The recently published Consumer Reports’ 2011 Annual Car Reliability Survey has triggered some bad press for Ford Motor Co, despite the fact many of the issues cited were already on the manufacturer’s radar prior to survey publication. So what’s the upshot of Ford’s fall from grace? A chance for other US brands to share the spotlight. What’s the drawback? It exposes potential timing hiccups between collecting survey results in spring and publishing them in autumn.
Jeep is now considered to be the most reliable domestic brand after moving up seven spots to rank 13th in the survey. Chrysler climbed 12 spots to rank 15th, but their position is based on input for just two models. Why only two models? An inadequate number of samples (<100) for each respective model skews reliability results, and survey timing might not coincide with the new or updated model release calendar.
So why does this survey carry so much weight and where does the information come from? Consumer Reports issues a questionnaire to its online subscribers each spring, asking them to identify serious problems across 17 “trouble areas” that have occurred within the past 12 months. With feedback on 1.3 million vehicles in 2011, Consumer Reports requires a minimum sample of 100 vehicles per model (some with several thousand!) to ensure statistical accuracy. Results are compiled over the summer for survey publication in late October.
Trouble spots referenced in the report span the electrical and climate systems to brakes, power accessories, and of course, the engine and transmission. Subscribers of the survey are also asked to comment on problems covered by warranty, but not basic maintenance items such as brake pads.
In essence, Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge are excelling in reliability as American brands, because of fewer problems reported among the 100+ vehicle samples of models like the Grand Cherokee, 200, and Durango. What readers need to remember is that the reliability ratings aren’t coming from the companies themselves; drivers of these marques are providing concrete information on the performance of their very own cars. Future buyers can find comfort in the fact that their fellow consumers are imparting unbiased information to allow for more informed purchasing decisions. After all, automobiles are a high ticket item on which individuals and their families rely daily, so the results should be just as reliable.