, so there don’t seem to be many new problems with the car once the initial glitches are taken care of. We’ll have initial results for the 2011 Explorer and 2012 Focus the next time around, in November, with a preview for participants in October. Most new or revised models for which we received enough responses are also near the average, including the BMW 5-Series, BMW X5 / X6, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Edge, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Sonata, Infiniti M, Kia Sorento, Nissan JUKE, and Volkswagen Jetta.

Three new 2011s clearly had clean starts: the Honda CR-Z, Hyundai Elantra, and Toyota Sienna.

We’ve also updated statistics for the percentage of cars that required no repairs or 3+ repair trips in the past year. These statistics can be more useful than the averages.

We’ll update these stats again in November. The more people participate, the more models we can cover and the more precise these results will be.

To view the updated results:

Car Reliability Survey results

Repair odds stats

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

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

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: How Not To Set A ‘Ring Record Edition Mon, 11 Jul 2011 16:46:08 +0000

With a new generation of BMW 3-Series on the way, you expect to see plenty of photos of it testing on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife. What you don’t expect to see: photos of it being towed through the “Green Hell.” According to Auto Motor und Sport, this prototype’s breakdown on the ‘ring is “unusual at this stage of development,” but the German publication notes that the defect that caused it is unknown. They simply write that, in the midst of a test drive, the next-gen Dreier “ran out of breath.”  Hopefully the boys at BMW will be able to suss out the problem before the new Dreier launches in Europe next year… nobody likes to see a car like the 3-Series making its way through the Nürburgring on a trailer.

dreier-ring1 Ruh-roh! (Courtesy: Auto Motor und Sport/ SBMedien) dreier-ring3 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail dreier-ring2 ]]> 9
Ford: Quality Is Job One… Again Tue, 07 Jun 2011 18:18:31 +0000

I designed TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey to provide information an average of ten months ahead of the established annual surveys. Early last December we shared with TTAC readers that Early data on the Ford Fiesta is not good.” Then, in early March, we stated about the 2011 Fiesta and the 2010 Taurus that Ford does not appear to have tested either model thoroughly enough.” The late February release on the TrueDelta site went a step farther, asking, “Is Ford slipping?” The answer last week from Ford: “Yes, but we’re going to fix it.”

The official Ford line, as conveyed through Automotive News: we’re being open about our “tech glitches” because, in the words of CEO Alan Mulally, “You can’t manage a secret.” But what is Ford trying to manage by being open about quality problems? Not the problems themselves—it’s possible to be open about problems inside a company without going to the press about them. Instead, they’re trying to manage something outside the company: public perceptions.

Why now? Because later this month J.D. Power will release its annual Initial Quality Survey (IQS) results, and Ford knows that its scores are going to be significantly worse than in the past. The reason stated in the Automotive News article: glitches in the new “MyFord Touch” touchscreen-based control system. Because the IQS combines usability problems and mechanical problems (something we’ve criticized the survey for in the past), a hard to use control system will harm a car’s score even if nothing is technically wrong with it. BMW’s scores have suffered ever since it introduced iDrive.

The article refers to Consumer Reports as well, and drew on their auto chief David Champion for a couple of quotes. But, in noting that CR dropped its recommendation for the Ford Edge “in part because of the controls,” the author doesn’t seem to realize that CR’s road test evaluations and its reliability survey are two entirely separate entities. While MyFord Touch might fail the former, it could very well have no impact on the latter.

What will have an impact on CR’s reliability survey results, which will be next be updated in October: the problems noted in TrueDelta’s survey, and that aren’t mentioned at all in the Automotive News article despite Ford’s “openness.” Things like the chrome finish flaking off the taillights on the Taurus and Fiestas that won’t start, whose fuel gauges don’t read correctly, or (in fewer but more serious cases) whose dual clutch automated manual transmissions fail. The Taurus problem is admittedly minor, but it nevertheless indicates a faulty product development process. Proper testing would have discovered that the finish would peel off the taillights in less than a year. Similarly, proper testing would have found that a poor ground would lead to no-starts in the Fiesta, and that the fuel gauges in the car were often failing to read correctly. If these common problems that appear early on were missed, what else has been missed?

