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Which automobile manufacturer is the most reliable?

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Cars have certainly come along way over the past few decades.  It used to be normal to see cars broken down at the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck.  But this is a rare occurrence with today’s modern vehicles.  With sophisticated computer monitors and sensors on almost every major component, cars are much more reliable today than they ever were.  But not all cars are made the same way, and some manufacturers simply have better engineering and more reliable cars.

If you study reliability long enough, you start to notice recurring themes. Those are general principles that cut across pretty much all models and brands, and serve as good advice for anyone in the market for a new vehicle. Here are three key insights.

Lesson 1: Reliability within a brand can vary

Not all vehicles made by the same manufacturer are equally reliable.  For example, Ford’s Expedition SUV is impressive, but the Fiesta and Focus have persistent reliability issues. And Audi is in the top five brands, but its small A3 ranked below average.  A few top performers like Toyota and Lexus are above average for their entire product range.

Lesson 2: Wait a Year or Two Before Buying a New or Redesigned Model

It’s common to experience some issues with new models or after re-designs, which typically occur every 3-5 years.  Manufactures usually address these issues in subsequent versions, but it can take a year or two to work out the bugs.  Even the redesigned Toyota Tacoma pickup was unreliable in its first year, and it took three years after being redesigned for the Ford Escape to improve to average reliability. When a car model is brand new or “completely redesigned,” that can mean new parts, new systems—and new unforeseen problems.

Lesson 3: Increased Complexity can Lead to Increased Problems

It’s also wise to avoid complicated new systems. In the past few years, Ford introduced its troublesome MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch infotainment systems, as well as a dual-clutch automated transmission in its Fiesta and Focus that also had significant problems. Honda and Acura have fallen in their rankings as owners have been stymied by problematic infotainment systems and transmissions as well. Models with less complex infotainment systems or proven transmissions fared far better.

Reliability Rankings

For 2016, Consumer Reports converted its predicted reliability score to a 0-to-100-point scale, with those brands scoring between 41 and 60 points deemed reliable. Those with scores above that range were considered more reliable, and those below that range less reliable. Lexus was the overall No. 1 brand with Toyota right behind it, remaining unchanged from last year’s study. Lexus and Toyota have finished one-two for the last four years.

The biggest surprise this year was Buick, who jumped 4 spots into third place to become the first US auto brand to rank in the top 3 since the rankings began in 1980.  Buick has bucked the trend of other GM brands by staying away from pickups and large SUV’s that are often problematic.

Among individual models, the five most reliable vehicles were the Toyota Prius, Lexus CT 200h, Infiniti Q70, Audi Q3 and Lexus GX. The five least reliable vehicles were, in order of least reliable, the Cadillac Escalade, Ford Focus, Jeep Renegade, Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL and Chrysler 200.

Following Buick was Audi at No. 4, the highest-ranked European brand. Kia came in fifth, followed by Mazda, Hyundai, Infiniti (the biggest mover, up 16 spots), BMW and Honda to round out the top 10.

Honda has been a staple in the top 5 for decades, however problems with the 9-speed transmission in its new Pilot models and below average infotainment systems have plagued the company recently.  The redesigned Honda Civic, which was North American Car of the Year for 2016, hindered the brand overall with its much worse than average reliability.

Subaru, Volvo and Volkswagen all fell in the 2016 study. Subaru, down six spots and out of the top 10, was hurt by the 2016 Legacy and Outback falling to average. The WRX/STI dropped to below average.  Every Volkswagen model besides the Tiguan had below-average reliability as the brand dropped nine spots.

Consumer Reports requires at least two models with sufficient data in order to be included in its brand reliability rankings, making Tesla eligible in this year’s study, thanks to the Model X.  Tesla ranked No. 25 with a score of 28.  “The Model X launched with abundant problems, including frequent malfunctions of the falcon-wing doors, water leaks and infotainment and climate-control system problems,” Consumer Reports said. The Model S, however, improved to average reliability in 2016.

The rest of the Detroit 3 didn’t fare as well as Buick.  Chevrolet, the second-highest American brand, was up five spots to No. 15. Cadillac was up four spots to No. 21 while GMC dropped five spots to No. 24, hurt by its large SUVs and pickups.  Ford’s dual-clutch automatic transmissions continued to afflict the Fiesta and Focus, as the brand dipped one spot to 18. Lincoln dropped four spots to No. 20.

Fiat Chrysler had another rough outing with the 2016 study. No Fiat or Ram vehicle received even an average reliability rating. Only the Chrysler 300, Dodge Grand Caravan and Jeep Patriot received an average or better score.  FCA brands landed at the bottom of the ranking, with Jeep at No. 23 (up four spots), Dodge at No. 26 (down three spots), Chrysler at No. 27 (down five spots), Fiat at No. 28 (unchanged) and Ram at No. 29 (down three spots).

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