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Really? This Is America's Most Dependable Automotive Brand?

The U.S. auto industry announced in 2013 that it was back in full force with unit sales increasing to 15.6 million, up better than 7% from 2012, and crossing the 15 million mark for the first time since 2007.

A combination of an improving economy, lower unemployment rates, and historically low lending rates have encouraged consumers to jump into what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase their dream car at a very attractive lending rate.

Needless to say, a lot of thought and effort goes into which car a consumer will purchase. Consumers often look at fuel economy, read reviews online, test drive the vehicle (perhaps a number of times), ask for advice from family and friends, and also plot out how much they're willing to spend on their vehicle over the life of a loan if they choose to finance it.

Source: Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr.

One thing that consumers often overlook, though, is the dependability of the vehicle they're considering buying. For a new car buyer, the expectation is that they'll encounter few maintenance problems for the first couple of years, and if they do, that their warranty will cover those snafus. For a used car purchaser, dependability is everything since there's rarely any warranty attached to a used car purchase.

Not only is dependability important for your pocketbook in that more dependable vehicles will cost less to maintain, but it's also the silent advertiser for a brand. As J.D. Power & Associates has demonstrated through its research, 56% of car owners who report having no problems return to the same brand, while 42% who reported three or more problems kept their same brand of vehicle with their next purchase. Therefore, vehicle dependability can, at least partially, help us predict which brands' sales may move higher and which brands may struggle based on this vehicle dependability-brand loyalty correlation.

America's five most dependable automotive brands
To that end I turn to J.D. Power & Associates annual vehicle dependability study for 2014. The study itself looks at three-year-old models from a number of brands (i.e., all 2011 models) and asks consumers if they experienced one or more of 202 noted problems. J.D. Power then ranks those car brands from top to bottom based on how many problems were reported per 100 vehicles, commonly known as its PP100 metric. Dependability is especially important this year when you consider that J.D. Power's study uncovered the first rise in reported problems, especially engine and transmission problems, since 1998!

Let's have a look at the five top automotive brands according to J.D. Power's study and then note what brands really stood out, as well as which brands faltered.

As a warning, you may be shocked to discover which brand decisively took the No. 1 spot in vehicle dependability!

No. 5: Buick (112 problems per 100 vehicles)
Rising from the sixth spot into the top five this year is Buick, owned by General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) which had consumers report just 112 problems per 100 vehicles as opposed to 118 PP100 in last year's study from J.D. Power. The real standout for Buick was the Lucerne which took top honors in the large car category, besting Toyota's (NYSE: TM  ) Avalon and Ford's (NYSE: F  ) Taurus. As Foolish auto analyst John Rosevear notes, Buick is doing a really nice job transitioning into a global brand.

No. 4: Acura (109 problems per 100 vehicles)
Honda Motors'  (NYSE: HMC  )  Acura was another big mover in 2014, vaulting higher by four spots to fourth place from eighth with 109 PP100 reported compared to 120 PP100 last year. Like GM's Buick, Acura only took top honors in one category (compact premium CUV) with its RDX, but it also claimed a tie for the third-highest rating in the midsize premium CUV category with the Mercedes-Benz M-class. Honda and Acura are relatively synonymous with economical but dependable vehicles in the U.S., making this ranking not too surprising.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V, Source: IFCAR, Wikimedia Commons.

No. 3: Cadillac (107 problems per 100 vehicles)
Chalk up another victory for General Motors which can claim its second top-five brand for dependability in Cadillac. Year over year, Cadillac surged 11 spots to No. 3, with vehicle owners reporting only 107 PP100 compared to 128 PP100 last year. This huge jump came in only second to Jaguar which vaulted 13 spots higher in J.D. Power's rankings. Cadillac took home the top honors for its large premium CUV, the Escalade, as well as large premium car, the DTS, which tied for the top spot with the Lexus LS. Cadillac has certainly done its best to focus its efforts on a slightly younger crowd, and these improved dependability ratings should help.

No. 2: Mercedes-Benz (104 problems per 100 vehicles)
Jumping three spots in 2014 to No. 2 with only 104 PP100 compared to 115 PP100 reported in the prior year is Daimler's (NASDAQOTH: DDAIF  ) Mercedes-Benz. What's particularly interesting here is that Mercedes-Benz didn't win any of the 22 vehicle categories as outlined by J.D. Power, but it did place or show in quite a few which speaks to its overall consistency. Mercedes-Benz ranked second in midsize premium car with its E-Class sedan/wagon, second in large premium CUV with its GL-class, second in compact premium CUV with its GLK-class, and tied for third with the Acura MDX in the midsize premium CUV category with its M-class. Simply put, if consumers are going to pay a premium price, they expect premium results, and Mercedes-Benz appears to be delivering on that promise.

