The Most and Least Reliable Automotive Brands

Vehicle reliability – good or bad – tends to be consistent through every manufacturers’ fleet.
  • Ram, 1500, truck

    Based on owner responses, Ram trucks were named the least reliable brand by Consumer Reports. Brand name reliability scores were based on data from more than half a million vehicles, including 300 models from 2000 to 2016. The Ram 1500 (shown here) exhibited problems with noises, leaks, power equipment ,and in-car electronics from 2011-2015. (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Fiat, 500

    Fiat brand vehicles were named second worst in the nameplate study. The Fiat 500 sub-compact had “much worse than average” reliability in 2012, 2013, and 2015, Consumer Reports said. (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Chrysler, 300

    Chrysler vehicles fared poorly in the study, almost across the board. The Chrysler 300, 200, and Sebring were rated “much worse than average.” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, noted that the automaker has traditionally pursued design attributes that draw its focus away from reliability. “Fiat and Chrysler pride themselves on styling,” he said. “They push concepts that catch your eye. That’s been typical for FCA, while it’s never been the case for Toyota.” (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Dodge

    The Dodge Challenger (shown), Charger, Dart, and Journey received “much worse than average” reliability ratings by Consumer reports. All fared poorly in the in-car electronics and power equipment categories. Fisher of Consumer Reports singled out the Dart’s use of cutting-edge technology as a reason for the low rating. “The Dart has a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, a dual-clutch transmission, and a complex, advanced infotainment system,” he said. “They’re pushing the envelope.” (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) 

  • Tesla, Model X

    Consumer Reports raved about Tesla a few years ago, but over time the automaker has struggled with reliability. In the CR study, it had the fifth worse brand name reliability score. Fisher of Consumer Reports said that the problems haven’t been the electric powertrains but, rather, the use of too much gadgetry. And the Model X, he said, is a prime example of that. “It’s a vehicle with a lot of complexities,” he said. “The amount of electric motors it uses, even in the doors, makes it almost inevitable that it will have reliability problems.” (Source: Tesla Motors)

  • GMC

    General Motors’ GMC truck division fared poorly, accumulating the sixth worse brand reliability score. The GMC Canyon, Sierra 1500, Yukon, and Yukon XL were rated “much worse than average.” (Source: General Motors)

  • Jeep, Cherokee

    FCA’s Jeep nameplate was the seventh worst brand in Consumer Reports’ survey. The popular Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Grand Cherokee did poorly, especially in power equipment and in-car electronics. (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • Volkswagen, Beetle

    Once known for its commitment to quality and reliability, Volkswagen has fared poorly in recent Consumer Reports reliability surveys. The Volkswagen Beetle, Golf, and Rabbit have received “much worse than average” ratings. (Source: Volkswagen)

  • Infiniti

    Infiniti was the biggest mover in Consumer Reports’ 2017 forecast. It jumped 16 places, finishing as the eighth most reliable among 29 automotive brands surveyed. (Source: Infiniti)

  • Hyundai

    Hyundai is another brand on the move, coming in seventh among the world’s most reliable automotive brands. In recent years, the Hyundai Accent, Azera, and Elantra have all received “better than average” ratings in Consumer Reports’ rankings. (Source: Hyundai)

  • Mazda

    Consumer Reports designated Mazda as the sixth most reliable automotive brand. The Japanese automaker, once known for its commitment to the rotary engine, now features a fleet of high-reliability vehicles. The Mazda3, Mazda6, Mazda CX-5, Mazda CX-9, and Mazda MX-5 Miata all received “better than average” ratings up through 2015. (Source: Mazda)

  • Kia

    South Korean automaker Kia has worked its way to the fifth spot in the brand rankings with a stable of high-reliability vehicles. From 2010-2015, the Kia Sorento, Kia Soul, and Kia Sportage have all had stellar reliability ratings. (Source: Kia Motors)

  • Audi

    Five years ago, Audi vehicles ranged from average to “much worse than average” reliability. Now, the German automaker ranks fourth best among nameplates, thanks to the sturdy reliability of the Audi A4, A5, A6, A7, and Q5. (Source: Audi)

  • Buick, Encore

    General Motors’ Buick Division moved into the top three this year, landing ahead of such rivals as Honda, BMW, and Acura. Consumer Reports stated “its core product line is mature, with most problems having been ironed out.” That’s best demonstrated by the Buick Encore (shown here), which garnered an overall rating of “much better than average.” (Source: Buick)

  • Toyota

    No surprise here: Toyota continues its domination of the reliability rankings. The Toyota 4Runner, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Prius C, Prius V, RAV4, Sequoia, and Tundra all received “much better than average” ratings during the period from 2010 to 2015. The only reason it didn’t finish first is that it was beaten by its company’s luxury division, Lexus. About the company’s philosophy, Consumer Reports wrote, “Toyota uses tried-and-true methods to build its vehicles, taking a conservative, evolutionary approach.” (Source: Toyota)

  • Lexus

    Consumer Reports named Lexus as the industry’s most reliable brand. Its vehicles have had an amazing string of top reliability ratings year after year in the ratings. The Lexus ES, for example, has been rated “much better than average” going all the way back to 2008, as has the Lexus RX. What’s more, the Lexus CT 200h, ES, GS, GX, IS, and NX all have “much better than average” new car predictions from Consumer Reports. (Source: Lexus)

When a vehicle exhibits poor reliability, it’s easy to blame the design engineer.

But that may ignore a larger problem.

A recent survey of automotive brands by Consumer Reports suggests that reliability -- good and bad -- runs deeper than the engineering department. In most cases, it can be traced all the way back to the manufacturer’s corporate philosophy. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the engineers at Chrysler, Tesla, and Toyota are all very smart and capable,” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports , told Design News . “The difference lies in the priorities set by the management of those companies.”

Indeed, corporate priorities spell the difference between reliable and unreliable brands, Consumer Reports says. Using data on more than half a million vehicles, including 300 models from 2000 to 2016, the organization predicted the future reliability of established models. And, because corporate philosophy matters, fleet averages played a big role in those predictions.

That’s why Toyota vehicles are consistently at or near the top of the organization’s massive owner surveys, while Chryslers and Fiats consistently bring up the rear, Fisher said.

Fisher contends that automakers who place a high value on tried-and-true technologies, as opposed to complex, high-tech gadgetry, do better in reliability. “With Toyota, we don’t see a lot of small displacement turbos,” he said. “We don’t see a lot of dual clutch transmissions. Those are the technologies that are bogging down some of the other manufacturers.”

Not surprisingly, manufacturers who “nickel-and-dime” their suppliers also suffer in owner surveys, Fisher said. That’s because suppliers who deal with big, high-volume automakers will always aim to please. “An automaker can go to a supplier and say, ‘We want the water pump with the lowest price,’” he said. “Or they can say, ‘We want the part with a simulated life of 300,000 miles.’ Suppliers will meet whatever criteria they’re being judged on.”

The simple takeaway from the Consumer Reports study is that product reliability improves when manufacturers care about -- product reliability. That’s why, for the second straight year, Consumer Reports engineers factored fleet averages into their predictions of future models. When forecasting reliability, a top-down emphasis matters, they said.

“It’s about the common practices of the manufacturers and the consistency of the brands,” Fisher told us. “You can judge a lot about a manufacturer by looking at the quality of their fleet.”

The slideshow above shows the eight best and eight worst automotive brands, as judged by more than half a million owner-respondents, and as compiled by Consumer Reports . The brand ratings provide a convincing snapshot of how corporate philosophy drives product reliability. Scroll through the slides to see the best and worst nameplates.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

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