By on April 19, 2007

tocmpcom.jpgIn a recent study of new vehicle owners, Ford products came second in "overall initial vehicle quality." According to Ford's PR release, Honda took the top slot, while Toyota and Nissan tied Ford for second (although Toyota actually beat Ford by three points). Yes, well, it turns out The Glass House Gang paid for the report, which mirrors the format of J.D. Power's Initial Quality Survey (IQS) without reproducing the results. Last year, JD's mob ranked Ford fifteenth in Initial Quality, one place beneath the industry average, nine places behind Honda and eleven places behind Toyota. Anyway, who cares?

Define quality. Is it design, durability, longevity, reliability, fit and finish, snob appeal, something else or a combination of these factors? How do you– or should I say "one"– calculate the relative importance of any particular attribute? Is reliability really the sine qua non of quality? Is longevity more important than fit and finish? Given the subjectivity of the term, it's virtually impossible to determine a vehicle's intrinsic "quality."

Back in the ‘70's, slipshod assembly, dubious dynamics and instant rust were the status quo. Any car good enough to win a quality award stood out from the crowd. Today's cars are the best-assembled, most defect-free, longest-lasting vehicles ever produced. Claiming a car rolling off one assembly line is higher quality than one coming off another assembly line is like claiming the Pacific Ocean will make you wetter than the Atlantic.

While pistonheads tend to fixate on minute differences between vehicles, the majority of the public are well aware that current mainstream motors offer roughly similar looks, performance, mileage, packaging, reliability and safety. Strictly speaking, Ford and other mass market automakers are selling mediocre products. To cut through the clutter and create a reason to buy one loaf of white bread over another, manufacturers use IQS studies to proclaim they're offering higher-quality mediocrity than the competition.

Quality is supposed to be a differentiator, something that shows that one item is superior to another in one or more aspects. The Ford-financed survey– and Detroit's continual harping about "the perception gap"– reflects the fact that many manufacturers don't get it. They're still stuck in the "Hey, give us a chance! We're just as good as the other guys now!" mentality. When the average person determines whether or not a vehicle is a quality product, they're not looking for "as good as." They're looking for "the best."

To achieve that, today's automakers must produce profound reliability AND sweat ALL the small stuff. Our reviewers have been continually criticized for continually criticizing the quality of a given car's plastic surfaces. Yet the look, feel, shape and smell of a vehicle's polymer's reveal a great deal about its overall quality. Just by prodding the dashboard, even a layman can tell if he or she's sitting in a beancounted beater or an upmarket luxobarge. Same goes for closing a door, or listening to the radio, or pressing the gas pedal.

Yes, it's a challenge to create the highest possible quality at a specific price point. But that's the challenge all automakers face. And in today's hyper-competitive automotive market, there's simply no margin for error. MINI's IQS scores took a beating when they introduced the car without cupholders. Many pundits asked, has it really come to this? Yes, it has.

Anyway, if automakers were truly interested in determining the quality of their products, they'd survey owners long after the new-car honeymoon had ended. They'd ask for feedback on reliability, fit and finish, repairs, out-of-pocket expenses, performance and how well the vehicle held up overall. If the buyer no longer owned the vehicle, they'd find out why their customer got rid of it.

After collecting several years' data, they'd know more about their vehicles' quality than any IQS would ever tell them. This information would be far more relevant to the consumer than knowing that car A averaged 0.043 fewer defects when new than car B. If a manufacturer came out on top of this kind of survey, they'd have something to brag about. And it would be interesting to see how their IQS ratings correlated to their "real world" results after a few years.

I have no idea why manufacturers haven't embarked on a project like this. The only reason I can think of: they don't want to take a beating from the reality stick. They'd rather go on blithely believing surveys that tell them their brand-new cars look, feel and act brand-new than watch their self-aggrandizement shrivel to nothing in the face of cold, hard data.

I know I'm tilting at windmills here. But it's high time the manufacturers stop hiding behind bogus quality ratings and start producing vehicles that are designed to be class leaders in every aspect. Then they wouldn't need contrived crutches like initial quality surveys. The product would sell itself and customers would be lining up for more.

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71 Comments on “Quality Schmality...”

  • avatar

    Before I bought my Honda Civic back in 2005, I test drove three used Civics, a 2001, 1998 and 1995. I did the same thing for Corolla (only found a used 2002 for sale) and Mazda and decided on the Civic after checking out the used cars. Anybody wanting to buy a new car should ALWAYS test drive the used ones first. There are plenty of used car lots in every metro area or people selling their personal car, which will give you an idea what kind of maintenance issues there were with the car and the reason they are selling it. Just a thought.

  • avatar

    I agree– The JDP survey always seemed like asking newlyweds if they were happy — duh. The darn thing HAS to be skewed, as a new car purchaser is (generally) highly motivated in their choice of ride, and are unlikely to question their own good judgement by berating the physical manifestation of said judgement.

  • avatar

    Many consumers still believe there are large differences in reliability. On many Internet forums you’ll still read how domestic quality sucks.

    How large is the difference really? I’m just beginning to find out at But in general it can be significant, but it it rarely large. For cars a few years old the better ones appear to require about 0.3 successful repair trips per year, while not-so-good models tend to require a bit over 1.0. So there is nearly a 4:1 ratio. But we’re still talking about one extra repair trip a year.

    J.D. Power used to conduct its VDS survey at the five-year mark, but changed to the third year a few years ago. The reason: manufacturers have little use for data on five-year-old cars, because by then the next generation car is either already on sale or about to be.

    Manufacturers can only use data that allows them to improve the current product, so with product cycles of 5-6 years you get an emphasis on short-term reliability.

    I haven’t seen the details of the RDA study or the questionnaire they used, so I have no specific critique to offer at this point. It could be better than JD Power if they stick to actual reliability issues and don’t wander into design issues.

    I fully agree on the need to sweat the small stuff. In a recent entry to my blog I put it this way: “If you have to pick your battles [when choosing what to focus on when developing a new car], then you’ve already lost the war.”

    For more information on TrueDelta’s research:

  • avatar

    The raw numbers of “things gone wrong” per 1,000 vehicles in the referenced survey:

    Honda – 1,313
    Toyota – 1,453
    Ford – 1,456
    Nissan – 1,457

    Now, I’m not a mathematician, but from what I know about numbers, 1,453 is lower than 1,456. That would put Ford in third place behind Toyota. Of course, I don’t have to make my client look as good as possible so I don’t have to close one eye and squint with the other when I read the numbers.

  • avatar

    @jolo – nice, I completely agree. Car ownership is more marathon than sprint. A 90 day survey pretty much ensures it wasn’t assembled by children, but how are they doing 5-10 years down the road. After shopping used 4runners a few years ago I ended up with a 97 that had 80k miles on it. It is almost new still, other than a few interior flaws from me hauling stuff in it. Something about this 10 year old vehicle screams to me that I could drive it for several 100k and decades more with routine maintenance. Talking with other 4runner owners online I didn’t get lucky, they are pretty much all like this.

    I see this sort of standard as a major stumbling block for the big 3, VW etc. Once I get it in my head that your brands quality stinks you have a big problem convincing me otherwise. I understand that many people are convinced that at least some of the Ford and GM models have good quality these days, but I need to see it firsthand, in higher mileage older vehicles. I’ll keep an eye on them for the next 5-10 years to see if these newer ones really hold up. Chances are I’ll still be driving my 97 though.