And the real shock (at least to me)...

2011 Lexus RX 450, Source: IFCAR, Wikimedia Commons.

No. 1: Lexus (68 problems per 100 vehicles)
I guess it shouldn't be that much of a shock since Toyota-owned Lexus was first in last year's ratings as well, but I recall shortly after I got my license, nearly two decades ago, how I was admonished from buying a Lexus because of their dependability issues. This rating simply confirms how far the brand has come in less than two decades as its PP100 of just 68 is light years ahead of second-place Mercedes-Benz, and even lower than the 71 PP100 that J.D. Power reported last year. Lexus tied its LS for top large premium car with the Cadillac DTS, was the top midsize premium car with the GS, and nabbed both the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in compact premium car with the ES and IS, and midsize premium CUV with the RX and GX.

Here are J.D. Power's full rankings based on PP100:

Source: J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.

Obviously brands in the top five can be construed as winners, but General Motors, Toyota, and Honda deserve special recognition since they brought home eight, seven, and six, of the top category awards, respectively – that's 21 of 22 categories won by just three companies!

As I stated above, Toyota and Honda generally build no-frill vehicles, choosing instead to focus on improving fuel economy and storage space. The end result for years has been a reliable vehicle that will get the consumer from point A to B with ease, and without too many automotive issues.

The real shock here is the dominance by General Motors' vehicles and the total absence of Ford, save for a runner-up effort in the midsize pickup category with its Ranger. GM is hoping to translate these key wins into strong sales for its recently redesigned trucks, the Silverado and Sierra, which it hopes will give Ford's dominant F-Series a run for its money. Early sales of GM's Silverado have been mixed with winter weather and parts shortages eating into total unit sales, but as Foolish auto guru John Rosevear recently pointed out, it's actually spending fewer days on dealership lots than either of its foes, signaling that GM may indeed be on the up-and-up.

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Read/Post Comments (36) | Recommend This Article (27)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 3:14 PM, savior wrote:

    Not exactly thrilled when I checked The Blue Book trade in value of my 2013 Ford Tarus Ltd. Value dropped $17,000 from what I paid for it just 12 months ago this Feburary. A $37,000 cars trade in value is $20,000 a year later. Only salvation is I do like the car…..good thing can't afford to trade it!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 4:10 PM, sporked wrote:

    Never buy new.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 4:15 PM, centsable wrote:

    Article title is just as a suprise as Toyota being reliable, they beat Ford as company with more recalls...three years straight.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 4:42 PM, LegalGunOwner wrote:

    Just because somebody "admonished [you] from buying a Lexus because of their dependability issues," doesn't make Lexus undependable. From day one, Lexus cars have as close to perfect as is humanly possible. The author of this article is probably the only person surprised by the study's results...

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 4:59 PM, ponchoman49 wrote:

    Too bad there isn't a Lexus vehicle worth a crap that I would even consider. They all look like generic Asian cookie cutter sedans all penned by the same stylist. Plain slab sides, boring black or tan interiors and that god awful fake silver and piano black plastic that shows every finger print. A 30K Impala has a nicer warmer interior for god sake!

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 5:24 PM, Number1FordFan wrote:

    Jeep is 5 from the worst?? I don't buy it at all.

    Ever see what you have with those luxo cars when one gets 12 years old and has 130K on the clock?

    Usually a car with a bunch of useless options that no longer work. 8-10 years ago we had Toyotas with sticking throttle pedals recalled and now they are recalling the same models (different years) with Brake valves that might impair braking.

    Ever wonder why the average Joe doesn't truck the car makers to build self driving cars?

    Toyota has already had them for years.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 5:36 PM, typicalGeek wrote:

    Here's what I see as a problem with this study. They ask "Have you had a problem" then list a bunch of problems for you to potentially check off. How does this study take into account the problems? From this article it seems they count them all as equal. Are they adjusting for the amount of miles the car has been driven? Are they taking into account that some repairs are minor and others are major?

    Let's assume for this example that each brand of car has a 36 month warranty, so both cars are out of warranty and the owner will be paying 100% for all repairs, towing, etc.