These glitches aren’t entirely a new development. Earlier, the 2007 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX suffered from very common failures to the seals of their AWD units, often multiple times with the same car—and this problem persisted for at least three model years. The 2008 Taurus has commonly had problems with its front struts. And the revision to the Fusion for 2010 created transmission driveability problems where none had existed before—and which have proven hard to fix. But the Fiesta has been the least reliable new Ford in some time, with multiple common problems (that have nothing to do with MyFord Touch). And as the first Ford of Europe car to be transplanted to North America under Mulally’s “One Ford” program it could presage problems with the 2012 Focus and upcoming Escape and Fusion replacements.

Someone within Ford is certainly aware of these other problems that have nothing to do with “tech glitches.” Mulally himself is likely aware of them; otherwise, he’s got an even bigger problem on his hands. If Mulally is aware of these problems, he realizes that they will impact the IQS this month and Consumer Reports survey results in the fall. But Ford’s professed openness didn’t extend to discussing these other problems with Automotive News. Instead, they focused on debugging MyFord Touch and installing new robots to improve the precision of panel fits. It’s not hard to imagine why. This way, when those poor scores come out, journalists and the broader public they inform might think that they’re due to buggy software and panel fits, and not anything more serious.

Ford might buy themselves a little time this way. But if they want to maintain the reputation for quality they worked so hard to achieve, they must address the true scope of the problem. Mo’ better robots aren’t going to do the trick now any more than they did for Roger Smith’s GM. Their product development process needs fixing.

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TrueDelta Updates Reliability Survey Results Tue, 31 May 2011 16:30:40 +0000

Thanks in part to the help of people from TTAC, TrueDelta received a record number of responses to April’s Car Reliability Survey—over 22,000. Updated car reliability stats have been posted to the site for 559 cars, up from 534 three month ago. There are partial results for another 418. These stats include car owner experiences through the end of March 2011, making them at least eleven months ahead of other sources.

Highlights among new 2011s:

–the repair frequency for the Ford Fiesta continues to worsen—it’s the highest among the 2011s for which we have a statistic—while the Jeep Grand Cherokee also appears to have more than the average number of problems

–the BMW 5-Series seems about average so far, but BMWs sometimes require few repairs for the first year or so then take a turn for the worse

–the Honda CR-Z and Toyota Sienna appear to rarely require repairs

There are also updated statistics for the percentage of cars that required no repairs or 3+ repair trips in the past year. These statistics can be more useful than the averages.

To view the updated results:

Car Reliability Survey results

Repair odds stats

Come across something interesting? Please post it in the comments here.

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

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TrueDelta Updates Reliability Survey Results Wed, 02 Mar 2011 17:43:23 +0000

Thanks in part to the help of people from TTAC, TrueDelta received a record number of responses to January’s Car Reliability Survey—over 21,000. Updated car reliability stats have been posted to the site for 534 cars, up from 488 three month ago. There are partial results for another 378. These stats include car owner experiences through the end of December 2010, making them at least eight months ahead of other sources.

Some highlights:

We now have a solid result for the new 2011 Ford Fiesta, and at 88 repair trips per 100 cars per year it’s not good. The Fiesta has suffered from common problems with the dual clutch transmission and the fuel gauge. There’s a simple fix for the most common transmission problem, essentially cleaning an electrical ground and reprogramming the computer. But a few of these transmissions have failed entirely. The 2010 Ford Taurus has also been afflicted by a few common, if generally minor, problems. Ford does not appear to have tested either model thoroughly enough.

