By on September 9, 2015

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I guarantee that every brand loyalist will have a reason to hate me after reading this article.

Every manufacturer sells a shitty car or two and then hides those defects behind a not-so-small army of lawyers, dealers, and corporate employees.

Why?

It’s the corporate American way. In our legal world, the power of denial can save you billions of dollars if you have the right army to fight your battles.

Every manufacturer plays this game. Every… single… one…

What happens is a train wreck filled with corpses, maimed men, women, children, and a smorgasbord of extra profit for the manufacturer. Your blown transmission, head gasket leaking engine, and cheap under-engineered wafer thin plastic piece of cost cutting junk now represents a brand new profit center for the creator of that crap.

A lot of folks who are not auto enthusiasts will throw up their hands and simply pay the exact same piper that played the shitty tune in the first place.

It shouldn’t take a village to sue a Fortune 500 company. At the same time, a few villagers shouldn’t sway the opinion of car buyers doing their research on the internet just because their car had a rare and infrequent defect.

What to do? Well, it’s taken about three years to make it a reality, but the Long-Term Quality Index will be one small ingredient in helping change that recipe. We now have compiled over 820,000 data samples from across the country, which means that we can finally offer the powertrain details that can turn the tide in these situations. If not for the benefit of the new car owner who got roasted after the warranty came and went, then at least for those folks still out there who are now spending a four to five figure sum on a used car.

In the real world of buying cars, divining this reality of inner beauty is where you get your best bang for the buck. Whether it’s opting for a manual transmission instead of an automatic if you’re shopping for certain years of the Accord, Pathfinder, or Patriot. Or getting a specific engine if you are in the hunt for an Audi, an old Volvo, or pretty much any model year or model type in between. The used car market is loaded with the good and the bad.

So feel free to read this article if you want to find out the indisputable ugly of each brand. Go here if you want the details, or here if you want to find out about a specific model. This has been a marathon of an undertaking which I hope will help a lot of folks avoid the rolling money pits of the used car market. As always, feel free to leave your own personal tale of rolling vehicular carnage in the comments below.

Hopefully nobody you know got killed over a two dollar part.

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78 Comments on “823,000 Cars. Which Ones Stink?...”


  • avatar
    thelaine

    Bless you Steven Lang. The Truth about Cars indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Steve,

      Isn’t this similar to Michael Karesh and True Delta? I like this though, your sample size is about 8X larger than at True Delta. Thanks for all the hard work.

      • 0 avatar
        colin42

        True delta tend to have data on newer models that the LTQI doesn’t have. Equally this has more data for older cars than true delta has.

        The method of data collection is different between the datasets. True delta collects multiple point on the same vehicles where as this collects (I assume) one datapoint per vehicle.

  • avatar
    ajla

    This data seems to back up the narrative that the Northstar V8 was fixed in 2004.

    There might be a DTS, Lucerne Super, or Bonneville GXP in my future.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “Northstar V8 was fixed in 2004”

      Eleven years after introduction. Better late than never, right?

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      I love my 2009 DTS Premium. Bought it used in 2011, was a CPO program car. I love to take road trips and it is my “road car”. Great mileage(28MPG+/-) on the open road, regular gas, fabulous ride, very quiet, handles nicely, nice radio, cooled seats…..what’s not to like. It’s dark red clearcoat which to my mind is the most attractive color on a DTS I have had no problems except a power seat motor which was replaced under warranty. Powertrain has been flawless.

      I often get the itch for a new road car but so far have been able to resist spending $40k-$50k on a car I may not like as well.

    • 0 avatar
      99GT4.6

      They fixed the head gasket issue after 2004 but they never properly fixed the issue of oil leaks from the lower crankcase seal. The whole production run is prone to it.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Man, there goes any hope of my productivity for today.

    I’m going to geek out on data now.

    Thanks, Lang! (really, though)

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Was there really any hope of productivity though?

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Not as long as JdN is still at Cadillac. DeadWeight is the Tom Joad of internet commenters when it comes to Cadillac/JdN.

        “I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so people can buy real Cadillacs, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s JdN making up alphanumeric names and moving HQs to SoHo, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad about the existence of the ELR. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they see Cadillac’s new “flagship” with a four banger and no name, and when the people are buying Cadillacs at $13,000 off MSRP but are still unhappy with the ownership experience and lack of V8 – I’ll be there, too.”

        -DeadWeight (probably)-

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          Bravo. I approve.

          I told GM that their taxpayer-funded, pre-packaged bankruptcy and shedding of debt should have forced them to commit to no longer taking hitchhikers aboard their already slow, inefficient, bloated corporate ship, and then they went ahead and picked up Johan by the side of the road, anyways.