  • avatar

    I’d argue that the majority of customers couldn’t care less about reliability or long-term quality – take Volkswagen’s last-generation cars, for example: they had great paint, superlative fit-and-finish on the outside and interiors that were miles ahead of the competition in terms of look and feel. Consequently, people fell over themselves to get one – and they tended to overlook the fact that Golfs and Passats usually fell apart after a while, and as for reliability… not so much. I rented a Chevy Impala some years ago, and honestly, I wasn’t thinking about reliability when I looked at the pig-ugly riot of cheesy supergloss plastics, rat-fur upholstery and panel gaps that must have been visible from outer space. This could’ve been the most flawless car on Earth, but it just looked as though it wouldn’t survive the first pothole. Thing of the past? Just look at a brand-spanking new Dodge Caliber, or any Dodge/Chrysler interior – I’ve seen lawn mowing tractors that look more posh. Bottom line? People who buy cars like Mercedes’ or VeeDubs are only into perceived quality, and those who get a Caliber can’t be bothered about quality at all, so IMHO, quality studies (Ford-sponsored or real) are way overrated.

  • avatar

    Quality should perhaps be defined by asking the question “Does everything presented function as intended?” You can ask the question initially as well as five years later. That cupholder in the MINI story is infuriating. That’s like saying a Boxster is junk because it can’t haul a ton of stone.

    Is the paint strong, shiny, and smooth? Quality. Is it a pretty color? non-issue.
    Is the faux aluminum trim pretty? no, but also not important.
    Is the faux aluminum wearing away to reveal black plastic? Not an intended function, so: poor quality.
    Feature lists and quality are independent.

    I don’t know about the whole touching the dashboard to judge quality thing. I have a MKIV GTI, which has a nicer (by quality, not feature) interior than a coworkers 3-series. So why am I the one chronically replacing lightbulbs and crossing my fingers?

    VW sweated all the small details in all the right places to make drivers think they sweated them where they didn’t.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Well, I have to say that Michael’s stats – that the better cars are 4 times less likely to see a shop in a given year that the worst cars – is pretty darned significant.

    Especially since I just dropped $600 on the brakes for my wife’s 2002 Hyundai Sonata at “just over” the 72,000 extended warrantee, and the no-start situation which cost Hyundai a ($2000?) master computer a mere three months ago, is rearing it’s ugly head – again.

    “Average” just isn’t good enough. Cars have got to do better than 70,000 miles before they start costing out-of-pocket (and this car has had stellar care, I might add).

    No, for us, it is either a Honda, a Toyota or perhaps a Subaru next.

    By the way, I actually had my very first problem with my 2005 Toyota Prius hybrid. It was fixed under warrantee. The self-leveling HID headlamps had a fault a couple weeks back, set themselves “up” to maximum height as a default – and thus helped to prevent us from slamming into 6 deer who were meandering across a highway.

    It was one wire which went wrong. This, by the way, in the most complex and truly exotic automobile build in the world. (A Lamborghini or Ferrari are technologically as a Model T next to a Prius, in real terms).

    Would I buy another Prius? Yes, in a heartbeat. Would I buy another Hyundai? No, I don’t think so.

  • avatar

    I’m don’t think that TTAC is being objective on this subject. I am the first one to bash one of the Detroit automakers when they do something stupid (4 speed trans in an 08 MY vehicle, giving up on minivan market, ugly Sebring, etc). Ford is working on Quality & much progress is being made to being an industry leader. Furthermore, if data comes in that doesn’t fit the theory (The Big 3 are dying any day now), then the objective data is discounted.

    The RDA TGW data measures customer satisfaction across all areas of the vehicle. It is not only did anything break down, but were they happy with heater, wind noise, trans noise, etc. The same survey is sent to all the manufacturer customers, and there is no bias by Ford in the results at all. The new Fusion & Milian had better quality ratings than Toyota. Most Ford vehicles improved significantly year over year. Numerous Ford, Lincoln, & Mercury vehicles had Best in Class quality too. These were all actual retail customer survey results using the same method & scoring scales.

    Furthermore, 3 Month in Service data can be a good indicator of higher time in service customer satisfaction. If the customer isn’t happy early on with wind noise or trans shifting, it isn’t going to get any better at 3-5 years. If anything, the quality gap gets bigger after 3 years, since they have got even more annoyed with the constant problem.

    This article should be retracted, since it is not based on any quality data analysis. Given the unwillingness of competitors to work together on a common quality measurement system, JD Power & RDA customer interviews are the best way to keep all the quality data on the same scale & determine industry & individual company quality trends.

  • avatar

    Try repairing cars over many years and you will find that reliability IS an issue on the selection of the next car.

    People hate paying for car repairs. Except for the dentist, repair garages rank at the bottom of the list in “useless expenses” that could have been used instead to buy a TV or a vacation. And people have very long memories.

    For example, people still indulge in the new car sales rip-off of rust treatment, because 10 years ago their Japanese car, constructed of recycled steel, rusted away.

    And again I repeat, Consumers Reports black spots and red spots reliability guide matches our experience exactly.

  • avatar

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  • avatar
    Paul Milenkovic

    I endorse the view that JD Powers awards and similar surveys may be a foregone conclusion.

    I guess I don’t buy a new car very often, and my last new purchase was a 1996 Taurus, bought in Fall 1995, when that ovoid major styling redesign of the Taurus hit the streets and got a lot of press attention but marked the beginning of the end for Taurus market dominance.

    Ford was on their “Quality is Job 1” ad campaign at the time, and boy did I get surveys to fill out. I also got a heads up from the gentleman who sold me the car, reminding me he did me a favor to sell me an LX model with the 24V engine, and that I could reciprocate by giving him and his dealership high marks on the sales part of the surveys.

    Part of this may be the usual dealer sleaze factor, but part of this is the culture of Corporate America where they get on some kick, everybody acts real competitive, and bad news doesn’t get passed up the chain of command. Don’t know how you can properly manage a corporation these days unless you have moles and snitches.

    As to the initial quality matter, my guess is that initial quality has a lot to do with workmanship on the assembly line, but there was a money quote on another thread about “sure, we could build a Pinto to Mercedes standards, but in the end you are still left with a Pinto” or something to that effect.

    My guess is that long-term quality has a lot to do with engineering — making engines, gears, suspension components, other parts that can take the strain of long-term usage without breaking. The most major thing I had to do with the Taurus was transmission work, and that was because of a clip that breaks for which Ford has a stronger clip — it just costs 600 dollars worth of taking things apart and back together again to get at that 50-cent clip.

    On the issue of competing for good annual job reviews and only telling your boss good things, I don’t know how you get promoted or get to keep you job at Toyota. But in computer programming, where design defects (bugs — they don’t come from parts of the program rubbing against each other) are a fact of life, there was this kick called “egoless programming.”

    The idea was that you may as well face is that even the simplest program can have bugs in it, and you may as well take your ego off the line and stop calling it “my program” because you are not going to want to admit their is any fault with it. You are supposed to take part in teams where people write code and then inspect each other’s design, forming some kind of Japanese-Zen kind of quality circle or perhaps something like a Communist Party meeting and a factory in China or a Synanon drug-counseling group therapy session where you are to confess your deviation from group norms and everyone else is supposed to lay into you.

