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by David Zalstein

The average number of problems experienced by US vehicle owners has increased for the first time since 1998, the latest J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study has found.

According to the 2014 survey of more than 41,000 original 2011 model-year vehicle owners, those with three-year-old vehicles reported more problems with their cars than owners of three-year-old 2010 model-year vehicles did in last year’s survey.

Determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100) and compiled between October and December 2013, the study examines problems experienced by original owners of 2011 model-year vehicles during the past 12 months.

For 2014, the study found a six per cent increase in problems from 2013, with an overall vehicle dependability average of 133 PP100 – up from last year’s 126 PP100 average.

J.D. Power global automotive vice president David Sargent said the “noticeable increase” in problems reported was due to changes implemented by car makers for their 2011 model-year vehicles.

“Until this year, we have seen a continual improvement in vehicle dependability,” Sargent said.

Chevrolet Volt

With engine and transmission problems increasing by nearly six PP100 year-on-year and accounting for the majority of the overall seven PP100 increase in reported problems, Sargent said manufacturers’ focus on fuel economy improvements should not come at the cost of reliability.

“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 study found that vehicles powered by four-cylinder engines were particularly unreliable, with problems increasing by nearly 10 PP100, while on average, large diesel engines also tended to suffer more problems than five- and six-cylinder units.

Despite this year’s poorer average, Lexus continues to improve its dependability score, ranking highest for the third consecutive year with 68 PP100 – down from 2013’s 71 PP100 and 2012’s 86 PP100.

Leading by a substantial gap, the luxury Japanese car maker was followed by Mercedes-Benz with 104 PP100 (up from fifth and 115 PP100 in 2013), Cadillac with 107 PP100 (up from 14th last year and 128 PP100), Honda’s premium US brand Acura with 109 PP100 (up four spots and down 11 PP100) and Buick with 112 PP100 (up one place with six fewer PP100). Last year’s second-place getter, Porsche, fell dramatically to ninth spot with 125 PP100 – up from 94 PP100 in 2013 and 98 PP100 in 2012.

In total, General Motors received eight segment awards, including one for the Volt, Toyota claimed seven – four going to Lexus-badged vehicles – Honda took six and Mini one for its Mini Cooper.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the study also found that dependability leads to loyalty, with owners who experience fewer problems having a greater loyalty to their chosen brand – 56 per cent of owners who reported no problems stayed with the same brand versus 42 per cent for owners who reported three or more problems.

Top models per segment




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