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Are the Most Dependable Cars Always from the Same Manufacturers?

January 07, 2018

Someone with little knowledge of car culture in the US, if given a few minutes to absorb comments from laypeople on the net, would come to the conclusion that some brands are infallible and others are total junk. Car enthusiasts praise their favorite brands whilst slandering other brands. You've seen the decals on Chevy windshields; the little smirking kid peeing on the Ford logo. It's the culture. But do any of these forceful opinions (often stated as fact) hold water?

Let's start by stating what should be obvious. Every manufacturer makes reliable vehicles. Nobody owns a car that can't get them to work, day in and day out, for at least seven or eight years at an average commuting distance. A car that failed to do that would simply lose in the marketplace because nobody would buy it.

Manufacturers constantly improve the reliability of their vehicles...until they have to update them. That's when problems usually present themselves, and that's when continuous improvement resets. For example, the Toyota Tacoma was thought to be an "unkillable" truck for more than a decade. Then the third generation, the first Tacoma reboot in eleven years, started having transmission issues at low mileage. These things happen. But are some manufacturers better at making consistently dependable cars that others?

Watch out for Slander and Lack of Context

Here's a tip for all you car shoppers out there. Be careful what you take to heart. Sometimes the claims people make are simply false. Defamation is a real thing that happens all the time, online and offline. Be careful who you trust.

Also, look for context. When you see "My Model S is a reliability nightmare" in a forum somewhere, you will naturally interpret that statement as a confirmation that the Model S is a total waste of money. However, the details don't support that conclusion. Tesla reliability is, in fact, quite strong. The forum member complains of a broken wheel stud, which rarely happens unless a mechanic was at fault. He complains of a door handle which won't present (The Model S's handles are flush with the door until touched, when they pop out so you can open the door), and a battery that needs replacing.

While these are troubles, all brands have troubles. Trouble is common in new models today because so much new technology is involved. Lug nuts start falling apart, A/C fails to cool, the transmission slips. These things happen to every single brand because manufacturers always try to balance on the fence between low cost production and high quality products. What really matters is the warranty that covers your new vehicle and the quality of replacement parts and repairs. As we all know, not all warranties are created equal. Make sure you get a good one, or try a used car with a strong reliability record.

Get an Idea of the Vehicle's Reliability

"Dependable cars" isn't as straightforward as we may have thought. Although, There is a pretty good way to get an accurate risk assessment, so to speak. Find a reputable publisher of reliability, dependability or customer satisfaction. Examples are Consumer Reports and JD Power. Make sure you read about the way the scores are calculated. You want to know exactly what you're looking at. Is it based on the rate at which a vehicle is serviced under warranty? Is it the general customer satisfaction? What questions where the respondents asked, if any? For what model year are the results? Are the results predicted or are they based on data from years of driving? You'll find the answers you want, but be careful in your research.

What you'll find, if you look at the results from a few years, is that the manufacturer's reliability scores vary from year to year. While some are consistently strong, the strongest sometimes drop several spots and the weakest sometimes climb several spots. No, the most dependable cars aren't always from the same manufacturers. However, some manufacturers rarely fall below the top six or seven spots.

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