    The idea is that one is supposed to lay off the “my design”, “my software code”, “my door panel” thing and turn it into an impersonal matter where you can dispassionately evaluate the flaws. How that works with the corporate system where my whatever is what gets you the promotion, even if it comes a cropper some years later, I don’t know.

  • avatar

    On the subject of 4-Runner longevity-

    We bought our 98 4-Runner in 2001 for $12K. It had 50,000 miles on it. We purchased new floor mats, tires and gave it a good detailing. In the course of its life, it had the regular servicing, oil changes, etc… In 2004, we traded it in for $7500 with 130,000 miles on it. It looked no different from when we got it. Not that we take that great care of our cars, it just lasted.

  • avatar

    Glenn A.:
    It was one wire which went wrong. This, by the way, in the most complex and truly exotic automobile build in the world. (A Lamborghini or Ferrari are technologically as a Model T next to a Prius, in real terms).

    Oranges are also way better than apples, in real terms;)

  • avatar

    Although, I agree that “initial quality” surveys hold very little meaning, they do contain some value. Many of the posters (including the journalist, one assumes!) hail from North America where standards for cars are VERY high. However, in Europe, there is some utter junk on the cars puporting to be cars, Namely, French car makes. Renault has some of the worst initial build quality known to man and a quick scan of any European car forums will verify that. That is the real reason the French car makes withdrew from the North American market, because their standards were not good enough for North American clients. If they were included in this survey they would be hammered at the bottom of the survey. Now I know what you’re now thinking “If the quality is so shocking, why are they still in business?”. And that is the question I am trying to find an answer for! Many people (especially in the UK) buy these piles of junk and then compain about it in car forums!

    Don’t believe the hype, there are some shocking car makes still out there and funnily enough they mostly hail from the land of the Eiffel Tower….

  • avatar

    Out of the starting gates, I would agree that most cars seem to be good, at least in a mediocre way, unless people have scrimped and got something horribly tinny and Aveo.

    But some cars are trouble right out of the starting gates (can I bring up my C Class again) and stay that way. Whether it’s enough to affect a survey in a statistically meaningful way, I don’t know. Perceptually, what kills some cars is the fact that 1 in 100 or what have you is a complete and utter dud. With the advent of the Internet, someone in Moosenee can read about the troubles a Focus owner in Miami is having and be scared off for good.

    The ‘Lemon Factor’ is probably more relevant than ever. From my observation the Big 2.53, Mercedes, VW, Mini, Kia, and probably some others are still highly susceptible.

  • avatar

    The late Ron Kohl editor of Machine Design, used to talk about the ‘Quality Mafia’. He said they could not even define quality, but ended up with something like ‘I know it when I see it’.

    Anyway, my brand new 02 Town Car had many quality escapes. The rear seat leather was failing within 1 year. Took it in, Lincoln said they would fix it, I came to pick up the car, and they had replaced the front leather, which had been ok, but left the back leather, which still sucks. However, the car has proven to be totally reliable and durable. Consumer Reports recommends it, so maybe CR is not all bad.

    Long term durability and reliability are key to most buyers. Here Toyota and Honda seem to be the class acts.

  • avatar

    Frank Williams:

    They’re legit it calling the Toyota, Ford, and Nissan numbers a three-way tie for second. Those numbers are so close together that the differences must be far within the margin of error.

    The real surprise is that they’re so close to being identical. You’d be lucky to end up with numbers this close together if you surveyed the same owners about the same cars three times.

    Glenn A:

    If you simply did pads and rotors on the Hyundai that would not be covered by the warranty. Those are wear items, and 72,000 miles is excellent for a first brake job. If you replaced the calipers that would be a different story.

    With any car it’s possible to have problems. One of my panel members had a Lexus ES bought back because in the first 7,000 miles it needed:

    –new transmission
    –two new nav/audio units
    –new strut
    –engine pulled to replace leaking oil seal

    The question is how possible is it to get such a car. Now one currently provides such information. I’d like to, but it’ll require especially large sample sizes.

  • avatar

    Initial car satisfaction is worthless. At 2-3 years it would be good to have a survey to help fix a model’s issue for a refresh. At 4-5 years it would be good to have a survey that focused on the longer term parts that may find there way into future cars like transmissions, engines and so forth as well as dealership service. While you may get a new model or model redesign every 5-6 years a lot of times the engine is just tweaked or a carry over.

    A big benefit to Toyota and Honda is perceived long-term quality and reliability. When someone just wants an appliance they want it to last a long time.

    It’s the same thing that has been driven into the psyche of America that you need FWD or AWD for any kind of winter driving. It’s wrong with modern traction and stability controls in cars but ask the average person which is better and they will say FWD.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The quality improvement in domestically branded automobiles is difficult to reconcile with owner comments in forums and elsewhere.

    Cadillac Deville owners are complaining of a myriad of problems with the Northstar engine, most commonly its thirst for oil. Typically, a quart vanishes every 1,500-miles. The split-block construction also causes oil loss through the seals. Another common gripe is with vibration at speed. Some attribute it to poor tires and wheel balancing, but others didn’t solve the problem until the half-shafts were replaced. Other maladies include leaky batteries and coolant, faulty air conditioning, failed power windows, numerous broken sensors, suspension problems and faulty engine mounts.

    Our 13-year old Toyota Camry has required attention to minor issues only.

  • avatar

    Quality IS tangible, and, while I can’t speak for others, it’s influenced me. I had a string of Acura Integras, starting in 1986. Excellent cars, excellent value. I’d owned a string of4 of them (including the matching one for my wife at one point).

    However, in 1997, I ordered a new one sight – unseen after having been out of the country for a couple of years.

    Apparently, at that time the Japanese Yen was going through the roof and Honda had cut their costs to keep prices down.

    Compared to it’s predecessors, that 1997 was junky. It wasn’t any one big thing – it was death by 1,000 cuts. The radio wouldn’t pick up a signal in a spot where it’s older brother had no problem. The seats started to show wear at 10K miles. The clock started to lose time. The headlights fogged in the rain. The door panels were molded from a single piece of plastic. The horn went from dual horns to a squawky single horn.

    Individually, not one of those issues mattered a damn. Taken together, it was enough to make me swear off Acura. Entry-level Luxury car? I think not. Now, Acura has learned its lesson and the new ones are excellent. But – Am I coming back to Acura – @@#$%!! no.

    Once disappointed..

  • avatar

    Pretty funny how desparate Ford is to create their own study and still couldn’t be in first place. You’d think if they were paying for it and skewing the results at least they’d win. Nope came in third and fudged the rankings ever further to say they tied for second.

    I judge a car’s reliability on used / resale value. I want a car that I bought new to still be worth something when I trade it in or sell it privately. When I those cars that in 3-4 years loses over 50% of its value (though what a deal you can make) that tells me more than the IQS or that other survey that asks the owners how they feel (strategic something does that one). What those rankings really do is highlight some of the buyers stupidity – such as when Hummer owners who only found out after they bought the gas guzzler that 8 mpg was average (of course it was exempt from listing mpg on its sticker b/c it weighed so much), then those owners gave it low quality rankings b/c it hit their wallets harder than a distracted Hummer driver does when he hits another car.

  • avatar

    I’m starting to believe that quality is a perceived value anymore. And I just had a wake-up call on the subject over the last three days.

