Japanese Brands Shine, American Automakers Tumble in Consumer Reports’ Latest Reliability Survey

While speaking at a gathering of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports said, “The moral of the story is… the early adopters get penalized in terms of reliability.”

Today, the influential watchdog organization announced the results of its latest Auto Reliability Survey, which predicts new-vehicle dependability. Fisher explained, vehicles that have just been redesigned, gained a new infotainment system or feature some sort of advanced powertrain are much more likely to have problems than a car or truck that’s been in production for many model years with minimal alterations.

This is largely business as usual, in step with other iterations of the study, though there have been some significant changes this year.

The results of this annual report are compiled from data provided by some 500,000 Consumer Reports members who bought or leased a new vehicle between the years 2000 and 2018, meaning it covers more than 300 different nameplates.

Fisher said a lot of drivers think all Japanese automakers build dependable vehicles, but this isn’t the case. “It’s Toyota and Lexus that’s reliable,” he noted. The two brands topped the chart once again, finishing in first and second place, respectively. He attributes their reluctance to introduce new technology and features as a main driver for reliability. Fisher noted that Toyota just started offering Apple CarPlay and it’s only available on one vehicle. Likewise, a Camry sedan can still be had with a tried-and-true naturally aspirated V6 while many competitors have switched to smaller-displacement turbocharged engines.

Moving downward, the most reliable American automaker was Ford, which landed in 18th place, a drop of three from last year. The brand’s long-in-the-tooth Taurus sedan is a shining star, with much-better-than-average reliability, though the smaller Fusion four-door has dropped to below average because of issues with the new Sync 3 infotainment system.

As for Lincoln, it landed in position No. 20, buoyed by the Continental sedan’s much-better-than-average rating, though this wasn’t enough to offset the MKC, MKX and MKZ models, which were all rated below average.

The brand that fell the most in this year’s Auto Reliability Survey is Buick, dropping 11 spots to 19thoverall. “Part of that is the introduction of the Enclave with the nine-speed [transmission],” said Fisher.

Also in the GM portfolio, Chevrolet fell five places to position 23, torpedoed by the new Traverse crossover and its much-worse-than-average reliability score. It was also a dark time for Cadillac, which landed second from the bottom, a lowly 28th-place finish.

As for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, their brands occupy the bottom third of this year’s list. Dodge improved three spots to 21 out of 29 brands, with its Charger large sedan offering better-than-average reliability. As for the rest of FCA, it’s pretty disappointing. Chrysler’s award-winning Pacifica minivan is no longer recommended by Consumer Reports thanks to below-average reliability. From a quality standpoint, Jeep is nothing to get excited about, while the Ram truck brand fared worse than any of the company’s other divisions.

Detroit-based automakers didn’t fare well in this year’s survey, but there’s a reason for this. Fisher said it’s because they introduced a slew of new vehicles, and redesigned products tend to be quite problematic for car companies.

Of the 10 most unreliable cars and trucks on the market, five were new for the 2018 model year, a telling statistic. Likewise, of the 10 most reliable vehicles, seven launched in 2015 or before, giving automakers ample time to iron out any issues.

“I feel like a broken record,” said Fisher. If you want reliability, “Don’t buy a car in its first year.”

a version of this article first appeared on AutoGuide

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