Tag Archives: car repairs

Consumer Reports Survey: Most & Least Reliable Cars

Consumer Reports Survey - Most & Least Reliable Cars

Both for car owners and carmakers, probably one of the most important pieces of media that comes out each year is the Consumer Reports Guide to Car Reliability. This study is critical for a couple of reasons: one is the Consumer Reports model (taking no advertising funds to maintain total objectivity). The other is the issue of reliability as a key factor in an automobile. Everyone who owns a motor vehicle should care about its reliability so that they are better protected from getting stuck out somewhere on the side of the road. Plus, you do not want your car to keep returning to the shop even if your mechanic is honest and experienced; you need it to commute, run errands, and get to social events. Since reliability is such a paramount concern of car owners, it is a factor that will have a huge influence on long-term general satisfaction; plus, it helps boost the resale value of a car.


The most recent version of the CR guide was released on October 19, 2017. This article summarizes the findings of the survey, providing the methods used for study; a general overview and highlights; and the cars that landed in the top 10 and bottom 10.


Nearly two-thirds of a million cars assessed


We often hear “factoids” on the news stated out of context. When something is reported in the newspaper, on a commentary TV show, or on the Internet, it is often a statement that is cited in the absence of a strong foundation (which may exist but is given little coverage). When Consumer Reports says a certain model is reliable or unreliable, what is it using as its information for these scores?


This annual poll is based on information of nearly two-thirds of a million cars – 640,000 of them. The advantage of this massive number of cars is that it means there are usually hundreds of samples of each car, with the magazine estimating there are usually “about 200 to 400 samples for each model year.” This survey is released once a year but is actually the result of about 6 months of data collection and analysis. The reliability information used for the guide comes directly from Consumer Reports consumers.


The Annual Questionnaire is sent out in the spring of each year (so the 2018 one is already nearly underway). The questionnaire asks about any issues people have had with their vehicles during the previous year. The researchers request that readers respond with major car problems that led to significant expense, danger, downtime, or malfunction. The magazine asks that owners mention car challenges regardless of warranty inclusion; however, it also asks that drivers omit issues that arose from a recall or a collision – so that day-to-day operability remains the point of focus. The data is collected via checkboxes but also through open-ended short answers.


The data is 100% new for each annual report, with previous reports used only for comparison purposes with the new results. After starting the collection process in the spring, the research team is able to get all the data organized by the end of the summer. At that point, analysis begins, leading up to the late-October publication.


Why are new cars suspect?


You have probably heard plenty of people suggest how much value a new car loses the moment you drive it off the sales lot. If that steep and immediate reduction in value is unconvincing by itself, this report could tip the balance in favor of a used car. Both entirely new models and newly updated existing versions of models have something frustrating in common: both these types of models (the latest but not-so-greatest?) have a higher rate of engine and transmission issues, as well as a greater incidence of failure of innovative tech components.


That’s right: the technology that we hear praised so much in media coverage may not be your reliability partner. A key example is the technology that underscores your transmission, which has been a primary point of focus for engineers wanting to enhance a car’s fuel-efficiency. Bad shifting and total failure have been reported among owners of the many continuously variable, eight-speed, and nine-speed models that were released in recent years. These transmission types are not always problematic; however, many have issues when they are initially incorporated into cars. “[M]any owners have reported issues with them breaking down or shifting badly,” notes Anita Lam, the magazine’s associate director of data integration.


Rough shifting (leading to lurching of the car) was a typical issue reported in the 2017 Buick LaCrosse, for example; the 2016 Hyundai Tucson and 2015 Acura TLX have similar problems. The analysis of 2017 redesign issues by the magazine focuses on the GMC Acadia and Subaru Impreza as having issues as well.


You also may have problems with infotainment systems in newly released cars (or model years in which those technologies are first introduced). An infotainment system has various capabilities, including allowing you to stream your music playlists, call people, and get directions as you drive. People who were driving cars that had the first-year releases of these systems experienced more than 100% as many issues with technologies as those who owned models that did not have major tech updates.