    I had to take my wife’s Mazda3 in for some warranty work (cracked engine mount), and the dealer set me up with Enterprise rentals who duly showed up with a 2007 Chevy Malibu LT. Ohmighod, one of those prime examples of American incompetence, I’ll never buy one because of the shitty ’79 I once owned, why hasn’t GM gone bankrupt already, cars. Oh well, Mazda’s paying for it, I guess I can just grit my teeth and live with it for a couple of days.

    OK, it’s plain vanilla. A four wheeled transportation applicance, a module (see The Jean Genie), something that will appeal to a person to whom an automobile is a necessity, not a love – you know, the MAJORITY of all car buyers out there.

    That said, I was pleasantly surprised with the build quality, handling, acceleration, stereo, general comfort and fuel economy (nicely in the middle 20’s for my daily work commute – 2/3rds highway, 1/3 city stop and go). It was comfortable, quiet and reasonably relaxing. Above all, it was very competent in doing what was expected of it, hardly the incompetent trash I’ve been led to expect based on the auto blogs I’ve read over the past year.

    Would I own one? No. My idea of a minimum car is a small pickup truck, or, if I’m going to buy a car, something on the line of the wife’s Mazda3S – after all I’ve been riding motorcycles and owning BMW’s for too many years to be happy with plain vanilla. But I’m coming to the conclusion that all this slagging on traditional American product is getting badly misguided.

    Yeah, WE demand four wheeled perfection in any car we buy. The majority of the customers out there only want to get to work comfortably, cheaply and reliably, and wouldn’t recognize our version of four wheeled perfection if it came up and bit them on the ass. And there’s no shame in selling to that market, too.

  • avatar

    First, I’d like to salute Michael Karesh for filling in gaps in Consumer Reports’ data. Times in the shop is a meaningful indicator.
    Second, it should be noted Ford, and all other manufacturers, already have what is perhaps the most salient data: repair charges covered under warranty. This represents defects (not ordinary wear, nor abuse) over several years. Moreover, it reflects whether defects are cheap or expensive to fix. Buyers could also use it to decide whether an optional service plan is worth purchasing.
    If some Congresscritter wants to be a champion for the consumer, he/she should back a law requiring disclosure of the workings of warranty programs.

  • avatar

    “…but were they happy with heater, wind noise, trans noise, etc. ”
    Those aren’t really indicators of quality, and they really don’t belong on a quality survey. They could be used to determine customer satisfaction, but even that is something that might not be useful to measure. Owners should tend to like their cars because they must have bought them for a reason. There are small legions of fans willing to pay good money for John Tesh and Taylor Hicks albums too. If surveyed, the owners of these albums would probably indicate satisfaction…
    What we should be asking is “Does the CD scratch easily?” “Do the liner notes dissolve in your fingers?” “Does the jewel case warp or crack in the sun?” Those are indicative of manufacturing quality or initial design.

    FWIW, I’m pretty sure Taylor Hicks qualifies as wind noise.

  • avatar

    “Claiming a car rolling off one assembly line is higher quality than one coming off another assembly line is like claiming the Pacific Ocean will make you wetter than the Atlantic”

    If you are only talking about initial quality in the JD Powers sense of what goes wrong in the first few weeks of ownership, you might have a point. If, however, you are talking about the cost of repairing and maintaining a vehicle from years 5-15 then there are still massive differences amongst the many models on the road. It you think that the quality of a seven year old Chevrolet Venture minivan is the same as a similarly used seven year old Toyota Sienna then you clearly have not studied the data or lived with the vehicles.

    The notion often bandied around the ‘net these days that all cars are well designed and well made from a quality and durability point of view is simply wrong. Personally, I could care less if my new car has zero or five defects which need to get sorted out at the first one or two under warranty service visits. I care a lot about the multi thousand dollar hits to the wallet which either do or do not hit me after the warranty is over.

  • avatar

    jthorner: If you read Mr. Williams' editorial carefully, you will see that there is no argument between you.

  • avatar
    Jim H

    My last car, the Acura, was the only mechanic-garage-free car I’ve had. Regular oil changes, a recall for an ignition wire (which mine never had a problem), brakes at around 80K (may have been 100K, I forget now), the infamous 100K timing belt (apparently nearly all honda cars have to get this replaced) and of course, new tires. But it wasn’t just the fact that I didn’t have any mechanical problems that meant quality to me…it was that after 7 years and 150K miles, the car still felt new! That was just an awesome feeling.

  • avatar

    My belief is that quality is in how you feel when you get in the car (how the door slams, the shifter and stalks feel, etc). On the other hand, reliability deals with how often a car breaks. Andd I don’t just mean mechanical. There are good places to skimp and bad places to skimp. The bad places cost me more and require extra time and money. Break pads and tires need to be replaced eventually and can be done easily. Cheap pulleys that wear out are more expensive and a pain. I look for the best balance between quality and reliability. So far, that is Honda and Toyota.

    1. Honda and Toyota – pretty good quality and great reliability

    2. Nissan – pretty good quality average or slighty better reliability

    3. The Big 2.56325 – bad quality and average reliability

    4. The germans (esp. VW) – Great quality and poor reliability.

    My experiences with family andf friends as well as my own have only reinforced this list.

  • avatar

    I think quality is also a matter of priorities. I for one will happily trade in the “absolutely nothing will go wrongness” of a Toyota automotive appliance against the big grin on my face everytime I drive my BMW. One potential additional day in the shop a year for me is much easier to bear than having to get into a soulless blandmobile every day. Cars are not washing machines.

  • avatar
    Jim H

    Remember though…for many folks cars are just machines. It really is no different to them than shopping for a washer/dryer. Kenmore versus what’s reliable within expense is all that matters. Just like their car.

  • avatar

    25 years ago the cost of a car and the repairs as a percentage of a normal annual wage was much lower, professional repairs were easily available at relatively low cost.
    Today the cost of cars and especially repairs is much higher, and most repairs require more then one trip to be done properly, especially with domestic cars.

    Under these conditions the majority of people have to choose what the odds say will stay together long term and vehicles like Ford’s (or VW/Audi’s) are the most dismal of propositions.

    This is the real reason for the success of the Honda’s and Toyota’s of this world, they provide some value for peoples money, not just hot air up ones behind.

  • avatar

    Shaker said

    The JDP survey always seemed like asking newlyweds if they were happy — duh.

    My sentiments exactly! I kept a car for longer than the average marriage — 21 years (a 1980 Volvo 240 bought used when it was 2 years old). It was a true “ironman,” sure it had some repair issues, but nothing that broke the bank. (A manual tranny helps!) That was why I kept it so long.

  • avatar

    If the point of this editorial is that “initial quality” and similar measures are nonsense, I’m with you completely. And you’re certainly right that “quality” is too vague and ambiguous for us to really agree on what we mean by it.

    But there seems to be some sense in the comments that the piece is claiming something about cars’ long-term reliability — perhaps that there are fewer real differences there than we imagine — and if that’s something you’re trying to say, I have to disagree. Perhaps many cars are more reliable now than even the best cars used to be decades ago; but there are still significant differences between cars (see Consumer Reports’ very large empirical studies).

