There's good news and bad news regarding the sub-systems of today's late-model vehicles. The good news is that new engines and transmissions are more trouble-free than in the past. The bad news is that the infotainment and DVD players are still prone to be "buggy."
"Cars aren't getting any more reliable," Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer's Union, told Design News. "We're just seeing different things going wrong."
Most of the vehicles tracked in the recent Consumer Reports annual reliability survey of 1.1 million owners received high marks for their powertrain components. Rare exceptions included the Ford PowerShift transmissions, which recorded numerous issues. Four-cylinder and V6 engines in the Chevy Malibu from 2005 to 2008 also had problems, mainly with their fuel systems. Several other vehicles, most notably the Volkwagen Jetta, had problems with check-engine lights.
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MyFord Touch was one of many automotive infotainment systems that drew criticism in Consumer Reports surveys.
(Source: Ford Motor Co.)
For the most part, however, powertrain technology did exceptionally well, Fisher said. "In today's new vehicles, there aren't a lot of powertrain problems," he told us. "People have come to expect 100,000 miles out of their transmissions and engines."
Infotainment and DVD products, however, didn't fare as well. "Infotainment systems were buggy on a large number of vehicles," Fisher told us. "We're seeing a bunch of problems with Fords. We're also seeing problems with some of the Hondas and with Cadillac's CUE system."
Those complaints were especially notable for Ford and GM, both of which have publicized the ease of use of their infotainment systems. Consumer Reports wrote that owners of the 2013 Ford Escape had "lots of grievances" with the MyFord Touch infotainment system, which has been featured in numerous Ford television commercials. Similarly, Cadillac's CUE system was a big source of complaints, despite a highly publicized and concentrated effort by Cadillac to design an easy-to-use infotainment product.
For fans of automotive electronics, however, the news wasn't all bad. Consumer Reports found that some automakers, particularly Audi and Lexus, got high marks for their electronics. "Audi has packed their vehicles with electronics," Fisher said. "They have huge amounts of electronics and connectivity, but they don't have the bugs."
The biggest surprise uncovered by the Consumer Reports' surveys was the improvement of luxury vehicles in electrical systems -- power windows, seats, and door locks. A decade ago, electrical problems plagued those sub-systems, Fisher said. But as such features have grown more commonplace, the problems have trickled down from the luxury arena to entry-level cars.
"We found this weird switch in which the luxury vehicles are now more reliable than the mainstream vehicles," Fisher told us. "It's the first time we've ever seen that."
Fisher said that automakers must ultimately shoulder the responsibility for unreliable parts, even when suppliers don't deliver good products. "The automakers are responsible for quality-checking the suppliers' parts,Ē he told us. "The automaker designs the vehicle and its assemblies. In the end, it's all about the automaker."