    Let's say for example I have a BRAND X vehicle that has the three following problems in the 3rd year after 60,000 miles of driving:

    1) One of the brake lights burn out. ($10 repair)

    2) Windshield washer fluid motor burns out. ($75 repair)

    3) CD player in the sound system stops working. (replaced w/ aftermarket unit $300)

    TOTAL of all : $385

    Next let's pretend we have a BRAND Y vehicle that only needs one repair after three years of driving while accumulating just 15,000 miles:

    1) Transmission "blows up" during routine driving. ($4200)

    As far as I can tell, this survey would conclude that BRAND Y is three times more reliable than BRAND X. However, I think virtually everyone would agree that they'd rather have driven the BRAND X vehicle with a very few minor problems than replace the transmission on a BRAND Y vehicle. I suggest a better measure of quality would be to compare the total costs of repair. In this case, the BRAND X vehicle would appear to be nearly 11 times more reliable than BRAND Y. And that's really where it counts for most of us -- the pocketbook.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 6:13 PM, emjayay wrote:

    typicalGreek is right. There is no doubt a lot to these ratings, but you really have to look closer.

    Ford introduced a lot of ecoboost engines, dual clutch automatic transmissions, and a Sync system that apparently was too confusing and didn't work right a lot of the time. A lot of tech maybe too fast. Possibly they addressed a lot of the issues, a lot of which were programming, and possibly changed things for new cars. I do know they added some actual knobs and buttons to the Sync and no doubt have it working better otherwise.

    All the Chrysler models have just unfortunately been toward the bottom on reliability for decades. They really need to get on that problem if they haven't already. VW/Audi also. And Land Rover, although to be fair they are loaded with complexities. A decade ago they came with bits that didn't work or broke immediately.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 6:20 PM, normgarry wrote:

    Lexus is boring. Everyone in the ghetto wanted one back in the 90's but now it's Bimmer, Benz or Bentley!

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 6:33 PM, Jim85035 wrote:

    Something to be proud of, 68 vehicles out of 100 have a problem. What ever happened to ZERO defects?

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 6:42 PM, catsarenice wrote:

    I have owned mostly Volkwagens my entire life.

    They give an amazing drive and have been extremely reliable, not to mention super safe. A Jetta saved my life in 2002.

    I don't buy this study one bit!

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 7:16 PM, Zonniwoop wrote:

    OK... Honda and Toyota are relatively high on the list of least problems... I know that Toyota models are assembled in North America, unsure about Honda cars. I can tell you that as far as safety, Mitsubishi and VW at least were safe in the 80s...

    My cousin was in a VW scirocco and was hit head-on by a semi-truck, He walked away in one piece with just a mild concussion. The car was totaled, but he was OK. And I was in a Mitsubishi truck that was sideswiped and I was OK... The VW was an early 80s model and the Mitsu was an '87.

    We once had a Toyota Corolla that lasted for about 15 years and only needed regular oil changes and routine maintenance until its transmission finally just died. Yes, its Transmission suddenly died, but it did last for more than 15 years.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 7:48 PM, powerboatfun wrote:

    I'm very impressed with Mercedes since they put so much engineering in their cars with the active body controls, sensors and complicated electrical. I own a 2008 SL (never had any issue) and just recently test drove the new S 63 AMG and it is simply amazing. Lexus is impressive, but just not a fan of their styling.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 8:01 PM, joecjet wrote:

    Surprised to see Nissan so high. Our Rogue is junk. A secretary at work went to look at a Nissan Juke, told her to walk away, she didn't listen. Now she is having multiple issues, wishes she would have listened. Another employee has I think Nissan Xterra it's called. Timing belt broke at 67,000 miles, destroyed engine. Junk.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 8:29 PM, mokumbear wrote:

    I recently bought my 3rd Mazda over the last several decades.

    Like the study stated, lack of problems equals repeat sales.

    Despite conventional wisdom, I don't believe in buying depreciated vehicles that are a couple of years old. Hard driving and a lack of maintenance can make any late model vehicle a potential nightmare.

    For my Foolish dollar, I always buy new.

    I keep my cars properly maintained and drive them for some 10+ years.