    Also, I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say about interior-plastic aesthetics:
    Our reviewers have been continually criticized for continually criticizing the quality of a given car’s plastic surfaces. Yet the look, feel, shape and smell of a vehicle’s polymer’s reveal a great deal about its overall quality. Just by prodding the dashboard, even a layman can tell if he or she’s sitting in a beancounted beater or an upmarket luxobarge.

    This might just be a tautology — if “quality” means your judgment of the car’s tactile appeal and aesthetics, then of course the interior plastics tell you about quality. If it isn’t just a tautology, I have no idea what you’re saying — are you actually claiming that interior parts’ soft-touchiness correlates with mechanical construction or long-term reliability? Because I could show you a few Benzes that disagree.

  • avatar

    “if automakers were truly interested in determining the quality of their products, they’d survey owners long after the new-car honeymoon had ended. They’d ask for feedback on reliability, fit and finish, repairs, out-of-pocket expenses, performance and how well the vehicle held up overall. If the buyer no longer owned the€ vehicle, they’d find out why their customer got rid of it.”

    Frank Do we know fo sure if none of the automakers do this? I mean if they did they wouldn’t publish the results openly would they?

  • avatar

    I was happy with my Saturn VUE-well satisfied anyway for the first year. I excused the “little” problems that sprung up, quite possibly in a subconscious effort to defend my choice of new vehicle. But, the VUE kept hammering away at me until by the end of the second year of ownership, I knew it had to go. I finally got my wife to give in during a drive through the Myacamas in Napa/Sonoma County. The recall on the suspension combined with the groaning around every turn convinced this was not a good car to keep-this was on top of many visits to the dealer for warrantee repairs. I actually bought a new Mazda6s on that trip, and I haven’t regretted it since. No breaking plastics, no mechanical failures, and it’s still a pleasure to drive. Over two years later, about the only part of the purchase that I question was the decision to get a Mazda6 with a 3.0L 6 cylinder engine instead of a Mazda3 with the 2.3L, 4 cylinder engine. At the time, my thinking was, hey I’m getting a bigger more powerful car for basically the same money. Now, I think about how I’m paying for it everytime I fill the gas tank.

  • avatar

    Remember that they are talking about “initial quality” here…that is, lack of initial things-gone-wrong upon delivery of the car. The real issue Ford has to deal with is quality over time. If the problems I have had with my Ford products are any indication they have major issues in this area.

  • avatar

    Quality me thinks is like beauty and in the eye of the beholder. Very interesting perspectives presented here, but I think in the end we have to admit that somewhere in the 1960s or 1970s we passed a point where the previous indicators of quality took on a different meaning.
    Prior to the 1960s there were definite quality differences in the manufacture and assembly of the automobile such that those of higher quality had a higher labor component and higher materials cost. Hence Cadillacs cost more and were of higher quality. They also didn’t always have the latest electornic gadget either, those often being introduced and perfected on the lesser quality makes Pontiac, Oldsmoble and Buick. Once perfected they were then put on the Cadillac. Or so I was told by an engineer that worked for GM in the 1940s.
    Once manufacturing became more consistent with less labor involved and materials costs dropped then the quality difference between a Cadillac and Chevrolet became more sensual. In fact the last full size Cadillac produced, the Fleetwood Brogham actually had the 5.7 liter Chevrolet(Corvette) engine because really it was as good as any v-8 that could be made. The quality differences were no longer very different because the labor component and skill level to produce the engine with different levels of quality and hence reliabilty no longer existed.
    Another issue regarding quality became evident when Toyota introduced the Lexus. It caused Daimler Benz to revamp its method of manufacturing in order to maintain the level of quality and still compete on price with the Lexus according to an article from one of the business journals. Prior to the Lexus it was standard practice for Mercedes coming off the assembly line to require somewhere on the order of 15-30 hours of quality control work to fix what wasn’t right. This was done to maintain the quality standards of Mercedes. Also the reliability of a Mercedes then was without the advent of electronics. Remember the first Mercedes fuel injection systems were mechancial and not electronic. And who doesn’t remember that many considered Jaguars beautiful and wonderful cars with the exception they wouldn’t buy one becasuse of the awful Lucas electrical systems. The workmanship and quality of Jaguars and Rolls Royce too was exceptional, but maintenance costs were high but considered immaterial to those that could afford to purchase one. After all the chauffeur would maintain the Rolls.
    We have come a long way from those days, but cars are still sold using the perceptions of quality from those classic years 1930-1960 when better cars had better engines, materials and cost more to make and own. Using those standards for todays autos is quite confusing and leads to this inability of ours to understand what exactly we should deem to be quality. Hence the tie breker seems to have become the way the plastic components of the dash fit together. I miss the old days personally, but I do enjoy driving my car over 100,000 miles without a tune up too.

  • avatar

    210 delray
    Manual gearboxes are one of the best kept secrets in the US when it comes to long term low cost operation. It isn’t just the cost of repairing the auto boxes, the heat they develop and the driving habits they encourage cause other inirect failures and are costly long term. Most domestic cars don’t even offer them, or at least not anywhere as widely as the imports.

  • avatar
    jd arms

    I agree with the point that the concept of quality is mainly subjective; I also assert that the concept of what quality changes with experience and need.

    When I was a young man, “quality” had little definition for me. In fact, other abstract concepts such as “Patriotism and Loyalty” dictated my automobile choices. Thus, the first vehicles I owned were American, but after 4 years and 50,000 miles they literally began falling apart – and not due to owner negligence. Never again.

    As a result, in my early 20s my personal definition of quality started to take shape, and it was defined mostly as a result of necessity (poor, single, changing rental homes frequently). Quality was defined as reliability after a certain age/mileage, utility, and value for the money. Consequently, my Nissan Pickup, purchased for less than 10k out the door, loaded with options and trouble free for 9 years and 94,000 miles was sensational quality based on my definition at the time of purchase.

    In my early 30s, with increased earning ability and an “image” to maintain (shallow perhaps…I don’t disagree) my quality definition evolved further, and now also included luxury and prestige factor. I thought “Mercedes-Benz” meant quality, and for a while it did. However, at some point, relentless electrical problems began to erode the prestige factor, and the negatives outweighed the prestige. There is nothing “quality” about chronic electrical bugs, I don’t care how well you manage your personal wealth. I also owned a Tundra during this time – complete with all the options – and aside from fuel economy, this vehicle was the epitome of my ever evolving personal quality definition: Luxurious, prestigious (enough…for a truck), durable and well conceived, trouble free, utilitarian when necessary, and worth the money. In sum, the Toyota truck lived up to and reinforced my definition, while the Mercedes, through its frustrating lack of electrical reliability, further refined my definition to now include “reliable prestige.” Around this time I also added resale value.

    Hence, pushing 40, I now mostly shop lightly, pre-owned Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura. As tempting as the 3’s, 5’s, X5’s and Audi wagon’s luxury/prestige factor may be, and as tempting as the CTS-V and 300SRT cool American hot-rod factors might be, they just don’t match my evolved personal definition of quality.

    Unfortunately, another factor is going to start to creep into my well-crafted quality equation like a cancer: the “I don’t really give a &^%$ if it falls apart because I am on the downward slope toward eternal rest, and life is too short to quibble over the sound of a door when slammed. I just want this *&%$#ing car because it looks cool, drives well, and I have worked too hard for too long to worry about this stuff anymore” factor.

    Is this last attitude common? Is it healthy? Rational? A symptom of an emerging mid-life crisis? Those of you past 40….help me out here.