        • 0 avatar

          Oh, jeeezus! Deadweight was funny, and you are even funnier. Thanks for taking me back to 12th grade English, with Marcia at Gunn High, where we read Grapes (I forget this wonderful teacher’s last name, but she was 23, a Stanford grad, and had some sort of roadster, which my friend Greg Murphy used to fix for her.

          And thanks Steve for giving us this superb info.

  • avatar
    86er

    Question: how can the Chevrolet C/K be rated at 81.9 and the GMC C/K 48.6?

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Out. flipping. standing.

    Thank you!

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Very cool. Some eye opening results.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Oh the irony of a BHPH lot owner authoring a piece about the ethics of corporations who prey upon the consumer for profits.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Throwdown challenge.

      I want to hear this debate.

      {Drops microphone}

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I’ve spoken to Steve at length. He’s actually very ethical. He tells far more people “no” than he does “yes”, but provides reliable personal transportation to plenty of folks who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get it.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      As opposed to the pearls of wisdom that come from internet trolls?

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        You speak of a realm you know nothing about as do I when I make my assumptions about your business practices. Your ‘trolling’ on the internet gets you paid. Mine brings me amusement.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      tresmonos, if you can figure out a “more ethical” way to offer automotive financing to people with bad credit you should do so. In fact, it would be unethical for you to NOT to offer this service to the needy.

      Dealing with financial deadbeats every day can be soul crushing work; that Steve has kept at it this long is kind of surprising. I was under the impression that most BHPH lot owners try to leverage up to later model used cars, then try to acquire a new car line. Chasing weekly payments and hearing excuses and lies all day, every day is just plain tiring.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I agree, but it can be incredibly profitable.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          You’re right. When the consumer is ignorant and in a bad spot why not rape? Why not RENT them a $900 car for $999.99 down and $8,000 in total $111.11 bi-weekly payments at 24% interest, for 36 months. How could you possibly lose??

          When the payment is one second late, the ignition interlock prevents the start and the GPS tracker tells the BHPH where to pick it up, detail it and get another $999.99 down. Rinse, Repeat…

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Educate the public with finance courses in high school. Give them the tools to succeed.

        It’s hard to be ‘more ethical’ when the market has even priced out unreliable transportation for the destitute. And this is mostly because of BHPH lots protecting their profit margin. I can be an ass like Steve and just assume they rake in double digit margins unlike evil OEM’s.

        Usually 1500 cash and Craigslist will get you something better than 4 months of financing at a BHPH lot will yield.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Thanks a lot for this report, now I am more convinced than ever to get myself a used Yaris, to replace my 400k mile Corolla, no matter how much the “critics” lambaste it

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    Where’s OLDSMOBILE?
    Even though they have not been produced since 2004 there are still millions of these REAL cars out there.
    Miles on my Oldsmobiles:
    1969 Toronado – 135,000
    1972 Toronado – 123,000
    1974 Toronado – 108,000
    1998 Aurora – 105,000
    2000 Alero GLS Coupe – 52,000
    2003 Aurora Final 500 – 79,000
    I would not trade any of these for anything else.

    Then there are the five Buicks, all excellent as well!

    And the three Cadillacs, one a 2000 Eldorado ETC with the Carroll Custom Cadillac (Texas)-rebuilt Northstar.

  • avatar
    GermanReliabilityMyth

    Sweet, sweet confirmation bias. Mmmm.

    I always suspected that Ford F150 owners were brand apologists and it would appear I was right (as far as this sampling is concerned). My Dodge Ram appears to be in better company, though the real curveball was how well GMs half-ton offerings held up. Interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      My mechanic brother wrenches on more or less everything under the sun. He is of the opinion that if he were buying a truck to hold onto, it would be a GM. Now, he has some choice words for Chrysler products, particularly how their suspensions hold up.

      • 0 avatar
        GermanReliabilityMyth

        Thanks, it’s always nice to get a relevant perspective. I can’t say that I’ve had any issues with my Dodge Ram, but I know that eventually I’ll have to dump some money into the front end. Suspensions should be pretty universal, so I’m not sure how they could screw that up. Maybe the geometry? Although I suppose every manufacturer has some area or another that has been bean counted into premature failure. Just pick your poison.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          I’ve pondered over the Chrysler suspension debacle for a while now. It seems that almost across the board they have faster than usual failure rates for ball joints in particular. Trucks? Yep. Jeeps? Yep. Chrysler LX cars? Yep. Caliber/Patriot? Yep. LH cars? Yep. Can they really just be cheaping out on suppliers and using subpar materials? Is it some deeply entrenched approach to suspension tuning that missed something somewhere, like a weird non-obvious dynamic load that most other manufacturers have figured out? I’d be curious to hear from an actual ChryCo suspension engineer.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    http://bestride.com/blog/long-term-quality-index-seven-facts-that-shatter-the-myth-of-reliability/24162/

    This study took close to a year to put together. Anyone interested in the methodology behind it can feel ftee to click above.

