Dependability Falls 6% in 2011 MY: J.D. Power Study

The rise in com­plaints was led most­ly by engine and trans­mis­sion prob­lems, specif­i­cal­ly vehi­cles with four-cylin­der engines, which now account for more than half the new-vehi­cle sales in the U.S. and could account for two-thirds of sales by the end of the decade. Pow­er point­ed to the increas­ing num­bers of four-cylin­der engines as lead­ing to the decline as automak­ers are swap­ping out many V-6 engines for four-cylin­ders in order to meet CAFE′ require­ments.

“There are more out there, but they are get­ting worse in terms of prob­lems,” said Dave Sar­gent, vice pres­i­dent of glob­al auto­mo­tive at J.D. Pow­er. He told The Detroit News that dri­vers may be accus­tomed to a larg­er engine and there­fore find the small­er one “dif­fer­ent” and report that dif­fer­ence as a prob­lem.

Even so, Sar­gent not­ed, “Automak­ers are con­tin­u­al­ly look­ing for ways to improve fuel econ­o­my, which is a pri­ma­ry pur­chase moti­va­tor, par­tic­u­lar­ly those [inter­est­ed in] small­er vehi­cles. How­ev­er, while striv­ing to reduce fuel con­sump­tion, automak­ers must be care­ful not to com­pro­mise qual­i­ty. Increas­es in such prob­lems as engine hes­i­ta­tion, rough trans­mis­sion shifts, and lack of pow­er indi­cate that this is a con­tin­u­ing chal­lenge.”

The Depend­abil­i­ty Study, now in its 25th year, exam­ines prob­lems expe­ri­enced dur­ing the past 12 months by orig­i­nal own­ers of 2011 mod­el year vehi­cles. Over­all depend­abil­i­ty is deter­mined by prob­lems expe­ri­enced per 100 vehi­cles (PP100), with a low­er score reflect­ing high­er qual­i­ty.

Over­all, Lexus ranked as the most depend­able brand with just 68 prob­lems per 100 vehi­cles, 36 few­er than the sec­ond-ranked brand, Mer­cedes-Benz. Cadil­lac, the third-best brand, took the top spot among domes­tics, with 107 prob­lems per 100 vehi­cles. Buick (fifth, 112), Lin­coln (tied for sixth, 114).  Chevro­let (13th, 132) and GMC (16th, 133) were oth­er domes­tic brands that ranked at or above the indus­try aver­age of 133 prob­lems. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC did not win any seg­ment awards.

Prob­lems that wors­ened com­pared to last year includ­ed exces­sive wind noise — a long­stand­ing prob­lem in the indus­try — and trans­mis­sion flu­id leaks, Sar­gent told The Detroit News. The rate of prob­lems declined in areas like brakes, tire pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, paint qual­i­ty and water leaks.

Accord­ing to the Detroit News, J.D. Pow­er plans to update its study next year, in part because more prob­lems are becom­ing soft­ware-relat­ed, mean­ing automak­ers can fix a poten­tial prob­lem with­out lengthy delay or high cost.

Mike Sheldrick, Senior Edi­tor, Fleet Man­age­ment Week­ly

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