  • avatar

    Feedback is the key here. Most auto manufacturers don’t see the need to communicate with their customers. My wife and I were put through the wringer for two years after buying our pair of VWs in 2000. She bought a Jetta, I bought a Golf. Both cars were in and out of the shop every month. Two years into owning the vehicles, most of the bugs appeared to be worked out. The oil consumption problem in her 2.0 Jetta forced us to get rid of it.

    I still drive the Golf. It is still fun to drive, and runs well. Sure, I have harsh words for VW, but I also have to admit. It’s a 7 year old car, that feels better than any GM I’ve driven at that age.

    Auto manufacturers should be calling their customers in year 4 or 5, but not to try and sell them a new car.

  • avatar

    Sherman Lin: Frank Do we know fo sure if none of the automakers do this? I mean if they did they wouldn’t publish the results openly would they? As far as I know, no manufacturer surveys customers specifically to find how well their cars hold up or what problems arise after a few years. JD Power has two other surveys besides their IQS. The first is the Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study which also goes out at the 90-day mark. This study is supposed to measure "owner's delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles." It asks what owners like about their car's comfort/convenience; seats; cockpit/instrument panel; heating, ventilation and cooling; sound system; and styling/exterior. One MINI owner relates what the 2006 survey was like: I recently received the JD Power survey concerning my MINI purchase. It contained less than two dozen questions concerning the MINI, then several pages of questions concerning how I use the internet to shop. Also a bunch of personal info about income, etc. In summary, it was 90 percent about me and how I shop on-line. I was not impressed and did not finish the survey. The 2006 APEAL ratings were based on responses from 63,607 new vehicle owners, measuring 251 models. The other study is the Vehicle Dependability Survey (VDS) done at the three-year mark. It asks owners to rate the quality of: Vehicle Exterior Vehicle Interior Seats Sound System Features and Controls HVAC Ride, Handling, and Braking Engine Transmission The interesting thing here is they tell you to restrict your answers to problems experienced in the past 12 months. For the 2006 survey, they surveyed 47,620 original owners of 2003 model-year vehicles.  I couldn't find how many different makes or models that represented. The results are available to the manufacturers but I could find no indication they're used for anything but braggin' rights in ads, just like the IQS.

  • avatar

    Great article Frank!

    With advancements in Computer Aided Design/Manufacturing and specifically Physics Engines, vehicle engine, transmission, chassis, and suspension will converge toward ONE most efficient design. The only thing that will stand out between manufacturers is sheet metal and interior design.

    The hyper-competition in the auto industry will eventually force all to better there reliability feed-back loops. If a company does not do this or is afraid of the results of this then, um, well, what is the last thing an ostrich sees when it buries its head in the sand hiding from a “competitor”?. Sand. I think all companies will pay closer attention to dealer repair orders in the future.

  • avatar

    What those rankings really do is highlight some of the buyers stupidity – such as when Hummer owners who only found out after they bought the gas guzzler that 8 mpg was average (of course it was exempt from listing mpg on its sticker b/c it weighed so much), then those owners gave it low quality rankings b/c it hit their wallets harder than a distracted Hummer driver does when he hits another car.

    Excellent point! I thought about how stupid those people were when I first heard about that year’s survey. Apparently, people also gave low quality scores because of highway noise and poor ride quality.

    Whatever you think about a Hummer, if you bought one expecting gas mileage above 10-12 mpg (with a tail wind), a ride quality any better than a Radio Flyer, and road noise lower than a Harley with “neighbor hater” pipes, then you are a dense individual.

    (Those are a little exaggerated, but you get the point…)

  • avatar

    jd arms—–after 40 its buy whatever you can afford while you pay for the kids college, then when they are finished and you are about worn out it’s time for a Lincoln Town Car. Comfort becomes more important and a “I don’t give a damn what the neighbors think anymore.”

  • avatar

    Anyone suspect that car manufactureres are engineering their vehicles to the survey 3 year age point which is what the warranty period is for most cars instead of just making the best 100,000 mile car they can?

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    “Unfortunately, another factor is going to start to creep into my well-crafted quality equation like a cancer: the “I don’t really give a &^%$ if it falls apart because I am on the downward slope toward eternal rest, and life is too short to quibble over the sound of a door when slammed. I just want this *&%$#ing car because it looks cool, drives well, and I have worked too hard for too long to worry about this stuff anymore” factor.

    Is this last attitude common? Is it healthy? Rational? A symptom of an emerging mid-life crisis? Those of you past 40….help me out here.”

    JD… I think this attitude may be more common than many might want to admit. I’m not sure it’s mid-life crisis as much as it might be maturity – in the good sense of the word.

    As for myself, I turn 50 in a couple of weeks and I find that I have completely outgrown the status factor in vehicle purchases. If something pleases me, that’s all that matters.

    As for quality issues… I still care about reliability and driving fun. But I admit I’m beginning to scratch my head over some complaints from others (complaints that may be entirely justified) about things like interior plastics and switchgear. I sat in the (much maligned) Dodge Caliber at the New York auto show. While I certainly wouldn’t confuse it with a vehicle costing 25-30 grand, I thought it was a pretty decent effort for the 13-15K range.

    And while I’m not in the market for a four-door sedan, I really thought the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan were cars with great virtue. The Milan, in particular, is a steal when compared with the Lincoln MKZ (alas, it doesn’t get the Lincoln’s 250-hp engine).

    And while I’ve been a gearhead – predisposed to purchase motorcycles and sporty foreign cars – for most of my life, I found myself actually thinking that the dark blue Monte Carlo sitting on the show floor was pretty cool. Go figure.

  • avatar

    Nice review Frank, and some interesting takes. One way TTAC could help answer the question “What is quality?” would be to buy 1 domestic, 1 japanese (nameplate) and 1 european (nameplate) from a similar price point (say, a Fusion, a Camry and a Jetta)and run them for 10 years, let’s say, and make the status of each public at regular intervals. That would be far more useful than the 12 or 18 month duration of the usual car book “extended use” reports.

  • avatar

    Just measuring “things gone wrong” is a pretty pointless indicator of quality. Does that mean they count a transmission that “went wrong” the same as a radio knob that fell off?

  • avatar

    I agree with those saying -Cost- has got to be factored in. 1,457 tail light bulbs are not the same as 1,457 broken VR6 timing chains -right after the warranty runs out. -Then, your weighted average means something.

    Thank God for Consumer Reports. There are about ~25 VWs on the most recent list of “Cars NEVER to buy”

    Perhaps something like “Average Lifespan Before Major Repair/Replacement”, for each part (engine, trans, etc.), could be added to the list.

    -Like the way close-ratio trannys on GTIs used to eat themselves b/c VW used rivets instead of bolts on the ring gear.

  • avatar

    Gee! I also think it’s totally FUNNY that Ford paid to cheat on a survey, and they were TOO STUPID to realize that they should have asked to end up in furst place!!! ROFLMFAO!!! Some people are just TOO STUPID!!!!

    Really, they are.

  • avatar


    I believe that you can find expected 5-year cost of ownership figures on I don’t know where they get the numbers from, but they break down the cost of ownership into several categories including maintenance and repairs (two seperate categories). Obviously, a car that blows a head gasket costing $1,000 to fix is much worse than a car that has problems with the power window switch, which you could probably replace yourself for under $20 or have done for $100.

