For most car owners, the most desirable feature isn’t torque, horsepower, or connectivity. It’s reliability. Most people need to get to work, to the grocery store, to soccer practice, and to myriad other destinations, and they want to get there uneventfully. The last person they want to visit is the dealership mechanic.
Of course, we all know it doesn’t always work that way. Some cars are more needy than others. They can’t seem to make it through a week without calling attention to some little problem they’re having.
Here, we list a few of those needy cars, based on amazingly detailed data gathered by the Consumers Union from a survey of 1.1 million car owners. The cars in this list are some of the worst from 2013, getting the lowest possible overall rating from Consumer Reports. For more detailed information about your car or one you’ve got your eye on, we encourage readers to learn more here (subscription required).
Click on the Chevy Camaro V6 below to start the slideshow.
Consumer Reports’ readers dinged the Chevy Camaro V6 for its climate system, paint, and trim. The sports car also exhibited problems with its torque converter. (Source: Consumer Reports)
I leased my 2009 Honda Accord with 7 miles on it. Within the first week, it had to go in overnight so the dealer could replace the timing belt. The second week, they had to take it for another overnight stay to replace the steering wheel column. The third week, yet another overnight stay so they could rework the rotors and brakes. Everytime I talked to someone at the dealership or at Honda corporate, their response was, "You have a warranty, what's your problem?". Based on how the car worked before and after going in, how they dealt with and reported these and a few other problems, it felt like they "fixed" the issues, under-reported what they really did and then tried to make it sound like I was an idiot for having raised a complaint in the first place. Fortunately it was a relatively short lease!
I never put much stock in Consumer Reports ratings, since they tend to focus more on "initial quality" or 5 years max. Seems most of their readers buy new and sell a car after a few years. They seem to weight minor squeaks as important as drivetrain reliability. As a mechanical engineer, I am a bottom-feeder, usually paying no more that $2000 for a used car, so I care most how a car works 10 yrs out and what the parts cost. I learned when young the true cost of a new car, often having to go to the dealer for rare and expensive parts the first 5 years. It is refreshing that the article calls out the Honda Accord. The Accord and Camry have been CR darlings for decades, sometimes appearing too buddyish. Even Toyota recently admitted to their slip towards cheapiness to save a nickle, aka Detroit of old. If you want affordable repairs and parts 10 yrs out, it is hard to beat a high-volume base car. That used to mean a Chevy, but any Ford, Chrysler, or Japanese with with high-volume work too. Even later Mercedes cars sometimes have affordable parts, though another part can still break you. Luxury cars are much more difficult and expensive to maintain, even GM.
"I started out with late 1960s British sports cars (as did many of my friends). They were fun, but we got to the point where we had to rebuild them fairly often."
Hallelujah! I still not-so-fondly recall driving 60 miles in a borrowed car to Wichita, KS, to look through the maintenance manual and order a part for my 1962 Sunbeam Alpine from the nearest US dealer. It never came, and a machine shop came to my rescue. And having a salvaged Lucas voltage regulator from a junkyard in LA express-shipped to Oklahoma (pre-Fedex/UPS, this was a Big Deal). Fun times!
These days my sports car is a 1991 Lotus Elan, a year when they used GM electrics and an Isuzu engine. The average Auto Zone can get almost anything I need except a body part!
I also have three German cars. Consumer Reports doesn't hate them but has a very realistic position on them. I got rid of a Boxter after 7 years when maintenance became more expensive than insurance in metro NY. I'm having trouble selling a BMW at anything near blue book because it's difficult to find someone willing to gamble on repair costs out of warranty. If you must have a German car, it makes more sense to lease it, give it back, and get a new one. Service, reliability, and repair issues matter a lot less under those conditions.
bobengr: In my case, my cars have NEVER visited the dealer's shop. And rarely any other shop (like paint or bodywork, or wheel alignment).
I perform almost all maintenance at home. And it is not much, really. Like periodic sparkplug changes (on turbocharged engines that do not like platinum tipped plugs), oil changes complete with flush and filter change, Combustion chamber cleaning using Chrysler foam (to help with severe local emissions testing)... a few sensor replcements (Oxygen sensor, one or two TPS, etc. and a couple of timing belt/coolant pump replacements together with hoses, nothing more than $40 or $50 a piece. Anything additional to that would make me think my car is terribly sick! And just looking at the rates for mechanics along the life of the vehicle makes me happy I've been able to save more than enough for another car, just from refraining from visiting the shop! But I simply cannot find what can be done to a contemporary car every 3,000 miles or so. I would be happy to know what kind of problems have your cars presented, that have not been completely solved, and how those services have helped you.
Trying to argue with a manager in a "Status-Quo" industry is like fighting city hall. The idiots are in power, and you are considered a fool ..... by an idiot.Detroit in 1974 should have seen the writing on the wall; as should have the telecom giants in the 90's.Its so easy to spot incompetence in History, isn't it-?
I know what you're saying, Bunter. I thought my cars were pretty good when they got 100,000 miles. But now I have one with 209,000 miles on it, almost no repairs, and I plan to go to 250,000. I now look back at the old 100,000-mile car and wonder what I was thinking back then.
SOme of it probably is denial. But I think some is simply what you are used to.
If you are used to a certain level of reliability and have been satisfied that is what "reliable" looks like to you. You sincerely believe it "normal" even if it is statistically sub-par.
Also, in general all brands are improving, thus my new brand x car is better than the previous which was better than the one before that...etc. So, I'm happy, and that is OK.
Cars are a major purchase and noone like to feel he/she was foolish on a major decision-especially one that is emotional and for many tied to deeper ideas like patriotism. Evidence to the contrary can mean painfull changes and doubt.
I suspect those with less reliable brands typically have no idea how little trouble some of the rest of us have with our cars. I hear them talk about the latest repair and think "how do they put up with it". But a reliable car is remakable in how little attention it draws to itself.
The trick is "seeing the un-seen" (to borrow a concept from Bastiat in economics).
I have a good friend who owns three German cars and he is convinced that Consumer Reports hates all European vehicles. I've told him that the reliabity ratings are based on more than a million responses, and not on a single person's bias, but he'll have none of it.
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