By on December 1, 2011

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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16 Comments on “TrueDelta Updates Reliability Data...”

  • avatar

    Have to agree – I would NEVER buy the first year of anything! The LAST year of a model is the one to buy, most all the bugs worked out.

    Micheal, at some point could you write an article comparing the reliability of cars over say the past 25 years? My understanding is that a car rated as “above average” 10-15 years ago would be considered a trainwreck today, cars have improved so much. But I have never read a really good article on this subject.

    And as a True Delta participant, I thank you for what you do!

    • 0 avatar

      If your only car purchasing criteria is reliability – then yes.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not certain I agree here. IMO, the late 90’s may have been a high water mark/pinnacle of supreme durability and low maintenance. Not the domestics, of course. Specifically, Japanese built Honda’s, Toyota’s, and Nissan’s (Maxima) were indestructible. This was a period when all automatics were 4 speeds, manuals were a bit more prevalent, few electronics in the car compared to today. Today’s cars, as a whole, are certainly a better lot because the domestics have improved so much. But nowadays everyone is bringing out new 6/7/8 speed or CVT transmissions, and the electronics in everything will have hosts of future problems. Back then you could buy one of the cars mentioned above and run 200k+ with nothing but fluid changes, tires, brakes, and other minor maintenance. I’m not completely confident that today’s cars will prove to be as easygoing.

      • 0 avatar

        Only if you live somewhere that does not salt the roads all winter. Late 90’s Japanese cars are mostly rustbuckets here in Maine. Yet my ’93 Volvo 965, which has spent it’s entire 235K life in Maine and Massachusetts has no rust at all, and even the suspension bolts come apart easily.

        Late RWD Volvos are the real durability kings. A 940 is the automotive equivalent of an anvil.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      Why is anyone surprised at this? Since I can remember, I was always told to avoid first and even second year cars till all the bugs could be taken out, this has not changed. At least now the OEM’s are reacting faster and getting the issues resolved within a reasonable amount of time, not years and years like it used to be.

    • 0 avatar

      Problem with buying the last year of a model is you take a bigger depreciation hit. When it comes time to resell, buyers would rather spend a little more to get the next generation.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m guessing that first model year “unreliability” for Honda or Toyota goes away by year two. For Jaguar or Range Rover, it’s never.

    • 0 avatar

      The idea of buying a last-year Escape or Fusion is on my mind right now, probably late-model used by the time I get around to it.

  • avatar

    How do you deal with cars that have ridiculously low sample sizes, but high repair rates? I know that my car has 16 examples, but a rate of 77 repairs/100 vehicles.

    I understand that you’re updating the website soon. Will there be a way to break down the repairs with catagories like: well that’s annoying; I gotta get it fixed, but it can wait; oh crap, stick a fork in it we need a tow-truck?

    EDIT: I am a participating member of TD, but I’m still curious.

    • 0 avatar

      When the sample size is below 25, we asterisk the stat and make it visible only to members. Such stats are far from precise–I only give them much credence if the result is either very higher or very low. 77 is a little high of the middle, but not by enough to say it’s not average given the sample size.

      We do now have enough data to provide stats with the repairs weighted based on severity. But I won’t be attempting this with a sample size below 25 and maybe not below 50. Severe problems are rare with fairly new cars, and the more rare something is the larger the sample size you need to measure it.

      Another thing I want to add: trends over time. Not 25 years–not nearly enough data for that–but the past few quarters.

      I hope to have these out by the next update, and hopefully even sooner. Just a lot on my plate.

      Sample sizes are an even larger impediment than my limited time. So if you know other people who might be willing to help with the survey, please tell them about it.

  • avatar

    Having owned a car almost identical to the one in the picture I can vouch for how appropriate the “OMG” comment is.

  • avatar

    that reminds me to update my latest survey.

    thanks for the great work, Michael. It’s great to be able to read the details of the problems as well in my car buying decision.

  • avatar

    I see 2011 Jetta has average reliability, even close to above average. In fact the latest Jetta with below average reliability is 2007, all newer ones are either average or above average contrary to what can usually be read in the comments on this site.

    • 0 avatar

      Keep in mind, at least from surveys and my experience, problems with VWs don’t seem to start up until around year 3. But when they start, they don’t every seem to stop.

      • 0 avatar

        The 2006 and 2007 were looking pretty good until recently. Looks like the reliability has improved enough that the problems might stay away until year 5.

        Beyond this, I’ve noticed that even when the average for a German car model isn’t bad, that when one is bad it’s too often very, very bad. And when people have a true nightmare they’ll talk about it enough to seem like it’s all of them.

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