    I will only look for a new car when the trade in value of my car has become very low and repairs are becoming unrealistically unaffordable.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 8:29 PM, AcuraT wrote:

    GM's surge is not all that shocking. GM invested heavily into quality back in the early 2000s, hiring outside consultants to teach them about "six sigma" and instructing them on techniques to help improve automotive quality. Now nearly 10 years later, they are starting to reap the rewards of this initial exercise - and it is paying off. I own a 2006 Saab 9-3 with 115,000 on it now - nearly nothing wrong with it. Also own a 2010 Buick Enclave which did lose a water pump, but that is it over the first 50,000. Even Consumer Reports is recognizing that some of their cars are best in class and built with quality. Hopefully the lessons learned nearly 10 years keep holding true - it will only benefit them and the consumer for the long haul if they do.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 8:39 PM, gdismine wrote:

    Come on you whiny babies .... this is america.. do you expect perfection? .... there is no profit in perfection... only with planned obsolescense can we fulfill the promises we made to our CEO's and CFO's, etc. Screw you you meally mouth poor people. Always complaining about something. My windows always need washing and the grass needs cutting. There is always a job available to someone with a degree to be greeter at my parties. This constant crying about you not having jobs. Or you can't afford a good car. What nonsense.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 9:29 AM, Jason87467 wrote:

    Ford brags a lot on TV but really does not rate that well.....just making those Ford Fans aware that with Ford, it's just a lot of hype. I'll stick with GM.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 10:02 AM, Rasputin wrote:

    Really not interested in other people's opinion, just bought a Chevy Malibu and absolutely love it.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 10:20 AM, masino wrote:

    I didn't see in the article if the problems are from the factory or if they are owner caused from lack of proper maintenance. And what kind of person buys each brand--more careful or casual. And as another poster mentions, what the cost of the repairs is, not just simple number of problems. And who your mechanic is. And other factors also enter. Personally, I have had Fords for the past 10 years with zero problems because I do maintenance on time and my mechanic is very thorough.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 10:31 AM, SD13SHO wrote:

    These reports are a joke. Ford was dinged big time because computer illiterate buyers couldn't operate the My Ford Touch. I am 70 and love it. I use the voice recognition all the time to control the radio, climate, phone and nav systems.

    My last three cars were Fords, a 2007 Mustang GT/CS, a 2011 Mustang GT/CS and my current 2013 Taurus SHO, The only one I have had trouble with was the 2007 Mustang. It required a differential replacement at 20,000 miles, simply because it was noisy. The technician, on test-driving the car after repair still wasn't happy and called Ford. They suggested changing the drive shaft and over nighted one to the dealer (I live in South Dakota), all under warranty. The next morning the part arrived and was installed. I picked up the car at 3 in the afternoon. Not even two days out of service, and I had a loaner car.

    The Taurus, with 14000 miles has been flawless. My wife has a 2013 Jeep GC Limited, with 19000+ miles and again, no problems.

    I think these reports need to do more then just give numbers. Let us see the type of complaints/problems people are reporting, by vehicle, not just brand. This should be fairly easy since the surveys are computer generated.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 10:42 AM, cityperson wrote:

    No propblem with a vehicle if one keeps the manitenance up. Also never by new wait a few years and get the one you you want, at less the price and still, many good miles left on the vehicle.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 10:57 AM, SkepikI wrote:

    The biggest problem with this article and the survey is its baseline data. Problems with cars 3 years old tell you about one kind of reliability. Most of the time these are warranty issues and if one model is at the bottom or in the bottom 10% I take note. Thats about it for my purposes.. and as far as I am concerned for all practical purposes. If someone is way off the pace and garnering incredible numbers of problems, I will avoid them.

    But confusing this with REAL Reliability is IMHO is a mistake of the first order. Before this year the average age of a vehicle on the road was something like 11 YEARS NOT 3! I drive a 99 Subaru with 406,000 mi Neither your article nor JD Poser captures those kind of reliability figures and I assert THAT is what matters.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 11:00 AM, ohiodale wrote:

    These automotive stats are worthless. Think about it. All issues are weighed the exact same. A person calls to complain they do not know how to use the hands free equipment and this counts as an issues. The difference between the top and the bottom on the list in not that significant anymore. Also, what are the sample sizes? I heard they are well below anything near what would be considered a good scientific experiment. I am tired of these articles that mean nothing.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 11:27 AM, hemi2go wrote:


    Bought a loaded Chrysler 300c in 2009. To date it has needed a sun roof repair, a battery, and a MyGig update to work with the iPhone... (also I put on better brakes/rotors... they weren't needed, I just like better performance stopping) and that's it. 3 minor issues & 1 optional upgrade in almost 5 years.... that seems pretty good to me. (plus Oil & plugs)

    In 2010 I bought a loaded Special Edition R/T Challenger. It is still bone stock, runs like a champ & in nearly 4 years has only been to the dealer for oil & checkups... not 1 issue of any kind. Now that, I know is pretty good!!!