The “retro glitch” award goes to the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, courtesy of headliners prone to falling down. Did you think this once very common problem had been eradicated? Apparently not. And yet the aesthetically retro Camaro has had few problems of any kind in the past year.

The 2009 and 2010 Audi Q5 repair frequencies are now sky high thanks to plastic water pumps that are almost guaranteed to fail—another common problem that should have been caught prior to SOP. Audi A4s and A6s also suffer from the same faulty pumps, but not as often. These pumps have now been recalled.

Though thoroughly redesigned, the 2011 Infiniti M has been very reliable so far. The 2010 Hyundai Genesis sedan, on the other hand, remains average in its second model year thanks to a common problem with the power adjuster for the steering column. Which, ironically, is a problem that was once common in the Infiniti EX.

Japanese cars do tend to be more reliable, but they aren’t perfect. Older Subarus suffer from failing head gaskets and become expensive to maintain once the odometer passes 100k. Mazdas tend to rust prematurely where the roads are salted. And 1999-2003 Hondas with V6 engines and four-speed automatics remain susceptible to transmission failures. Of these three manufacturers, Honda is most likely to accept some responsibility and provide out-of-warranty assistance.

TrueDelta also has updated “nada-odds” and “lemon-odds” stats. These report the percentage of cars with no repairs and the percentage with 3+ repair trips in the past year, respectively. Among the 2010 for which we have these stats, the Audi Q5, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and Ford Taurus were the most likely to require repairs, and by a substantial margin. In all three cases the chances of having at least one repair have been about fifty-fifty. The 2010 Jaguar XF would have been about the same if we’d had enough responses for it. The 2009 is about the same.

With the most reliable models (Toyota Prius, Toyota Yaris, Honda Insight, Honda Fit, Honda CR-V) your chances of a repair-free car throughout 2010 were about nine in ten.

Only among the least reliable cars (generally 8-plus-years-old and European) are your odds of 3+ repair trips in a year greater than one in ten.

We’d like to provide these stats for all cars—just a matter of getting more owners involved.

To view the updated results:

Car Reliability Survey results


Come across something interesting in the results? Please post it in the comments here.

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Weekend Head Scratcher: When Is An Extended Warranty Worth It? Sat, 05 Feb 2011 16:32:39 +0000
Kurt Wiley writes in:

Having been a long time reader of TTAC, I now pose a question to the Best and Brightest:

Should one who likes the driving experience offered by German brands, but abhors their reliability and maintenance expense, seek safety with an extended warranty? Or will purchasing one of those warranties be an utter waste of money?

Considering I’m about to embark on a weekend roadtrip in a 12-year-old M Coupe, I’m hoping the answer to this question is “no.” At the same time, I’m willing to admit that I bought the car I wanted and that a little bit of risk was part of the deal. But then, I’m just a callow youth with no kids to worry about… I’ll let TTAC’s Best and Brightest bring their wealth of experience to this question while I pray that Mr M doesn’t blow a gasket this weekend.

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Forbes Touts Consumer Reports: Porsches Will Last 200,000 Miles Tue, 28 Dec 2010 20:25:44 +0000

The other day, when a popular blog mentioned that the Porsche Boxster was judged to be the car most likely to last 200,000 miles I did a double take. You don’t have to spend very much time in the comment sections of the major car blogs or on enthusiast forums to know that German cars have, at least to enthusiasts, a reputation for being prone to frequent and expensive maintenance and repair. Likewise, a simple internet search for [porsche boxster engine problems] puts paid to any notion that the average Porsche owner has an 85% chance of his or her car lasting to the 200K mark.

So I followed the link, which ended up at a Yahoo Autos page hosting a story by Hannah Elliot, originally sourced from Forbes, titled Cars That Will Make It Past 200,000 Miles. The story was picked up by blogs, Porsche fan sites, and import auto dealers’ trade groups, as well as a variety of news outlets like Yahoo and MSNBC, who added the title Porsche among road warriors that won’t die,

Ms. Elliot’s lede in the story is well written, no doubt. She starts by introducing a surprising proposition only to buttress her argument with a supposedly impeccable source:

Want a car that will last a long, long time? Buy a Porsche.

