10 of the Auto Industry’s Most Unreliable Vehicles

Consumer Reports’ annual auto issue finds poor reliability in a multitude of used vehicle models. Here are some of the worst offenders.
  • Car buyers have myriad reasons for selecting one model over another, but for many consumers, reliability is paramount. No matter how powerful a car’s engine or how beautiful its styling, breakdowns are unacceptable.

    That’s why, every year, Consumer Reports combs through more than a half-million owner surveys to help characterize the reliability of virtually every major vehicle. Arguably, they’re the best at it, largely because their massive data sets come from the users themselves. Moreover, the information is broken down to cover all major sub-systems, such as engines, transmissions, suspensions, electrical and electronics, among others.

    In years past, Consumer Reports engineers have repeatedly told us that glitzy new technologies are one of the biggest causes of unreliable vehicle performance. “The manufacturers that do better are more conservative in their approach to rolling out new technology,” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumers Union, told Design News last year. “They systematically introduce their technologies bit-by-bit, rather than making big, across-the-board shifts.”

    The underlying message is that the “yawners” – vehicles that draw less attention from car buff magazines – tend to exhibit better reliability. Why? Because they more often employ proven, bullet-proofed technologies.

    Here, we offer a peek at some of the cars that haven’t fared well in Consumer Reports’ studies of used vehicles. We’ll leave it to you to decide why. From Chevys and Cadillacs to Fords and Chryslers, following are snapshots of some of the auto industry’s biggest offenders.    

  • The Fiat 500 has been a repeat offender, receiving “much worse than average” reliability ratings from Consumer Reports in multiple years. Problem areas for the 500 include transmission, drive system, suspension, brakes, noise, paint, trim and power equipment. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • In the 2014, 2015, and 2016 model years, the Chevy Suburban received an overall rating of “much worse than average.” Its most problematic areas were in-car electronics, power equipment, body hardware and noise/leaks, according to Consumer Reports. (Image source: Chevrolet)

  • Many vehicles don’t exhibit problems in their first year, but the Tesla Model X has had reliability issues from the get-go. In-car electronics, power equipment, body hardware and climate controls were the big culprits in its only year of data. Consumer Reports’ prediction for 2017: much worse than average. (Image source: Tesla, Inc.)

  • The Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle received an overall owner reliability rating of “much worse than average” in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Engine cooling, drive system, suspension, power equipment and in-car electronics were its biggest problems, said Consumer Reports. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • In the four model years from 2011 to 2014, more than 3% of Ford Fiesta owners complained of major and minor transmission problems. Other problem areas included drive system and suspension. The Fiesta received an overall Consumer Reports “much worse than average” rating in four of the five model years between 2011 and 2015. (Image source: Ford Motor Co.)

  • The Ram 2500 full-size pickup exhibited numerous problems between 2012 and 2015, including fuel system, suspension, brakes, exhaust, paint/trim, and power equipment. It received “much worse than average” overall ratings in 2012, 2014, and 2015 – the only years when it was rated by Consumer Reports. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Going all the way back to 2009, used Volkswagen Jettas have exhibited a multitude of problems, the most prominent being the fuel system. Other problem areas include climate system, noise/leaks and power equipment. Consumer Reports has assigned the Jetta a “much worse than average” rating in four of the last eight model years. (Image source: Volkswagen AG)

  • The Cadillac ATS received poor owner reliability ratings in 2013 and 2015, largely on the basis its climate system, in-car electronics and power equipment. Consumer Reports also gave it a “much worse than average” new car prediction for 2017. (Image source: Cadillac)

  • The popular Jeep Grand Cherokee keeps getting dinged by Consumer Reports year after year, with little change. It received the lowest overall reliability ratings in four of the last seven years it was evaluated, dating back to 2009. Problem areas are all over the board, from transmission and fuel system to electrical, suspension, power equipment and in-car electronics. (Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • GM’s highly-publicized Chevy Volt earned average reliability ratings in its first few years, then dropped sharply during the past two. Problem areas include its drive system and in-car electronics. The bigger issue, though, is that Consumer Reports gives a “much worse than average” new car prediction to the Volt for 2017. (Image source: Chevrolet)   

 

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

 

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Comments

"The more conservative companies" translates to the copy-cats that wait until others deliver something new and then copy it the following year. Always a way to avoid engineering expenses and overcome a lack of creativity. It should be clear as to which nation's auto industry I am referencing, (not American). And with bean counters second guessing every engineering decision good designs seldom reach production unscathed.

Recent biggest copy cat would be GM. They waited until Toyota had a viable hybrid before they made their hybrid. They just put a bigger battery in and called it a Volt. System diagram of the drivetrain is the same. In general, every manufacture have bean counters. Sounds like you have more of a bias towards a particular manufacture.

One problem with averages is that they are a floating point. The comments have always been that cars today are more reliable than cars in the past. It would be interesting to compare a 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 1999 Toyota Camry. I actually drive a 1999 Camry (got last year with 55K miles from my mother-in-law's 101 year old mother...), and it is probably the best car I have ever driven.

Today's reliability is due largely to the ability to manufacture components to much closer tolerances than ever before. The complaints seem to be mainly how all those components are put together and higher expectations on how long they should last. Also, yesterday's "minor" repair at a dealership at $25/hour is now a "major" repair when you need to remove 30 fasteners in order to even see the defective part and all this is happening at $125/hour.

Bob, your points are valid. And for a car built in the 70's those comments would be 100% on target. However, with today's sensors, computers, electronics, etc, the number of factors going into a reliability calculation has increased tremendously, which actually hurts the reliability of a vehicle. So, I still wonder about the overall reliability of these new cars.

Guy.. requires the security feature of "tracking content" in FireFox... to be turned "off". A dubious/questionable requirement for reviewing this content. Others? they simply accept their browsing experience to be tracked.

I am not surprised that electronics is causing so much problem. Seems like machining got good enough for parts to last more than 100,000 miles so we throw in touch screens for conveniences to entertainment when your just suppose to drive in that rush hour traffic. Rebuilt a dodge and it was no fasteners and all clips and xmas tree nails that hold the panels on. progress, $$$, put it in the junk pile even though it was new and minor damage.

I also have a problem viewing the slideshow - I can only see the first page. Tried Firefox and IE11 at work, both with completely standard settings. I never had any problem with yor website previously.

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