  • avatar

    I wholehearted agree that the real issue is not initial quality but rather how well things stand up with time. I just got back from a holiday where I had the "pleasure" of driving a rental for two weeks – a Chevy Cobalt, no more than 2 years old (how long have they been available??) with about 25K on the clock.  Two words about sum it up: crude and brutal. The engine sounded and felt downright agricultural, the suspension felt like it was held together with rubber bands and bottomed with abandon, the brakes pulsed and pulled like crazy, and the seats "supported" with the firmness of a half-deflated cream puff. It amazes me that GM would unload "quality" offerings like this to rental agencies: people who long ago abandoned domestics for non-domestic cars have their only first-hand experience with domestic current product lines this way, only to have their preconceptions confirmed regarding their vehicles' quality. If I recall correctly, GM and the buff mags heralded the Cobalt as truly competitive with Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla when it was introduced. It isn't even in the same league with those makes from 3 generations ago. Sitting at home during our vacation was our 3-year-old Honda Element with 30K. It still drives and feels like new and has had zero problems since new. That rental experience was all I needed to confirm my suspicions about how far "The General" has progressed with their longer-term quality….

  • avatar

    Just measuring “things gone wrong” is a pretty pointless indicator of quality. Does that mean they count a transmission that “went wrong” the same as a radio knob that fell off?

    They use a proprietary formula with weighting for different factors. Since it’s how they make their money, obviously they aren’t going to say what that weighting is or how those formulas work. I’d hope they wouldn’t rate a knob falling off the same as a transmission failure.

  • avatar

    it is interesting to observe the different views on quality. I am more interested about a car's ability to hold up without needing major repairs over the long haul. It is for this reason that that I find I have more confidence in Honda/Toyota than I would in a Chevy/Ford. This is due in part to the way I look at vehicle reliability and value. Before I moved to Canada from Ireland, I applied typical criteria to buying a car as any other ordinary person in Ireland would. Fuel is and always was very expensive in ireland so a car needs to be good on gas. Road tax in Ireland varies with the engine displacement so unless you had money to throw around you would look for a smaller motor. (in Canada, the Corrolla has a 1.8L engine but the exact same vehicle in Ireland makes do with a 1.5L due to road tax). Finally the reputation for long term reliability was a major concern because of the cost of repairs and also the fact that I never had much money in my pocket when I lived there. When I purchased the car that suited me I EXPECTED that apart from consummables and minor problems that the car would not break down with a major problem. I expected the water pump, the alternator, the master cylinder and all the other major componants to last the lifetime of the vehicle. While these expectations were sometimes not met, for the most part they were with every vehicle I owned in Ireland. When I came to Canada (in 1982) I noticed that most people seemed to find such expectations unrealistic. I put this down to the fact that Canada has a much harsher climate than Ireland and this accounts for the fact that vehicles seemed to require more major maintenance. However, I found that Hondas & Toyotas and other Asian makes were as reliable here as they were back home. This intrigued me and I did not give it much thought until the day came when I purchased a 1 year old GMC Safari. The vehicle ran well enough for about 18 months and then the problems started. When the rear axle bearings went south, I was told by a mechanic that this failure was common with this vehicle at about 100,000KM. When the water pump exploded at 120,000KM, I was told by another GM mechanic that 'I did well' to get that mileage out of the original pump. When the drive shaft needed work at 150,000KM I was told again that "this happens with this vehicle at around 150K". In my conversations with others on the reliability of the Safari and other domestic vehicles, I discovered that most had a 'built-in' expectation that something will go at 90K, such-and-such will go at 100K and yet another item has a reputation for quitting at some other point. While this is changing now, I felt that most people on this side of the pond seemed to be conditioned to expect this from vehicles especially the domestic makes, I don't know why. Anyway, the Safari robbed me blind and I got rid of it as soon as I could with great relief. I now have a 92 camry and my son has an 88 Civic and both vehicles perform very well and NEVER break down. This is in keeping with my expectations of what the 2nd biggest financial commitment should be. Now if you expect major failures at 'scheduled' points in your vehicles life I guess you get no surprises when the failures occur and maybe these expected failures do not influence whether you feel a vehicle is reliable or not and therefor your view of it's quality. IQS would then seem to be more of a meaningful measure in that situation. As a person who genuinely expects the fuel pump to last as long as the rest of the vehicle, IQS is largely meaningless. It seems to me that it is in this area more than any other that the big 2.5's products let the side down. I can admire a new Buick Luscerne as much as any man but what will it be like in 5 years with 100K on the clock. It seems to me that you might be lucky and you might not, but I can tell you one thing for sure, if I bought a new Toyota Avalon today I would EXPECT it to be running perfectly (well almost) in 5 years time. Perhaps I have been 'conditioned' to believing that a Toyota would be like new at 5 years and a Buick would be falling apart but then again that's what my experience with cars has told me (so far).

  • avatar

    I can admire a new Buick Luscerne as much as any man but what will it be like in 5 years with 100K on the clock?

    My ’97 Grand Prix GTP with similar 3800 V6 and 4 speed auto trans performed quite well. I sold it with 267,600 miles last summer. My experience with other my other vehicles (including Toyotas) has been similar, with the exception of my BMWs and my last Audi.

    It is interesting that SO many people base their sentiments on ten and twenty year old vehicles, when evidence suggests that ALL marques are getting better and the gap between them has shrunk. I guess just because my 10 year old Pontiac was good doesn’t mean a new one would be. But if it had been bad, the same should also be true.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately the manufacturers do not publish the by vehicle warranty claims data which would be a strong indicator of early lifetime reliability of new vehicles. However, they do report total warranty costs and total vehicles sold, so there are rough indicators which are available. It is also clear that reliability rates vary dramatically by vehicle in some manufacturers lines. With GM, for example, the Astro/Safari van line-up and their current minivans are some of the worst vehicles the company makes from a reliability point of view while the Impala is one of the best.

    You can find a summary of warranty cost rates by major manufacturer here:

    Ford’s rate runs almost double that for Toyota and Honda. GM’s rate is slightly higher still. DaimlerChrsyler runs about twice again as bad as Ford. That makes DaimlerChrysler’s numbers nearly four times those of Toyota or Honda.

    It is reasonable to conclude that cars which need more in-warranty repairs are also likely to need more post-warranty repairs, and indeed that is what the only large sample published data indicates (Consumer Reports’).

  • avatar

    JD Power’s initial quality surveys aren’t of much value to me.

    However, For those who want a vehicle that will go 10 years / 200K miles with few major problems, jthorner’s above mention of is good info. Also, while extended warranties generally are not worth it – their prices can be an excellent long term indicator.

    Extended warranty firms should have a lot of juicy (thus proprietary) info regarding what breaks when for certain models.

    That said, anecdotal evidence from mechanics I know suggests that manual shift, small pickups are your best bet for driving 10 years… It seems any model will do.

  • avatar

    Random thoughts:
    1. A lot of people keep confusing the number of defects with quality, which shows a lack of creativity more than anything. When you were looking for a mate, was lack of defects after 3 months from surveys of previous users your primary selection criteria? “Well, her last 4 boyfriends said she doesn’t have any scars and her legs are the same length, so I thought maybe we should go and get hitched…” Not credible.

