Brand Winners and Losers In Two Important Durability and Reliability Studies

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JD Power 2016 dependability graph

The two best brands for reliability and durability come from one company.  Many luxury brands don’t score above average.

J.D Power and Associates and Consumer Reports both updated their reliability and durability rankings this week.

Since both organizations base their rankings on owner surveys, there is no editorial bias in the results.

The quick summary of winners is that Lexus is the top manufacturer for reliability and durability on both lists this week.  Toyota is also at the top of both lists among non-premium brands.

Together, these two companies are now clearly the leaders in the modern age of car building when it comes making vehicles that don’t break, frustrate you, or cost you money for unscheduled repairs.

Brands with quality control teams that are keeping a low profile this week include Cadillac, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, and all the FCA brands of Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Fiat.  Last year FCA’s quality control executive was replaced.  That has not solved its problems.

J.D. Power and Associates Dependability Study

It is important to understand with the J.D. Power and Associates Dependability Study the vehicles being analyzed are now three years old. They are 2013 model year vehicles that have been on the road for three years of ownership.  This study looks closely at how dependable cars are not just in the first 90 days of ownership (like many other studies), but during the break-in period and first third of the vehicle’s life when most issues arise. 

The study asks detailed questions about all aspects of the vehicle’s design to about 34,000 original owners.  Their answers make up the data that J.D. Power compiles.  Lexus is now the top-ranked brand overall for five straight years.  Lexus is also the largest premium brand in many sales reporting periods, so these results are not skewed by a small sample size.

2016 GMC Sierra Apple CarPlay
2016 GMC Sierra Apple CarPlay

Many of the problems reported by owners are technology related.  “Cell phone won’t synch to Bluetooth.”  “Voice commands don’t work properly”, and that sort of thing.  However, transmissions, engines, tires, and all the running gear are also include in the study.

The upshot is that the stuff driving most people nuts is not an alternator that quit and left them stranded, but that they can’t make their personal entertainment stuff work.

Related: Buyer’s Guide – Understanding Your Bluetooth Options

The losers in the J.D. Power study include all the FCA brands, but it is interesting to see Ford at second to last.

Note that Subaru is also low on this list.  That brand may be coming up as we will see in the Consumer Reports list.  Cadillac barely scores better than average, but it is in good company.  If there is any correlation with premium and luxury brands doing better than mainstream brands in terms of durability, aside from Lexus, we don’t see it.

Related: In 2015, Does Buying a Luxury Brand Make Any Sense?

Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports (CR) has historically been mainly a data-driven consumer group when it comes to vehicles, but that is changing.

The group has been shuffling its editorial staff and is doing more and more road test reporting, and video test-drives.  The group’s staff also drive vehicles at manufacturer-sponsored media events (we’ve been there with them), so the group’s opinions are not solely formed by vehicles they bought themselves.

This week CR released a report titled “Which Car Brands Make the Best Vehicle?”  CR explains what it is doing, saying “To determine which car brands consistently deliver vehicles that serve consumers well, we tabulate the overall score, road-test score, and predicted reliability results for each tested model of a brand. We then average those scores at the brand level. This average overall score is used to rank the car brands as an indicator of who makes the best cars.”

forestrer fall

This is a fine endeavor for Consumer Reports, but by including the opinions of its editors who test cars, it is straying from its name “Consumer Reports” and also its past reputation as a data reporting company.

That said, we agree with their conclusion that Subaru is a great company, when all things are considered.  However, how can Consumer Reports put Audi at the top of its list of brands that “serve consumers well” knowing the company purposely lied about diesel emissions for many years and tricked its buyers and the governments of the countries where it sells cars?

Also, how can CR label the Lexus NX 200t a “Worst Pick” and also list it as “Recommended”?


Setting aside the subjective opinions of its editorial staff, the CR report still ranks Lexus and Toyota “Best” in terms of predicted reliability.  The predictions are based on past performance on its reliability surveys.

Who are the losers?  CR calls Cadillac, Land Rover, Fiat, and Jeep “Worst” for predicted reliability.  Like the J.D. Power survey, luxury brands like Mercedes, Acura, and Infiniti are ranked “worse than average.”

This is more evidence that luxury and premium brands other than Lexus seem to have no advantage in reliability.  In fact, the Honda and Nissan brands are ranked higher than their own premium sub-brands by CR.

Note:  We have not forgotten a link to study.  The company is subscription-only so to see the details of its report, you will have to pay up.