Ever 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? (Read More…)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks in part to the help of people from TTAC, TrueDelta received a record number of responses to October’s Car Reliability Survey—nearly 19,000. Updated car reliability stats have been posted to the site for 488 cars, up from 459 three month ago. There are partial results for another 370. These stats cover through the end of September 2010. Other sources of car reliability information will not cover the third quarter of 2010 until the summer or even fall of next year.
Among early 2011s, we now have full results for the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Sorento. Though in its first model year, the thoroughly redesigned Sonata has been better than average. This is not a given for Hyundai—the Genesis sedan with tech package and the Genesis Coupe both had glitchy first years. The Sorento has been about average so far.
In Part 1, we found that, despite its large overall sample size, Consumer Reports’ has serious gaps in its coverage. But what about the reliability ratings they can provide? An FAQ asserts CR’s ability to split results by engines, drive types, and so forth. At first glance, this appears valuable, as CR’s reliability scores often differ from powertrain to powertrain. But are these differences valid? Should you avoid the V6 in the Camry or insist that your Flex be EcoBoosted?
Last week Jack Baruth reviewed the press release that attended Consumer Reports’ latest auto reliability survey results. But don’t run out and buy a Porsche for the sake of reliability just yet. And it might even be safe to buy a Chrysler.
Jack was surprised that Porsche ranked second among makes. On top of this, the Boxster was reported to be the most reliable car. What CR didn’t include in the press release about its coverage of Porsche models:
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.
Data limitations don’t end with Porsche. CR also did not receive enough responses for…
- Most 2009 and 2010 Audis. For the A8 they can rate only the 2004. For the S4, only the 2005.
- Many 2009 and 2010 BMWs, including the 135i and 535i singled out as unreliable in the press release. Consequently, BMW’s brand score is heavily based on the 2008 model year.
- Most 2010 Cadillacs.
- Six 2010 Chevrolets.
- Many 2010 Hyundais, Kias, and Mazdas.
- Any 2009 or 2010 Land Rover, including the new LR4.
- Five of the last eight model years of the Merecedes S-Class.
- The 2009 or the 2010 Mercedes GL-Class. Based on the 2008 alone they predict that the 2011 will be the least reliable SUV.
- Any 2010 Mitsubishi. And among the 2008s and 2009s, they can rate only the Outlander.
- Any 2009 or 2010 Saab.
- The 2010 Scion tC and xD—even with Toyota products their coverage isn’t complete.
- The 2010 Subaru WRX. They still single the WRX out as the one Subaru to avoid. From TrueDelta’s survey and forums I’ve learned that the engines in early 2009 WRXs have been prone to failure. But this problem was fixed during the 2009 model year, and should not affect the 2010s, much less the 2011s. Unfortunately, CR’s predictions don’t factor in known common problems that have been fixed.
- Any 2010 Suzuki, including the new Kizashi.
- Any 2010 Volvo aside from the XC60. And most 2009 Volvos. But the press release still mentions Volvo as one of the two consistently reliable European brands.
In general, coverage of recent model years is much less complete than for 2008 and earlier. The severe downturn in car sales two years ago appears to have severely impacted Consumer Reports’ ability to gather enough data on the 2009 and 2010 model years. As a result, they make predictions for many 2011s based entirely on the 2008 model year, but do not clearly note this. In these cases any improvements (or declines) over the last two years have no impact. And yet they still conclude that some manufacturers have improved over the past year, while others have not.
Chrysler allegedly falls in the latter camp, with the press release reporting that it “remains the lowest-ranked manufacturer.” Chrysler has responded that, based on warranty claims,the quality of its products has greatly improved over the past two model years. Who’s correct? According to CR’s own results, quite possibly Chrysler. By CR’s count, Chrysler offers 28 models.
Number of 2009s with enough responses: 14
Number of 2010s with enough responses: 7
The problem, once again: CR’s coverage is far less complete than their overall sample size (1.3 million) suggests it should be. Chrysler’s rating is heavily based on the 2008 model year. And their products were mostly unreliable that year.
In two cases for which CR has enough data, the minivans and the Dodge Journey, the ratings improve from “much worse than average” for the 2009s to “about average” for the 2010s. This said, if other models have similarly improved, and if CR had had enough data on them, it still wouldn’t have been enough. The predicted reliability formula (which is confidential) appears to equally weight the model years, even though the most recent year is most likely to predict the current year. So a bad 2008 and 2009 can easily outweigh a much better 2010, and do for the minivans and the Journey. Even when CR does have enough data for all model years it often takes three years before an improvement is fully reflected in their predictions. When they don’t have enough data on the most recent years, it can take forever.
With such sparse data on the 2009s and 2010s, and some indication that the reliability of Chrysler’s products has improved while at least one Porsche has gone in the other direction, Consumer Reports probably should have reported that Chrysler’s and Porsche’s relative positions are currently unclear. Instead, they applied a formula that doesn’t take trends into account and that ignores substantial holes in their data. Porsche benefits. Chrysler does not.
Coming in Part II: Should you EcoBoost?
The new CR reliability reports are out, along with their projected reliability for 2011-model-year automobiles. Some of the results won’t be news to most of you: the Big Three from Japan are all near the top, Ford’s ahead of the other domestics, and the Koreans are climbing the charts.
If, on the other hand, you’re choosing between a Porsche and an Audi, you might want to take a moment to hear CR’s opinions…
Thanks in part to help from TTAC readers, TrueDelta received a record number of responses to last month’s Car Reliability Survey—nearly 18,000. Updated car reliability stats have been posted to the site for 458 cars, up from 404 three month ago. There are partial results for another 351.
These stats cover through the end of June. Other sources of car reliability information will not cover the most recent months until the summer or even fall of next year.
If German cars had a stellar reputation for reliability, Lexus would not be where it is today. TrueDelta’s latest Car Reliability Survey results, based on owner experiences through the end of March 2010, provide some evidence that a corner has been turned, but other evidence that work remains to be done.