New Cars Losing Ground on Reliability

New technology that makes cars easier to drive, more fuel efficient, and better connected could also be the reasons why new cars are less reliable than they’ve been in the past.

It wasn’t that long ago when a car buyer could take home a sedan with a 5-speed manual transmission, a CD player, a steering wheel, a basic 4-cylinder motor, and air conditioning. Cars like that could be driven for decades with minimal problems. Heck, Toyota and Honda built their businesses on those cars and still benefit from that reputation for reliability.

Things are changing, though. As cars become more advanced, their reliability is decreasing.

The Consumer Reports annual auto reliability survey was released this week, and Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for the magazine, says reliability is hurting. He said to NBC News,

“It is really the new technology that is being added to the new vehicles that has really been the problem.”

The same article continued,

This year, Fisher says, vehicle owners continue to be frustrated with new systems that are filled with bugs and glitches. In particular, new transmissions designed to improve the performance of new models are often delivering an inconsistent ride for drivers. Fisher says these technologies have more than their fair share of problems.

Toyota has escaped the troubles for the most part and has, once again, landed in the number-one spot for reliability. Its luxury brand, Lexus, took the second spot, while Kia cracked the top three for the first time in its history.

Ram, GMC, and Cadillac took the bottom three positions. All three, the GM brands in particular, are moving quickly to incorporate new technology, and the speed is hurting reliability. The top-ranked brands are incorporating new tech at a more methodical pace, thus having fewer bugs surface for the consumer.

It has to make a buyer wonder if all the extra technology is worth it, or if we’d go back to the old days of simplicity if we could.

What kind of vehicle do you own, and has it been a reliable ride?


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  1. Here’s my “favorite issue”: A car can throw a “service engine light” because the gas cap might be loose. Gas caps ratchet. You can only tighten them up until they start ratcheting. Really, there’s no option to tighten them down more – because they ratchet.

    If this is a real issue with many cars – then make a better gas cap. Maybe one that doesn’t ratchet. How many cars go in for service for a gas cap? How much time is wasted on this silly problem?

    My car would sometimes throw a code for the “Secondary O2 sensor pre-heater”. I didn’t know they had preheaters. Was it the O2 sensor? Nope. The computer checked the sensor before it could heat up. The easy solution was to wait a few seconds with the ignition on before starting the car. The hard solution was to bring the car in for service so they could discover there was a TSB for this (I knew there was), flash the computer, and retest the system.

    Here’s a fun one: did you know a tire pressure warning light can come on if the tire is over-inflated? My brother was driving his new car and the TPMS light came on. On his car it doesn’t indicate which tire. He doesn’t have a tire gauge. So he pulls into a service station and adds air – to ALL the tires. He drives a bit further and the light comes on again, so he adds more air. By the time he got to my home, the tires were ridiculously over-inflated and the light was still on. The car was delivered new with over-inflated tires.

    The point is here if a car throws so many warning lights for so many reasons, you never quite know which ones are “real” problems, or temporary issues. The secondary issue is you lose confidence in the car.

    There are people driving cars with warning lights on all the time. Once in a while they get them read and turned off because the car is driving fine. An interesting spin on that is is you’re shopping for a used car, you’ll often see “No warning lights!”, implying there’s nothing wrong. That’s not quite true. It’s easy enough to switch them off with a scanner, or disconnecting the battery.

  2. 2015 Fiat 500 Sport, with all of 15,100 miles on it. Overall, it’s a great car. It’s also a mobile “festival of lights”. Anything and everything triggers a light, and there’s lots of them. So many that you’re never sure if there’s a real problem or just an indication of a temporary error, until it’s obvious there’s something very wrong. I’m on a first name basis with the local shop for code reading. I’m planning on buying an OBD2 scanner because the lights “cascade”, One sensor trips other sensors so it’s near impossible to figure out what the root cause is without an OBD2 scanner.

    I just got the car back from the endless carnival light show – again. Amazingly it made it home, all 25 miles, without a light coming on. I put in the garage and backed away slowly. That may trigger a light. If I feel brave and lucky, I may try to use the car today. I have a second car, so I may not. My new way of dealing with this is “light on = tow truck”. I have free towing as part of the warranty. In the last 30 days it’s spent more time on a flatbed than the road.

    Apparently that’s the solution. Have a second car and free towing. That’s sounds ridiculous, and it is. What’s even more absurd, is with all this digital dashboard nonsense, you’d think you’d get a meaningful message spelled out. No. You get a light, and you have to dive for the manual to try to figure out what the symbol might mean, but probably doesn’t. You shouldn’t need a “car translator”.

    As for phone connectivity. I gave up on that. Bluetooth is hit/miss on a good day in this car. The software hasn’t been updated in two years and I doubt it ever will.

    Despite all this I still think it’s a fine car. It drives great, when I feel like taking a chance of driving it. My goal is to get the lights off long enough to get it detailed and to trade it in. I just don’t have the time for this nonsense. It’s nice to have a warranty, but I don’t want this car when that runs out, and I’m not paying to extend it.

    While all of this nonsense is going down, my 106,000 mile, 2008 Honda Fit Sport, works flawlessly. Not a single problem. Actually, I found the Honda, here, on CarGurus. Thanks. I had planned to trade this Fiat in for a new 500X. That’s not going to happen.

  3. To many gimmicks,who really needs automatic headlamps or automatic wipers which don’t seem to know when it’s raining or stopped raining,and who was the idiot who thought touch screen was a good idea in a car,the only good bit of kit is Bluetooth phone the rest is not needed, it’s only there because some computer nerd thinks it’s a good idea, I have worked on cars for 52 years and I can tell you it’s got out of hand.

  4. Toyota was having oil consumption problems with their 4 cylinder engine. I don’t know if they resolved this problem though.

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