Complaints About In
Problems with in-dash electronic systems are a 'growing reliability plague' for many automakers, Consumer Reports said in its latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey. The report attempted to predict the reliability of 2015 models currently in dealer showrooms by evaluating models from past years.
Lexus again led the rankings from owners who participated in the survey, followed by Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Audi, Buick, Subaru, Scion, Porsche and Kia - meaning that, once again, Japanese brands made a strong showing. For a second consecutive year, General Motors had the most reliable brands among the Detroit automakers. Scores improved for Ford and Lincoln, but Chrysler's brands were near the bottom of the heap.
Of the G.M. brands, only Buick finished in the top 10, moving up to sixth place from 16th last year. G.M.'s other brands finished in the lower half of the rankings, seemingly dragged down by problems with full-size pickup trucks.
Of 28 brands in the study, Chevrolet ranked 21st, slipping four places, and GMC was 19th, down 10 places. The popular Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups were substantially redesigned for 2014.
'This is a really big thorn in Chevrolet and General Motors' side, because these are such big sellers,' Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports, said in a telephone interview. With these trucks, owner complaints covered an assortment of issues.
'I've been digging through individual customer complaints, and some people are talking about the driver's window falling out of the track,' he said. 'Some are complaining about trim pieces falling off.'
The Ram 1500 fared poorly as well, pushing Chrysler's truck brand to 26th place from 19th last year, also because of a variety of problems, Mr. Fisher said.
The results of the annual survey were released in Detroit during a news conference before members of the Automotive Press Association. The report is based on data about 1.1 million 2005-14 model-year vehicles leased or owned by Consumer Reports subscribers, and it includes 248 models from 28 brands. To determine predicted reliability, the publication's statistician calculated the average of the overall reliability scores for the most recent three model years, assuming that a given model had not changed during that period and was not redesigned for 2014. If it was, Consumer Reports may use one or two years of data to calculate a rating.
Models in their first year from Infiniti, Jeep, Fiat, Ram, Cadillac, Ford and Honda all have 'significant problem rates,' the magazine said, caused by glitches in their so-called infotainment systems, or in-car electronics that provide navigation, smartphone connectivity, audio and more. In the survey, Consumer Reports subscribers were asked about any serious issues they had in 17 problem areas with the cars they owned over the previous 12 months.
The category that included in-car electronics generated more complaints from owners of 2014 models than any other category - 10 to 20 percent on some vehicles, Mr. Fisher said. Issues like freezing screens, lagging touch controls, malfunctioning voice recognition and problems in pairing smartphones continued to plague these systems.
Infiniti's new Intouch was rated less reliable than Ford's MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch systems had been in their first year, when they were riddled with problems. Other top complaints were about noises and leaks, body hardware, power equipment, paint and trim.
The problems highlighted by this year's study echoed similar complaints about infotainment systems expressed earlier this year in the 2014 J. D. Power Initial Quality Study. In that assessment, vehicles that were all-new or had undergone major redesigns had more problems than vehicles that carried over without significant changes. And, among the all-new vehicles, the increase in problems was mainly in the areas of voice recognition, Bluetooth pairing and audio systems. The similarities in the findings, despite the differences in survey methods, indicates the pervasiveness of these problems.
Still, there may be hope for consumers who want these systems in their vehicles. Consumer Reports found signs that automakers had been able to improve technology over time. When it was first introduced, the 2011 Ford Explorer with MyFord Touch had a 10 percent infotainment complaint rate, which later peaked at 28 percent. The 2014 Explorer had only a 3 percent complaint rate for that category.
For those wondering whether vehicles were unfairly deemed unreliable simply because of their infotainment systems, a deep dive into the data suggested this was not the case.
'We reanalyzed how these cars would do if we ignored those systems,' Mr. Fisher said. 'What we found is that for the vast majority, the unreliable cars stay unreliable. It's not a case of 'these cars are fine and it's just this system that's the problem.' '
As for the other problems, they tended to be across the board, he said, including issues with power equipment and body hardware.
Here are some other conclusions from the survey:
■ The Scion xB was the highest-scoring vehicle overall in predicted reliability.
■ The Chevrolet Equinox and its near-twin, the GMC Terrain, both with standard 4-cylinder engines, were the highest-scoring domestic vehicles.
■ The Fiat 500L was the least reliable new car.
■ Small cars caused problems for the domestic brands. The Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze, Ford Fiesta and Focus and the turbocharged version of the Dodge Dart were all below average in the ratings.
■ Several brands fell significantly: Infiniti plunged 14 places to 20th, Mercedes-Benz dropped 11 places to 24th and GMC slipped 10 places to 19th.
■ Among the most improved brands were Lincoln, which jumped 12 spots to 15th; Hyundai, which rose eight places to 13th; and Cadillac, which moved up seven spots to 18th.
■ The Tesla Model S was again rated 'average' and kept its coveted 'recommended' status from the magazine.
■ The reliability of Ford's EcoBoost engines were improved on some, but not all, models.
■ Ford's troubled 6-speed, dual-clutch PowerShift transmission showed no significant improvement.