According to Consumer Reports’ latest reliability survey, all cars and SUVs made by the Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker are rated average or better when it comes to longevity. One car in particular–Porsche’s $47,600 Boxster–stands above the rest. It has the best predicted reliability of any vehicle tested by Consumer Reports this year.

I don’t know anything about Elliot beyond her writing. She seems to have at least a clue about cars and car culture, at least the carriage trade parts, but I think that if she spent more time hanging around with actual auto enthusiasts like she did in her article about muscle cars than with the T-Pains, Jeff Koonses or Ralph Laurens that she mentions in her thumbnail bio sketch, that she’d know better than to take Consumer Reports at face value, at least when it comes to Porsche reliability.

This is how a meme gets started. CR says something, a reporter picks that up and uses it as a hook for a story, other new agencies carry the story and as it proliferates through the internet the meme becomes conventional wisdom. “Hey, did you hear? Porsches are the most reliable, longest lasting cars. I read it in Forbes/Yahoo/my favorite fanboy site.”

TTAC has already looked into Consumer Reports’ somewhat dubious coverage of Porsche reliability. When CR first issued their press release, Porsche car aficionado and Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG critic Jack Baruth expressed surprise at Porsche’s high rankings. Following up on Jack’s surprise, TTAC editor Michael Karesh (who operates TrueDelta, a site that directly competes with CR in terms of collecting and providing reliability statistics for car owners and buyers) looked behind the press release and into CR’s actual stats.

Michael discovered that CR was ranking the entire Porsche lineup as second best in terms of reliability when that ranking was based on the data from a single model year of a single model:

Number of 2009s with enough responses: 1

(a solid black blob for the 911)

Number of 2010s with enough responses: zero

Consumer Reports’ response to virtually any critique has long been the large size of their sample. Yet their coverage of recent Porsches is almost nonexistent. CR’s predictions are based on however many of the three most recent model years they have sufficient data for. The prediction for the 2011 Boxster is entirely based on the 2008, because that’s the only year they have enough data for. Yet the 2009 included significant revisions. They have no reliability ratings for the Panamera or the all-new Cayenne. So they have little basis for ranking the entire Porsche’s 2011 line. Even so, they rank Porsche second from the top.

So while Consumer Reports does not have any data at all on the Cayenne or Panamera, and the only 2009 or 2010 Porsche that they have sufficient data for is the ’09 911, actually rated “much worse than average”, CR gives a stellar ranking to the entire Porsche lineup, a ranking based almost solely on results for the ’08 Boxster.

What makes Elliot’s hyping of supposed Porsche durability almost ridiculous is just how the average Porsche owner uses his or her car. According to driver submitted data at TrueDelta, the average Boxster is driven only 5,000 miles a year. Two hundred thousand miles is an irrelevancy to almost all Porsche buyers.

I’m not trying to attack Hannah Elliot. She was provided with information from a seemingly reliable source. However, by not looking deeper into the statistics, or not even checking with Porsche enthusiasts, she gave Forbes’ approbation to CR’s shoddy work. She also compounded the error in saying that the Boxster had the “best predicted reliability of any vehicle tested by Consumer Reports this year.” That implies that CR’s rankings were based on tests of MY 2010 Boxsters, something that Michael has pointed out is simply not true. The error is squared by trumpeting that “all cars and SUVs made by the Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker”, were more reliable than average when CR simply doesn’t have enough data on all Porsche models to make that statement. Yahoo and MSNBC added their endorsements and now the next time one of their buddies with a Boxster complains about breaking engine shafts your average non-enthusiast will say, “What are you talking about? I read in Forbes that Consumers says that you can’t beat Porsche reliability.”

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