    Also have a 2003 Olds that has only needed Oil, plugs, brakes, tires & a few sets of wiper blades. And that's it in 11 years... but way back when, Olds used to get crap grades on these reviews as well. So hold very little stock in this list.

    Then there is my truck.... (old Ram)

    That's a whole different ball game. :-(

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 1:14 PM, ScamuelJones wrote:

    My Ford is a POS sum!

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 1:42 PM, cahrens123 wrote:

    Hey, Jeep beat Land Rover!

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 2:13 PM, MD1CHARLES wrote:

    Honestly it should come as NO surprise that LEXUS is the most reliable considering that ALL the transmissions and engines are DIRECTLY from TOYOTA. There are NOW little or NO differences between the brands other than the level of luxury componentry. The division just put MORE money into quality control and the results are obvious. ACURA USED to offer distinct engines and transmissions from HONDA but NOW they're almost the same BUT ACURA ALSO put MORE money into quality control and the results are similar. My family, including myself, have owned 10 HONDAS / ACURAS over the last 35 years and ALL had or have bulletproof reliability!

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 3:48 PM, Soakee wrote:

    It also seems that the definition of "dependable" varies from person to person. Although many may disagree, "dependable" (and "reliable") means that the car will start and get you where you need to go whenever. As referred to above, if a one brake lights burn out, the windshield washer fluid motor burns out, or the CD player in the sound system stops working, the car would still be reliable. But if the transmission goes out thus rendering the car un-driveable...that is unreliable.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 5:34 PM, Argyll12 wrote:

    These are determined by three years' ratings of new cars. A five or ten year rating would be much more creditable.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 5:55 PM, iron64 wrote:

    These results are subjective though. How many cars did Lexus sell compared to the others? The greater the sales the greater chance of having problems. The only way to make this an accurate rating would be to only count the cars that the company with the lowest amount of sales sold. If this was say...1,000,000 cars, then any reported problems to cars to a company that sold more than 1,000,000 should not show up in the results.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 9:43 PM, Vitabrits wrote:


    The VW of the early to mid 2000s is not the same VW today. I am sure a good chunk of these are "electrical" problems across. My ex had a 2008 Passat and and the dashboard lit up like a scoreboard that he had to put electrical tape over the "problem" lights. There were no tire pressure issues or low oil in the engine. The cost to fix it was about $1k and that stuff isn't covered under warranty.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 3:37 AM, flyzonemx2 wrote:

    It is a well know FACT that LEXUS DOES NOT REPORT all of its customers complaints and repair orders in order to maintain its low repairs ratings. JD needs to get their head out of the Lexus XOXO and correct their reporting.

    These are the same people at TOYOTA LIED about sudden acceleration and blamed floor mats for programiing glitches in their vehicles electronics. When they brought the cars in under recall to replace the mats and "sticky" throttles they re-flashed the onboard computers fix the problem and erase the evidence of failure.

    Don't believe it? Take a look at the size of the Lexus repair centers. For that matter go buy one and then bring it in for a repair.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 3:21 PM, MfromG wrote:

    Got a new Mercedes SUV that I love and an 02' Silverado with over 200,000 on it that I love as well. Go figure.

  • Report this Comment On March 30, 2014, at 9:39 PM, Pepperika wrote:

    With the latest news about GMs recalls and the fact of their knowing but not publicizing the problems over 10 years, I am suffering from a lack of confidence in GM and in the integrity of the company. It also makes me doubtful about the accuracy of this report.

    I drive a 2005 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, and it truly is a wonderful car, albeit it has less than 25,000 miles on it. Since I am 74 years old and driving less and less, I will probably not buy another new car as long as this one continues to be reliable. Some of the new gadgets make it tempting, however.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2014, at 6:32 PM, vaferalyk wrote:

    I love Toyotas...Be assured - when u drive Toyota vehicles, you drive quality. The Highlander, which is a bit expensive, is well worth it! I got mine in a steal from CarMax, but if I knew how well it would drive and how little I would need to repair it, I wouldn't think price about paying a few thousand more for it.

    Also, the insurance is cheap.. I've been driving my Highlander for 5 years now and routinely change my insurance carriers to keep my rates low (to avoid rate increases). I'm usually able to get rates around the $25 to $30 a month range (I use 4AutoInsuranceQuote). The Highlander is more than twice as cheap as my brother's Escalade is to insure. Could not be happier with it.

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A Fool since 2010, and a graduate from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Economics, Sean specializes in the healthcare sector and in investment planning topics. You'll usually find him writing about Obamacare, marijuana, developing drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices, Social Security, taxes, or any number of other macroeconomic issues.

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