The Basics of Vehicle Reliability & Dependability


For many people about to purchase a car- whether it is a new model or a used one- one of the chief questions remains- how reliable is it? After all, when so much money is sunk into an investment like a vehicle, we want it to work. We want to drive it, not drop it off at the repair shop. There are a few great tools out there to help you with determining vehicle reliability , especially if purchasing a newer model. Disclaimer: Any data needs to be received with discernment and maybe even skepticism, so don’t take my word for it. Do your own research. Talk it up- word of mouth might just be your best tool for you to evaluate your best, next car.

Vehicle Reliability

Vehicle Reliability and Dependability Studies

The J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study was released in February 2015. Having almost completed its 26th year, this study categorizes 177 problem symptoms that your new vehicle may experience into 8 categories. The 2015 study is the result of input from 34 000 original owners of 2012 models, following up during and after 3 years of owning. In this study, the “PP100” (or, “problems per 100”) is a measure of how many problems were reported per 100 of a said model. A lower PP100 score is better.

Several key findings emerged. Primarily, 60% of the top problems reported aren’t due to malfunctions or defects but are design-related. The top trouble category was “Exterior,” followed by “Engine/Transmission” and, in third place, Audio/Communication/Entertainment/Navigation” (especially as it pertains to connectivity and usability of technology- specifically Bluetooth pairing and voice recognition). As more technology becomes standard in new vehicle models, this category will certainly become a focal point for manufacturers looking to earn re-purchase loyalty. Because I know you’re curious, the top five scoring vehicle makes in the J.D. Power study are: Lexus (4th year in a row at the top, with a PP100 score of 110), Toyota (111), Cadillac (114), Honda & Porsche are tied for fourth ranking (116). The bottom-ranking brand earned a PP100 score of 273. The industry average was 147 this year. Note that this 2015 study was redesigned significantly, so be careful in drawing comparisons between it and previous years’ reports. Look for the 2016 report to be released next month.

Another popular report to consider is the 2015 Consumer Reports’ Vehicle Reliability Study. It seems to be relatively consistent with the findings of the J.D. Power Report. Again, Lexus tied with Toyota (2nd year in a row) on the top of this list. Audi comes in at number two for reliability and a three-way tie happened for third between Subaru, Kia & Mazda. Surprising to many, Be warned; whatever reasons, there exists some opposition to Consumer Reports. I’m just letting you know that the tool, the information is there.

I stumbled across the Long Term Quality Index (LTQI); it caught my eye mostly because the above-mentioned reports look closely at new models, but the LTQI does the opposite. It’s an interesting tool, and worth looking at. It’s quantified data from 300 000+ cars, based on information given at time of trade-in. (Yes, I know, such gross possibility for under-reporting might be cause to throw out said data, but I figure that the skew caused by a Toyota owner who underreported something is balanced out by the Mazda owner, the Ford owner, the ­(insert brand here)­­ owner who also did the same). If nothing else, it’s an intriguing set of graphics displaying a variety of issues around longevity and vehicle reliability, as well as life span mileage. For the data heads among us, it’s worth a peek.

On a purchase- no, an investment- of this magnitude, you owe it to yourself to look a little beyond the flash that sometimes blinds you when you walk onto the car sales lot. Take some time, ahead of your visit, to explore and learn from the stories of vehicle owners who may be able to save you some precious time and money. There is no best car for you to buy; just a best car for you. It is up to you to do the work to find out which vehicle that is. Good luck!