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Car Quality – Consumer Reports

This article examines the contrast between Consumer Reports’ reliability ranking and J. D. Power and Associates’ “dependability” ranking of car brands. To make the comparison, the Hummer, Jaguar, and Land Rover brands are eliminated from the J. D. Power ranking, as they do not appear in the Consumer Reports ranking.

The contrast between Consumer Reports’ 2010 reliability ranking of auto brands, based on serious problems reported in 2009 for model years 2007 through 2009, and J. D. consumer reports Power and Associates’ 2010 “dependability” ranking of auto brands, based on complaints reported for 3-year-old automobiles, is quite stark. A couple of examples demonstrate the point.

By infrequency of serious problems reported by Consumer Reports’ subscribers, the Scion line is the most reliable brand available on the North American market. However, by infrequency of complaints, the Scion brand is ranked 28, or 5 from the bottom, by J. D. Power.

And by infrequency of complaints, Buick is ranked number 3 by J. D. Power, but by infrequency of serious problems, the Buick line is ranked 19, or 15 from the bottom, by Consumer Reports.

Below is a list of the 33 lines appearing in both studies and the absolute value of the difference in their ranks.

Scion: |1 – 28| = 27
Honda: |2 – 7| = 5
Toyota: |3 – 6| = 3
Infiniti: |4 – 13| = 9
Acura: |5 – 10| = 5
Mitsubishi: |6 – 29| = 23
Lexus: |7 – 4| = 3
Hyundai: |8 – 11| = 3
Porsche: |9 – 1| = 8
Mercury: |10 – 5| = 5
Saab: |11 – 15| = 4
Subaru: |12 – 14| = 2
Suzuki: |13 – 33| = 20
Kia: |14 – 20| = 6
Mazda: |15 – 27| = 12
Ford: |16 – 8| = 8
Nissan: |17 – 23| = 6
Volvo: |18 – 21| = 3
Buick: |19 – 3| = 16
Lincoln: |20 – 2| = 18
Volkswagen: |21 – 32| = 11
Pontiac: |22 – 26| = 4
Mercedes-Benz: |23 – 9| = 14
Audi: |24 – 24| = 0
Chevrolet: |25 – 22| = 3
BMW: |26 – 17| = 9
Mini: |27 – 30| = 3
GMC: |28 – 18| = 10
Saturn: |29 – 16| = 13
Jeep: |30 – 31| = 1
Dodge: |31 – 25| = 6
Cadillac: |32 – 12| = 20
Chrysler: |33 – 19| = 14

Twelve (more than one-third) of the above differences are in the double digits.

The very sizable differences in the rankings of many brands likely arise from what the two studies measure – serious problems versus complaints. The complaints may be secondary, tertiary, or even trivial in nature, such as color, size, shape, location, or ease of use of visors, knobs, buttons, levers, or latches, although how J. D. Power screens complaints, if at all, is not set forth in its press releases.

This is not to say that the color, size, shape, location, or ease of use of visors, knobs, buttons, levers, or latches is insignificant; however, most consumers would likely not consider such to be of equal importance to an infrequency of serious problems and would not term such a measure of dependability.

Another difference between the two studies that might account for some part of the difference in car brand ranking is that Consumer Reports’ brand ranking is based on automobile performance for the first 3 years while J. D. Power’s brand ranking is based on automobile satisfaction in the 3rd year. However, the age difference is likely not the reason for any sizable difference between the rankings, as CR’s 0-to-3-year ranking has only modest differences with the brand ranking given by the 2010 Auto Reliability GPA for 2-to-6-year-old vehicles from model years 2004 to 2007, as the absolute values of the differences in rank between the two shown below indicate.

Scion: |1 – 2| = 1
Honda: |2 – 1| = 1
Toyota: |3 – 3| = 0
Infiniti: |4 – 6| = 2
Acura: |5 – 4| = 1
Mitsubishi: |6 – 8| = 2
Lexus: |7 – 5| = 2
Hyundai: |8 – 13| = 5
Porsche: |9 – 9| = 0
Mercury: |10 – 10| = 0
Saab: |11 – 26| = 17
Subaru: |12 – 7| = 5
Suzuki: |13 – 19| = 6
Kia: |14 – 20| = 6
Mazda: |15 – 11| = 4
Ford: |16 – 18| = 2
Nissan: |17 – 16| = 1
Volvo: |18 – 15| = 3
Buick: |19 – 12| = 7
Lincoln: |20 – 14| = 6
Volkswagen: |21 – 22| = 1
Pontiac: |22 – 24| = 2
Mercedes-Benz: |23 – 21| = 2
Audi: |24 – 30| = 6
Chevrolet: |25 – 28| = 3
BMW: |26 – 17| = 9
Mini: |27 – 33| = 6
GMC: |28 – 29| = 1
Saturn: |29 – 25| = 4
Jeep: |30 – 31| = 1
Dodge: |31 – 32| = 1
Cadillac: |32 – 23| = 9
Chrysler: |33 – 27| = 6

All of these differences are in the single digits, save for Saab’s sizable 17, a difference that suggests that the Saab line may offer too little data for a stable reliability rating or ranking.

One useful way for the consumer to utilize both the Consumer Reports survey and the J. D. Power survey is to identify those brands that appear in the Top Ten of both rankings. The Top Ten brands that are common to the two studies offer both a low frequency of serious problems and a low frequency of complaints.

Within the Top Ten of both lists are the brands:

Honda
Toyota
Honda Motor Company’s Acura
Toyota Motor Corporation’s Lexus
Porsche
Ford Motor Company’s Mercury, soon to be retired.

These five marques appear as well in the Top Ten by the 2010 Auto Reliability GPA for the vehicular age range 2-to-6 years.

James Benjamin Bleeker has a B.A. from Carleton College in mathematics, a J.D. from Northwestern University, and an M.S. from the University of Minnesota in mathematics. He has practiced law, and taught Introductory Statistics, Calculus III, Business Calculus, Finite Math, College Algebra, Introductory and Intermediate Algebra and Foundations at various universities and colleges. He currently has two websites – Auto on Info at http://www.AutoOnInfo.net and Cars on Info at [http://CarsOnInfo.net] – which provide detailed auto quality information for cars and trucks sold in North America. For much of the 2000s, AutoOnInfo.net has been the dominant provider of auto reliability and durability information, some of it gathered from its own online surveys and questionnaires and some from the reliability studies of the Consumer Union and CAA. In January of 2002, AutoOnInfo.net received the Open Directory’s Cool Site award for its data-rich tables and graphs. It is the only automobile website to have received the Open Directory award.

 

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