The Auto Industry’s 10 Most Unreliable Vehicles for 2018

Complexity is the culprit for many of the vehicles with repeated reliability issues.
  • Unreliable vehicles share two common traits – needless complexity and careless introduction of new technology -- say engineers from Consumer Reports who studied vehicle reliability for their April, 2018 auto issue.

    The new study, which is separate from the magazine’s assessment of best brands, is based on survey responses from more than half a million vehicle owners. It showed that the vehicles receiving the worst evaluations year after year were aggressive in their use of new, complex, high-tech features. Not coincidently, the products consistently receiving the highest grades were almost universally conservative in their application of new technology.

    “It’s about conservatism and complexity,” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, told Design News. “Whenever you add complexity, you add potential areas of failure. So if you’re going to add complex features, you have to roll them out in a conservative, methodical way.”

    Those who fail to do so risk getting reliability grades like those of the subcompact Ford Fiesta or the all-electric Tesla Model X, Fisher said. The Fiesta was a prime example in this year’s evaluations, having received the lowest of Consumer Report’s overall ratings in six straight years from 2011 to 2016. Problem areas included the transmission, engine, drive system, and in-car electronics.

    ‘When they came out with that vehicle, they put in so many new things,” Fisher told us. “They launched a new infotainment system, a new dual-clutch powershift transmission, and a whole new global platform. And it really hurt their reliability.”

    Similarly, Tesla went for a high-tech image in its Model X, dooming the vehicle’s reliability ratings in its first two model years. “They tried to give it excitement, and they succeeded,” Fisher said. “But to do that, they added needless complexity.” The complexity could be seen in the Model X’s door handles, seats, windshield, and in the multitude of interior motors it employed.

    “Tesla has three models and each one of them has a different door handle mechanism,” Fisher said. “And I would argue that none of them are as good as what you’d find on a Toyota Corolla.” The 2018 Model X starts at $79,500, while the Corolla starts at $18,550, according to the magazine.

    Other common problems seen among the least reliable vehicles include widespread use of nine- and ten-speed transmissions, small-displacement turbos, and complicated new infotainment systems.  

    In the following slides, we offer a peek at the vehicles that received Consumer Reports lowest ratings in multiple years. To see the other low-rated vehicles – ranging from luxury SUVs to entry-level sedans – flip through the following slides.

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  • The Ford Fiesta received a “much worse than average” overall reliability rating from Consumer Reports in six consecutive years from 2011 to 2016. The subcompact exhibited major and minor transmission problems in almost all those years. It also had repeated problems with noises and leaks, as well as issues with its in-car electronics and drive system. Jake Fisher of Consumer Reports attributed the problems to the automaker’s emphasis on excitement. “Good reliability is about being conservative in your design changes,” he said. “With the Fiesta, Ford has been at the opposite extreme.” (Source: Ford Motor Co.)

  • In the two years worth of reliability data collected by Consumer Reports, the Tesla Model X has fared poorly. It received the lowest overall rating in both years. Problem areas have included in-car electronics, noises and leaks, power equipment, climate system, and paint/trim. “They have complexity in the doors – too many moving parts, too many motors,” Fisher said. “The seats are even complex. Their problems all stem from complexity – needless complexity.” (Source: Tesla, Inc.)

  • The Fiat 500 received the lowest overall reliability rating in four straight years from 2012 to 2015. Its list of trouble spots is staggering: engine major and engine minor; engine cooling; transmission major and minor; drive system; fuel system; suspension; brakes, paint/trim; power equipment and in-car electronics. Worse, Consumer Reports reliability prediction for the 2018 model year is “much worse than average.” (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • The Ford Focus is another vehicle that suffered from too many technology introductions. It earned the lowest possible grades in five straight model years from 2012 through 2016. During those years, it received “much worse than average” ratings for its major and minor transmission systems. Other problem areas included its drive system and in-car electronics. “When the Ford Focus got redesigned, they changed everything,” Fisher told us. They had a new platform, new engine, new transmission, new infotainment, and new styling. The writing was on the wall – there were so many chances of having a reliability issue.” (Source: Ford Motor Co.)

  • The Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV has been a repeat offender, landing in the reliability cellar nearly every year from 2010 through 2017. Trouble spots have cropped up all over the car. In-car electronics has been the worst; it had low grades in virtually every year. But power equipment has also been a nagging problem and so has the SUV’s climate system and transmission. The Grand Cherokee’s poor performance in the reliability surveys is actually an exception for Fiat Chrysler, which has climbed very slightly in Consumer Report’s nameplate surveys in the past two years. (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

  • GMC’s Acadia crossover SUV is another vehicle with a multitude of trouble spots. In five of the eight years from 2010 to 2017, the Acadia earned the worst overall grade from Consumer Reports. Its big issue has been the climate system, but suspension, brakes, and power equipment have also emerged as problems. Other GMC vehicles – including the Sierra 2500HD, GMC Terrain, and Yukon XL – have also received poor evaluations, but the Acadia has consistently been the worst of the bunch. (Source: GMC)

  • The tiny Mini Cooper has received poor grades in the Consumer Reports surveys year after year. In five of the eight years from the 2010 to 2017, it earned a “much worse than average” overall assessment. Trouble spots have included engine “minor,” which means oil leaks, accessory belts, pulleys and mounts. It has also exhibited issues with its fuel system, electrical system, climate system, and brakes, as well as noises and leaks. (Source: Mini USA)

  • Chevy’s compact Cruze is a big success, with worldwide sales of more than 500,000 in some years, including its sales in the US, China, Brazil, and Australia. Those big sales, however, mean that data on the Cruze’s reliability is not hard to find. And, unfortunately for Chevy, the data hasn’t painted a pretty picture. From 2011 to 2014, the Cruze earned Consumer Reports’ lowest overall rating. Trouble spots included engine (minor), engine cooling, transmission (major and minor), climate system, brakes, noises and leaks. (Source: Chevrolet)

  • The Chevy Corvette, which features a starting price of $56,490, has long been plagued by reliability issues. For the past four model years (2013 to 2017), the Corvette has received Consumer Reports’ lowest overall reliability rating. Its biggest issue has been in-car electronics, but brakes and cooling have also been identified as problem areas by owners. Recognizing an unfortunate trend, Consumer Reports has published a predicted reliability rating of “much worse than average” for the 2018 Corvette. (Source: Chevrolet)

  • The Dodge Durango SUV is another repeat offender with a long list of problems. The Durango earned Consumer Reports’ lowest overall rating in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2016. Trouble spots are all over the car, including in-car electronics, power equipment, brakes, suspension, climate system, fuel system, drive system, and engine. The only good news on the reliability front is that the downward trend seems to be slowing – the Durango received the lowest overall grade in only one of the past four model years. (Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.  


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