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2011 Car Model Reliability Report

February 14, 2014

A recent study has been published by J.D. Power and Associates, a leading marketing information firm, has revealed a significant dip in the reliability of automobiles. The study shows that 2011 model year vehicles are the highest offenders, having been subject to a high number of recalls and a number of consumer complaints.

What makes the study particularly interesting is that it identifies some issues regarding the reliability of major car brands such as Ford, Mini, and Chevrolet which didn’t make headlines. In the midst of a period of recovery in the automotive industry, this study might just shake buyers’ confidence in these major brands.

J.D. Power Study Points the Finger at 4-Cylinder Vehicles

Reliability is a key concern for most car buyers, so to be caught off guard by what amounts to a plague of maintenance and mechanical issues can leave many car buyers with a bad taste in their mouth. These issues were largely centralized around engine and powertrain issues, specifically in 4-cylinder vehicles and heavy-duty diesel engines. J.D. Power noted in their 3-year long reliability study that 5-cylinder engines like those found in many Volkswagens and 6-cylinder engines didn’t appear to have the widespread issues that 4-cylinder drivers were reporting and that, on the whole, 5 and 6-cylinder engines are less likely to have mechanical problems in general.

The Most Reliable Cars of 2011 (and the Least)

We were a bit surprised by this list. At the very top of the list, with the fewest owner complaints overall, is 2011 Lexus LSLexus—Toyota’s luxury line. We thought this was very interesting as Lexus has been reported to have quality-control issues reaching quite a way back. It’s rarely been anything mechanical—usually something related to interior features. Still, it’s nice to see quality cars being made.

Not the Least Reliable, But Worth Mentioning

Among sub-compact cars, the Honda Fit did the best. In the same category, the 2011 Ford Fiesta had notable setbacks —roughly 150,000 of them were recalled due to transmission issues, in addition to a recall for an issue with their side-impact airbags. 2011 was a rough model year for Ford as the 2011 Mustang was also the subject of a TSB (or Technical Service Bulletin) related to an issue with the clutch pedal. A TSB isn’t a recall, but a notice that goes out to all dealer service centers that explaining that there is a known issue and how that issue can be fixed. Unlike a recall, if a TSB is issued the customer may or may not be informed. In most cases, the customer won’t know there’s a problem until they experience the issue themselves and bring the vehicle to a dealer for service.

The Chevrolet Volt managed to earn the title of most reliable compact car, even though the 2011 model wasChevy Volt the subject of an “upgrade” that attempted to install post-factory safety features that provided added protection against the electric car’s battery charger malfunctioning. At least, that’s how they put it. It sounds like a recall to us. Of course, this only affected 8,000 Chevy Volts—so perhaps it really wasn’t a big deal.

By and large, Toyota was the big winner, being the manufacturer of a suite of cars that took the top spot in multiple categories including Luxury Compact (Lexus ES), Midsize (Toyota Camry), Midsize Premium (Lexus GS), and Large Premium (Lexus LS). The Lexus brand took the award for the most reliable car brand for the 2011 model year.

The Least Reliable Cars of 2011 Were a Surprise

Would you believe us if we told you that the 2011 Mini Cooper was the least reliable vehicle in the three 2011 Mini Cooperyear span of this study? We have to admit, we were surprised. The Mini Cooper earned a paltry three out of five stars from J.D. Power which should be an immediate red flag to any car buyer. Recalls for the Mini Cooper covered a pretty wide range of issues, too. Everything from the engine, the turbos, and even the water pump seemed to have widespread issues severe enough to warrant recall. In doing our research on the issue we even found a CNN.com headline that announced a recall of 89,000 Mini Coopers due to a “Fire Risk.” For Mini, these recalls enveloped the 2007 to 2011 models of the Cooper and JCW.

Reliability is About More than Brand Names

While the J.D. Power study does call out specific brands, it’s careful to note that there’s more to the story. Where a vehicle is manufactured actually makes more of a difference than who is manufacturing it. The study points to the long-held public perception that Asian automobiles are more reliable over the long term than are domestics. Even Asian car brands such as Honda or Toyota receive more consumer complaints when the cars are assembled in the States than when the cars are made in their home country and then imported, according to an earlier study. This finding doesn’t bode well for American car industry, still trying to get back on its feet after The Great Recession. It implies that other countries are better at building cars than we are, even as American car companies have rebounded.

Do Your Research, Stay Alert

As a car owner, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by keeping track of active recalls and TSB’s. Don’t wait until you have a problem and don’t wait until you see it on the news; be proactive and take the car to your local dealer and have them make any repairs that might be necessary. You can stay up to date on car safety recalls by visiting nhtsa.org or downloading their recall app which alerts you when a recall has been issued for your specific car. You can also find TSBs on the NHTSA website.

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