A key example model with this type of infotainment issue is the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace, which both has problems with its InControl system and a leaking differential. The 2015 Jeep Renegade has issues with its drive system, power equipment, electronics, and transmission. The Tesla Model X has problems related to its trim and paint, as well as its falcon-wing doors. The 2016 Volvo XC90 may come with leaks and noises, brake problems, breakdowns in power equipment, or failure of the electronic systems.


These issues may not be apparent right at the beginning of your ownership of the car. The Chevrolet Cruze performed excellently during its first year, based on the Consumer Reports data for its year out of the gates. Nonetheless, both the 2016 and 2017 versions received poor ratings for reliability: transmission, engine, fuel/emission, and power equipment problems have all emerged in both model years.


It may be confusing why carmakers are unable to fix more of these issues prior to a car’s release. The real issue is that it can be difficult to know what will happen with the machine in every type of real-world setting, especially over the long term, notes the magazine. The Consumer Reports director of auto testing, Jake Fisher, advises that “mass production and a wide range of real-life driving scenarios multiply the number and nature of problems that can arise in a new model.”


Car reliability: best & worst 10 lists


Here are the most and least reliable models, according to the poll.


Least reliable cars:


Chevrolet Camaro

Mercedes-Benz GLC

Jaguar F-Pace

GMC Acadia

Fiat 500

Ford Focus

Ford Fiesta

Volvo XC90

Cadillac Escalade

Tesla Model X.


Most reliable cars:


Kia Niro

Subaru BRZ / Toyota 86

Lexus ES

Lexus GS

Audi Q3

Toyota RAV4

Lexus IS

Toyota Prius V

Toyota Prius C

Infiniti Q70.


An honest Boulder mechanic


You want a reliable car, of course. The above information should help you narrow down your options when making a purchase. The other major piece that you want is a trustworthy and experienced mechanic for those times when your car does become unreliable or otherwise needs a fix.


At Independent Motors, we believe great service starts with open, honest communication. Meet our staff.

Terrible News: The Most Expensive Car Repairs

The Most Expensive Car Repairs

“I have terrible news.” You have probably heard these words, or similar ones, from a mechanic. They are unpleasant words for anyone who doesn’t want to spend all their money on their vehicle – and the amount we spend on our cars each year is astounding. Let’s quickly look at the statistics on yearly transportation expenses in the United States, then review 5 of the biggest car repair expenses you can encounter.


Household transportation costs down to $9049


You may never have felt compelled to leaf through the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. However, it is one way to find out about prevalence of certain behaviors and how we compare – for instance, in terms of the amount of money we spend on our cars. The BLS’s 2016 Consumer Expenditures data shows that the average total expenditures for 2016 per household was $57,311, which was a 2.4 percent rise over 2015. Six of the eight major categories that delineate consumer spending increased: cash contributions (+ 14.4%); personal insurance and pensions (+ 7.6%); healthcare (+ 6.2%); housing and food (+ 2.6%); and entertainment (+ 2.5%). Thankfully, some costs did fall last year – apparel and related services (- 2.3%), and transportation (- 4.8%).


Related: “Skipping Car Maintenance Can Be Expensive”


Transportation is divided into vehicle purchases; fuel and motor oil; and a miscellaneous “other” category that includes costs such as repairs, maintenance, insurance, finance charges, licenses, leases, and rentals. The main reason that transportation spending went down was because the first category, purchases, was down significantly: 9.1%. Not only were people not spending as much buying cars, but they also were not spending as much fueling them, with gasoline and motor oil spending dropping 8.7%. (Fuel and motor oil costs, notably, have been dropping each year since 2012.) The second largest spending category within transportation is the miscellaneous category that includes repair and maintenance. That spending number was actually up 4.6%.


Here are the raw numbers for the transportation section of the BLS data from 2014-2016, with total amount and percent growth (if you really want to get in deep):


  • Total transportation spending: 2014 – $9,073; 2015 – $9,503 (+ 4.7%); 2016 – $9,035 (- 4.8%);
  • Car purchases: 2014 – $3,301; 2015 – $3,997 (+ 21.1%); 2016 –  $3,634 (- 9.1%).
  • Fuel and motor oil: 2014 – $2,468; 2015 – $2,090 (- 15.3%); 2016 – $1,909 (- 8.7%).
  • “Other” (repairs, maintenance, etc.): 2014 – $2,723; 2015 – $2,756 (+ 1.2%); 2016 – $2,884 (+ 4.6%).