    2. Until we as a community actually define quality, we will continue to have endless cycles of discussion leading nowhere. At the end of the day, your delightful story about the reliability of your one car really doesn’t do much for me. Karesh at least gives me a sense for what to expect in terms of repair costs over time.

    3. As someone who has done a lot of benchmarking for top firms (outside of the auto industry), I can tell you they are only done by companies that truly want to understand how their vehicles rank vs. competitors. The comments that Ford is so stupid because they couldn’t fudge their own survey to come out on top miss the point — it’s not a PR exercise (although if it were, Honda owes Ford big time).

    4. I don’t mean to disrespect Frank’s writing, but I found the editorial confusing. On the one hand, his point seems to be that automakers should survey for quality 5+ years down the road. Frank, don’t you mean that they should test for durability or repairability? I don’t think you need to survey for that — you can just use the pricing from aftermarket warranty companies for that data, no?

    On the other hand, Frank’s point is that today’s cars are already so far ahead of previous generations that quality (as defined by fewest defects or durability) is not a differentiating factor anymore.

    So why are we talking about it?

  • avatar


    Hmm, small pickups with manual trannies are best for the long term? Well, my ’98 Nissan Frontier with 5-speed manual enters its 10th year of service this coming August. And it’s been virtually bulletproof so far!

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Great news! My 2003 Ford Ranger XLT has 2WD, a manual transmission, four-cylinder engine (a great power plant, actually), standard cab and standard bed. It has 45K on the clock now. I look forward to another 150K or so. BTW… I get 33mpg on the highway, 25 in town and average 27-28mpg.

  • avatar

    SherbornSean, I’d have to disagree with you here. I now look for exactly the same thing in a car that I look for in a woman. Those are
    1. Enjoyable aesthetics
    2. Able to live with comfortably on a daily basis
    3. Fun when the there is a need
    4. Causes as few problems in my life as possible.

    Going for the flashy stuff that causes lots of problems is why I’m single right now!

  • avatar

    This edit feature is strange.

    I will just say that you should keep tilting at windmills, and that C&D is getting the message. They were outright mean about the looks of the new Subaru.

    The quality surveys are self serving management crud. They pay for them so they can protect their little jobs. I use all sorts of stories when they call, but they always get the message that the call is not appreciated when it turns out to be a stupid survey.

  • avatar

    Resale value !!
    Nuff said.

  • avatar

    Quality surveys of a new vehicle? What a joke. That’s what the Quality department is supposed to check before a vehicle makes it out the factory door.

    A subjective quality survey reveals more about human behavior than it does the actual objective quality (by however you choose to define it).

    Take any survey to a sample of owners with questions posed in a positive manner [Is the air conditioning powerful?] — voila, you get some answers. Ask a similar sample of owners the exact same question in a negative manner [Is the air conditioning weak?], and surprise: you don’t get the inverse percentage approving the AC. And of course, you’ll get a different answer in Phoenix than in Halifax, in january or august, etc. These things just don’t make it to the statistics. Problems per 100 cars? What does this tell us? I’d return my car if the brakes failed due to a major failure. The picky BMW driver who complains about the straightness of the stitching of the leather seat (yes, I have seen this), well, these things i personally tend to overlook. Both are “problems”.

    Bottom line: I judge my own purchases on my own interpretation of quality. I judge a vehicle’s reliability based on repair records. I judge vehicle performance and capability on a wide array of objective and subjective testing by myself and professionals. Each goes into the purchase decision. No single survey, no matter who takes it, is going to tell you any meaningful indication of the quality of the vehicle you buy.

  • avatar

    I think we’re saying the same thing — we don’t define quality merely as the absense of defects or the number of visits to the mechanic/doctor.

  • avatar

    April 19th, 2007 at 11:46 pm
    Quality surveys of a new vehicle? What a joke. That’s what the Quality department is supposed to check before a vehicle makes it out the factory door.

    I was a co-op in the quality dept at a honda plant.

    Vehicles are inspected as they come off the line to make sure the doors/hood/trunk close properly. A sample of vehicles off the line are sent to the dyno to test emissions, speedo calibration, etc.

    Any vehicles with serious problems (no start, etc) are put off to the side for diagnosis/repair.
    The cars are then handed off to another person that test drives the car on a track behind the plant (a few sections of irregular surfaces, then an out and back section with a hairpin) before going to the holding lot to await transport.

    Issues the come up in any of these inspections would be checked out by the quality dept to see what happened.

    With a car coming off the line every 60 seconds, there’s only so much you can do. That’s why there was another quality dept (the one I worked in) that tracked warranty claims and contacted dealers to find problems that make it out of the factory.

    My advice, stay away from dealer installed options. Far away.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    WorrantyWeek reports GM and Ford together spent $8.6 billion on claims during 2006. The billion dollar figures sound large but the more important measure of warranty cost is as a percentage of sales.

    GM now spends 2.6% of its auto sales revenue fixing vehicles under warranty. Ford spends 2.9%. A year ago, GM’s claims rate was at 2.9% while Ford was at 2.6%. Meanwhile, GM’s auto revenue was up by 8% last year while Ford’s was down by 7%. So while GM saw its claims rate drop by 12%, Ford saw an increase of more than 10%.

  • avatar

    Hey i was in the market for a 94-97 Integra! Was it that the whole of the third generation Integras (94-01) sufferred a decline in quality in your opinion, or do you mean the facelifted third generation model 98-01? It’s possible you are referring to a 98 model bought in 1997 afterall.

    I had a first generation Integra and I actually had a few problems with it (steering and suspension never felt solid on the road, 5th gear failed, speedometer failed, creaking sound for hatch area etc …). I always liked the second generation (90-93) but was planning on a third generation model to get something a bit newer, so I’m curious to clarify your observations …

  • avatar

    April 19th, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    “You can find a summary of warranty cost rates by major manufacturer here:”

    Quote from the above website:

    “Of course, Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler each sell automobiles under multiple brand names. In the U.S., the primary brand names used by GM are Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Hummer, Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn. GM also has an equity interest in Suzuki and Isuzu.

    Ford also uses multiple brand names, including Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury, and Volvo. It also has an equity interest in Mazda.

    For passenger cars, DaimlerChrysler uses the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Mercedes-Benz nameplates, but it also has multiple brand names involved in truck and engine production. It also has an equity interest in Mitsubishi.

    The reason we mention this is because each company reports only one set of warranty figures. Warranty claims are not broken out either by nameplate or by the size or type of vehicle. We just can’t tell which of the brands account for the most or the least warranty cost.”

    So what this means is that you can’t really say what the waranty rate is for a Ford, Buick, or Dodge because the entire company is taken as whole. What if Pontiacs have so many problems they skew the results for the rest of GM? Who wants to bet that Jag is pulling up Fords overall warranty costs? I would not be surprised if Mercedes is the one pulling up DCX’s numbers and not Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep. Also it seems that commercial units (Freightliner for example) may be included. To me this data is not a good indicator for any individual brand.

  • avatar

    How do you define quality or relability on a vehicle that is several years old? It seems like this would come down to maintenance. The manufacturer can not control how you treat a car once you buy it.
    I’ve sent a car to the junkyard at 97K miles because the last owner beat it to death and it wasn’t worth it to fix.
    Someone like most of us reading this are pretty anal-retentive with car maintenance. I’d be willing to bet most of us get 200K plus out of our cars regarless of where they were built.

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