    I”m at an auction. Just got outbid on a 2012 Impala with leather and 50k. I need to stop throwing money at those things.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Steve – buy clean hybrids. These things aren’t blowing up as one might have expected and its tough to say no to cheaper gas purchases when you’re not well off.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        The only cheap ones I can find are Hondas, and they’re cheap for a reason.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I’d tell you to wait for the C-Max to drop under $10K in the next year or so, but I doubt that they will be as desirable as Toyotas. It has a solid powertrain though.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I found an MY09 Escape hybrid with 373K at a DC auction.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Yeah, those powertrains go forever. Jalopnik had an article about a 500K mile Escape Hybrid NYC taxi. The valvetrain looked darn near new.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            This is the kinda stuff people need to know about.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Toyota-style hybrid powertrains are great for engine longevity. King County Metro (my local transit agency, for which I drove in a long-ago former life) has a bunch of 2003-04 hybrid buses with the similar Allison EP50 powertrain that are nearing end of life. They have been a dream on maintenance costs even though the Caterpillar C9 engine they have is well known for being a dog in other applications. The agency has put them through much higher utilization than past fleets and they just keep on ticking, although a number of them are now requiring battery replacements after 600,000 miles of stop-and-go service.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          .

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Excellent work Steve! Glad to see the numbers bear out my own experience with my 2006 Sienna and 2015 Avalon. I’m a sucker for proven drive trains. I suspect this is one of the reasons for the Chevy trucks doing so well.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    It’s pitiful to see the neglect domestic makes gave to their smaller cars. I wouldn’t buy any domestic compact from the prior decade.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    I have a dumb question. What exactly is being rated under the powertrain heading? Is it a composite of engine and transmission problems or is it something else?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This data confirms what an exceptional vehicle my former 05 Scion xB1 was.

    The VW Passat is really bad. Ironically, although my 02 Passat was terrible, this data shows that model year as better than average.

    It will be interesting to see how this data trends long term. I *think* we’ll see some interesting changes in the years ahead.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    People will be yelling over at Y! Interesting on the G20, I had never heard of issues. Not a bad record for Infiniti if the last bad thing they made was over in 02.

  • avatar
    Frylock350

    Kinda confirms the sales charts too. Interesting that the oldest trade-ins are Buicks, I’d have pegged that as a GM or Ford full-size truck or honda compact.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Might be an old person demographic, trading in little-driven, well preserved Park Avenues and the like on their final Lacrosse. That little Honda Civic, conversely, will have all the juices wrung out of it, first by the thrifty commuter ceaselessly driving down his TCO, then their kid in highschool, then passed down the line through a series of owners until it ends up in the carniceria parking lot, with bubbled window tint and chicken-wired on fart cannon.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        When I was shopping Civics, Proteges, Accords, Corollas, I couldn’t quite get why they were so beat up, all of the Hondas were missing badges too for some reason (They only had the H on them).

        People can be thrifty yet keep a car in decent visual shape, time is the bigger issue.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    Toyota had a bad batch of 2.4l engines about 7 yrs ago. rings werent installed correctly and burned VW levels of oil.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “VW levels of oil”

      Ha! At least it wasn’t RX-7 levels of oil.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      I’m looking at maybe getting a second gen xB for the stepdaughter since I’ve sadly discovered that at 4’11” she’s not going to be able to drive the Altima at all. Other considerations are the Cube and the Soul.

      Was it just the 2008’s that had engine problems or did that carry over to 2009 as well?

  • avatar
    matador

    The only thing I wish that I could do would be to break the samples down a little more. Instead of looking at all Chevrolet Impalas, it would be nice to be able to filter the years out.

    This is still a very valuable tool, though. Thanks for making it!

    • 0 avatar
      hf_auto

      Exactly my thought as well. I do a lot of warranty analysis for an OEM, and we can’t carry over analysis from one generation to the next without some huge grains of salt.
      Even within the same generation, engineers are tweaking parts, plants are improving processes, etc., so it’s a constantly moving target.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        We separate the years out if you look at it from the model level. Here’s the link.

        http://tradeinqualityindex.com/vehicles/Chevrolet_Impala.html

        We plan on offering an app which will let you look at the specific year, make, model, AND powertrain you desire. These things take time but I agree with the need to make this information as easy to access as possible.