As the site for NPR’s Car Talk notes, there are a few things that you really DO NOT want to hear from your mechanic. These things of course correspond to some really nasty repair bills.


Here are a few of those nightmare repair situations – those things you don’t want to hear (but sometimes have to in order to get your car back on the road):


“Your transmission is shot.”


9 out of every 10 times someone has their transmission go down, it is because the car owner simply did not change the transmission fluid, according to Auto Service Online (per Australian car service site Canstar). Many car owners do not get their fluids change as often as they should; typically, this should happen every two or three years.


Related: “The 10 Most Common Car Repairs”


Neglecting to change the fluids is not the only reason you might need a transmission replacement, though: these failures can also result from poor driving practices, whether that means pushing excessively hard on the shifter with an automatic car or “riding the clutch” with a manual model.


Price tag: If a person does not carefully monitor and change out the transmission fluid at those regular intervals, the eventual replacement (depending on your model) will typically be more than $2000 (sometime much more).


“We are retiring your catalytic converter.”


One of the most important tools on your car related to environmental sustainability is the catalytic converter. Generally one of these parts will last the entire life of an automobile. However, often a collision will hurt the “cat” (and it does not have nine lives…). Your catalytic converter can also go south if your engine is burning excess oil or if you use fuel additives that are unhealthy to the car. One thing about this expense is that you could save some money from making the replacement yourself; however, according to auto repair guide Haynes Manuals, “most of the cost is in the part, which contains precious metals like gold, palladium, and rhodium.”


Price tag: Depending on your model, the cost to replace a catalytic converter will often exceed $3000. Haynes Manuals suggests that, on average, 85% of a catalytic converter repair bill is the part itself, with labor only accounting for 15%.


“Your head gasket blew it.”


The head gasket must be in proper operational order if you want to protect your engine. That is because it is responsible for preventing oil and coolant leakage into the engine, which can lead to overheating. If your head gasket is giving out, you will often start to see white smoke, leaked coolant, or oil discoloration. Regardless the signs you see, the engine will not last long under these conditions.


Price tag: It will not cost you too much money for a gasket; however, the process to replace it can be expensive – so the labor bill can get high. The head gasket is a direct flip of a catalytic converter bill, actually; Haynes shows that the part is typically just 15% of the bill. Often the cost that will arise from a blown head gasket is greater than $1500, depending on the model.


“We must change your alternator.”


The alternator is a component that lasts a long time – usually around 50,000 to 100,000 miles. However, like other car parts, it experiences wear-and-tear that can lead to failure. Similar to the way that a blown head gasket can lead to engine trouble, a downed alternator feeds into bigger problems: it shuts off your vehicle’s electrical system.


Price tag: These parts are expensive – as with the catalytic converter, you won’t save significantly by doing the work yourself since labor is a small portion of the complete bill. The part takes up an average 83% of the total bill for an alternator replacement. Depending on the specifics, repair often costs more than $500.


“Your timing belt is out of time.”


To understand why a timing belt will fail, it helps to look to the concept of the interference engine, which is the modern design replacement for the non-interference engine. The newer variety allows the valves to open more widely and into the path of the piston as it rises. This design allows for better ventilation of the engine, resulting in greater power and more impressive fuel-efficiency. You will sail smoothly with your interference engine until something goes awry with the timing. Think about it: when the valves open, your piston is down. When the piston is up, the valves are closed and will not get in the piston’s way. “If your timing belt breaks or jumps a notch on an interference engine,” noted Car Talk, “the piston smashes the valves, and you need a valve job… at least.”


Price tag: Replacing the timing belt can often cost you more than $1500, depending on the specifics of your model. The part itself typically accounts for about 52% of the total repair cost.


Honest, independent Boulder mechanic


The above are examples of huge expenses that can result from car ownership; no matter how big a repair or maintenance job you need, though, you want to be able to trust that your mechanic is being straightforward.


Are you looking for an honest mechanic in Boulder? At Independent Motors, 90% of the auto repair we do is repeat business. See our beliefs.