New study says vehicles more dependable than ever

Lexus and Porsche earn top marks


DETROIT — If there's one thing you can count on, it's your car.

Vehicles are more dependable than ever, says J.D. Power and Associates. The consulting company's latest study, which measures problems experienced in the last year by owners of three-year-old vehicles, found that reported problems fell 5 percent to the lowest level since J.D. Power began collecting this data in 1989.

Lexus, Porsche, Lincoln, and Toyota owners reported the fewest number of problems, while Jeep, Mitsubishi, Dodge, and Land Rover owners had the most. Owners reported an average of 126 problems per 100 vehicles from the 2010 model year, down from 132 in last year's survey. Problems can be anything from engine failure to dashboard electronic glitches to excessive wind noise.

A study released today by J.D. Power and Associates found that cars and trucks are more dependable than ever. The study questioned 37,000 original owners of 2010 vehicles and asked them about problems they have had in the last year. Here are the brand rankings, as well as the average number of problems per brand and the number of places each brand rose or fell compared with J.D. Power's 2012 rankings.  

Brand Problems per 100 vehicles Places up or down from 2012
Lexus 71 (same)
Porsche 94 (same)
Lincoln 112 +4
Toyota 112 (same)
Mercedes-Benz 115 +1
Buick 118 +3
Honda 119 +5
Acura 120 +3
Ram 122 +20
Suzuki 122 +14
Mazda 124 +12
Chevrolet 125 +1
Industry average 126 N/A
Ford 127 -5
Cadillac 128 -11
Subaru 132 +2
BMW 133 +4
GMC 134 +4
Scion 135 -13
Nissan 137 -1
Infiniti 138 +7
Kia 140 +4
Hyundai 141 -12
Audi 147 -11
Volvo 149 -11
Mini 150 -3
Chrysler 153 +6
Jaguar 164 +1
Volkswagen 174 -2
Jeep 178 +1
Mitsubishi 178 -11
Dodge 190 +1
Land Rover 220 (not included in 2012)

Source: J.D. Power and Associates

The 2013 study, which was released today, was based on responses from more than 37,000 original owners of 2010 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership.

For the first time, cars and trucks that were new or redesigned for 2010 performed better than those that were unchanged from the 2009 model year. Owners of new models experienced 116 problems per 100 vehicles compared with 133 for models that weren't new in 2010. That result challenges the conventional wisdom that it takes carmakers one or two model years to work out all the glitches in their new cars.

“The rapid improvement in fundamental vehicle dependability each year is more than offsetting any initial glitches that all-new or redesigned models may have,” said David Sargent, who leads J.D. Power's global automotive operations.

Among the models that were new or redesigned in 2010 were the Ford Mustang, Buick LaCrosse, Lexus ES350, and Toyota Camry.

Ram — which introduced a new heavy-duty pickup in 2010 — saw one of the biggest leaps in the rankings. It rose to the 9th spot in 2013 from the 29th spot last year. Suzuki and Mazda also jumped in the rankings. Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand dropped 13 spots, and Cadillac, Audi, Volvo, and Mitsubishi all dropped 11 spots.

The study found that the Toyota Prius was the most reliable small car and the Hyundai Sonata was the most reliable midsize car. The Toyota RAV4 was the highest-ranked small SUV and the Chevrolet Tahoe was the most reliable big SUV. The Lexus RX midsize SUV had the fewest problems of any vehicle, at 57 per 100.

Dependability rankings are important to car companies, since buyers who are happy with a purchase are more likely to stick with that brand in the future. J.D. Power said 54 percent of owners who do not experience any problems with their vehicle stay with the same brand for their next new vehicle. That slips to 41 percent when owners experience three or more problems.

Mr. Sargent said the results should give buyers more confidence in older vehicles, whether they're keeping their current model or shopping for a used car. But he says dependability keeps improving, so people who buy new cars this year can have even more confidence in their cars’ performance three years from now.