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          That page helps a lot! The only problem I see is that I can’t find a link for it. I manually typed in the make and model I wanted to view, but I could see a lot of people not noticing that (Like me!)

          That page does help a lot! Being able to separate by body style or powertrain options would really be a game changer!

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      One of the few things I have learned about used cars in general over my decades of driving a variety of vehicles is that a specific motor and transmission combo can reside on a dog one year, with tons of problems, and in a year or two, the manufacturer corrects the underlying problem and the same combo becomes virtually indestructible.

      Panther owners with partial plastic manifolds and Ford truck owners with experience with spark plugs on early Mod motors know what I am talking about. Other marques are subject to similar situations, it is just that I care less about waiting around for them to improve, while in general, Ford seems to have a fairly good record of improving engineering as problems are identified. Hence, I have gravitated towards being a student of Ford vehicles, much more so than GM and FCA offerings. Hence, my examples of Ford vehicles are not meant to imply that they are worse than others…au contraire, they are among the few I am aware of where significant improvements took place, year to year.

      So while I haven’t yet jumped down the rabbit hole of all this data, because once I do, there will go a half day at least, it seems that year by year comparisons are missing. Without these, I fail to see how this can accurately reflect the real world, wherein such differences from early model years to later model years for a powertrain combo are ubiquitous.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Steve, I’ve been reading LTQI for a couple months now, and it was part of what pushed me to buy my Lexus LS. It’s head and shoulders above any other large luxury sedan. Although, unfortunately, the one common problem on the vintage I bought (fragile front control arm bushings) did end up being an issue on my car. Now fixed with updated and stronger parts, but at considerable cost.

    Lexus LS = 92.0
    Audi A8 = 64.1
    MB S-Class = 62.7 to 73 (with older cars faring better)
    BMW 7-Series (!) = 18.3 to 40.0

    Toyota and Lexus curb-stomp the competition in this data set, and that includes the cars during Toyota’s cost-cutting period. Only Honda even comes close, and you have to ignore ’98-’04 V6 cars with the notorious transmissions.

    • 0 avatar
      MR2turbo4evr

      Congrats on the LS! I own a beat-up ’00 LS400 and my dad has a mint ’05 LS430. Outstanding vehicles. Extremely well put together. The LS really spoils you for any other cars.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Thanks! So far, so good. Mine is a nearly perfect ’08 LS460 with only 45,000 miles (thanks, OCD previous owners). It’s a dream come true to drive as long as you don’t expect it to act sporty.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Quite what 180,000 miles as some sort of quality index has to do with anything is beyond me. So a small percentage of most cars get that far and get traded in at some independent dealers. So what?

    I fear that this is the newest version of the system that was posited on TTAC three years ago. It made no sense to me then, and I said so. Has the methodology been normalized?

    As I said then, if the trade ins being monitored did not correlate with the relative sales of the vehicles when new, one to another, then comparisons are invalid.

    This is just some random vehicles being evaluated at trade in by dealers with varying standards of inspection, from which vast conclusions are drawn as if the methodology of selection were correct in the first place.

    I really don’t get it, but if everyone else is super fine happy with it, carry on. I won’t be paying attention.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Based on this data, I agree with an old CJinSD saying: “Honda builds tools and everyone else builds toys”. If you have a Honda with a stick shift you’ll change oil, coolant, brakes, batteries, light bulbs, the occasional wheel bearing, and a clutch at 180,000 miles.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Toyota’s overall winning score appears to be based on their trucks – and I bet GM’s trucks help their rating a lot, too!

  • avatar
    colin42

    Steve

    I’d love to see breakdown by powertrain and also the data on the type of defects that our seen. I understand this is a lot of data but again transparency

    Perhaps a deep dive on the process of the data collection would really help. I’d also like to see a bit more explanation on the charts.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Data like this, as well as the issues with Jeep 9-speeds, early Nissan CVT’s and VW DSG’s, makes me damn glad I don’t drive automatics.

    Toyota’s ancient 4-speed was probably the most reliable slushbox of all time. ;)

  • avatar
    don1967

    I commend the long-term focus of this research, and Steven Lang as a representative of the used-car industry.

    One wish list item for the future: Take the lessons learned from 18-year-old cars and use them to project the long-term prospects of newer offerings that people are actually buying today. I mean, if old Buicks were more reliable than old Hyundais because they used proven components, does that bode well for my stripped-down 2012 Veracruz with its manual seats, detuned 3.8 corporate engine and proven Aisin transmission? Or is it still “just a Hyundai”, with bleaker prospects than the latest turbo-four Buick with heated wifi knobs? This wisdom is a bit fuzzy in the data as presented.

  • avatar
    zip89105

    It won’t be long before the new Chevy Malibu shows up here.


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