People talk about the “good old days,” but consumers today have fewer complaints about vehicle reliability than in the past, according to industry analysts J.D. Power and Associates.
Still, while complaints have dropped overall, newer technologies and features can be challenging for automakers.
In the company’s latest U.S. report, which looked at problems with three-year-old (2008) vehicles, overall dependability was the best it had been since the study’s inception in 1990.
However, the rate of improvement has slowed in recent years, largely attributable to increased numbers of complaints with new electronic and safety features.
“A lot of that isn’t that (the features) are getting worse, but that more vehicles contain them,” says Dave Sargent, vice-president of global vehicle research for J.D. Power and Associates.
“Typically, they are failing to work as the customer would expect them to, such as the navigation system freezing up or providing the wrong directions, or hands-free systems dropping calls or not connecting, or not recognizing commands.
For the most part, though, it’s offset by the added benefit they get from these technologies.”
Reliability is a long-term trend, Sergent says.
“We started the study in 1990 and virtually every year we see improvements in dependability. Manufacturers are getting better at designing and building high-quality cars. They learn from the past and avoid their mistakes.”
Tire pressure monitoring systems, which send a warning if a tire gets too low, are high on the list of problematic technologies.
They’re required by law in the U.S., and while not in Canada, many cars sold here have them.
“This one sticks out the most,” Sergent says.
“Lots of consumers are complaining about false readings. It was federally mandated (in the U.S.) for the 2008 model year and so every vehicle has to have one. Previously it was introduced by automakers as a luxury safety feature. Some of them are better than others.”
Overall, Sergent says that when it comes to new electronic features, the vast majority of people find they work as designed, and consumers love the technology. The study only looked at reliability, though, and ease of use is an entirely different story.
“That’s an enormous potential for disappointment for customers, and is a bigger issue than the technology failing to work,” he says.
“Engineers love to design, and a lot of the designs are outstanding in concept, but when you take them to someone who has to live with them on a day-to-day basis, they’re not as easy to use.”